11/29/2018 by Aaron Tarbell
Standard Format vs Expanded Format
Hello readers! I have some news for you. Standard is easier than expanded to learn, but expanded is a format that is harder to break and easier to perform well in once you study it. Expanded has a much larger card pool than standard. When a new set is released, the cards have more to be compared to in expanded than standard when it comes to figuring out strong combos, but the new cards inherently have less value when there are more options. This means that while expanded has a huge card pool, most of the strong combos tend to stay strong because they have already been tested against so many other combinations of cards. New combos have to either perform much stronger than predecessors that attempt to win in similar ways, or the new combinations have to find new and more effective ways to win.
It's Like This...
Going into Portland, there was a new set released with Celestial Storm, though, and I always like to look at the contenders to change a format going into it.
For this event, Rayquaza-GX seemed like it would be strong as a deck attempting to OHKO from turn 1 or turn 2 when compared with HO-OH-EX as a reliable source of putting energy back in play. Overall I felt this version of OHKO.deck was lackluster in comparison to some of the other expanded decks. Other OHKO decks that outshined Ray were Buzzwole that has the tools to hit t1 KOs while taking extra knock outs on benched Pokémon, Night March that was at least trading 1-prize attackers every turn for OHKOs, and Blastoise that had super consistent T1 knock out rates, mobility, and the potential to take extra prizes with Articuno.
Shrine decks had a solid showing in last world’s format, and because it was discovered at the end of the year, it seemed like it had potential to compete with top decks. The deck seemed to fall short against many key, necessary matchup’s like Zoroark that had the option to Quaking Punch with Rough Seas while removing energy, Trevenant that didn’t have as many outs to strong attacks but was much better at the spreading damage strategy, and really just did not have the strongest use of OHKO/two hit KO single prize attackers.
Past this, there was nothing I felt even deserved to be addressed from the set when compared to the giant format. Magcargo did nothing for most decks since the format was already perfectly consistent, and things like Bannette-GX did not even compare to the OHKO attackers or the decks that deliberately took multiple prizes on a turn. But there was a special spice to the format other than Shrine and Rayquaza, and this was the ban list.
For this tournament, the ban list was far and beyond more impactful than the new cards. The key combo pieces and checks and balances of some decks were thrown out the window. Hex Maniac being gone finally made Blastoise very viable as a deck again as well as nerfed the outs players had to break Trevenant’s ability. Ghetsis being gone attempted to kill Zoroark, Night March, and Sableye’s dominance with the card as well as prevented players from getting lucky on certain turns to decide entire games. Puzzle of Time ban tried even harder to force players off of Zoroark, which seemed necessary given how consistent the card was, with high hit points, and the ability to take OHKOs and splash one-of techs against any rough match up. Finally, Wally being gone nerfed a broken mechanic to turn off the most powerful cards in the game before a player even got a turn. From the ban list, the obvious trick to success for this tournament was how to get the most value out of seemingly crucial cards no longer being playable.
With bans, everyone’s first grab seemed like Blastoise. Blastoise had been long dead due to players being able to chain consecutive Hex Maniacs with Puzzles of Time and VS Seeker. Blastoise had an obvious out to take early big knock outs and then had Articuno to fix prize whenever Blastoise was playing against small basic OHKO attackers. Blastoise appeared to have a mean position in the upcoming meta. The deck smashed mill decks due to being able to get over big GX’s early, Blastoise could easily out trade Toad and Zoroark decks with an early Blastoise, and many players seemed to think Trevenant lost to big Keldeo-EX and Volcanion Prism Star.
The following answer to Blastoise was to pilot Garbodor with its favorite companion, Drampa-GX. Garbodor had enough HP to be able to consistently survive an Articuno while having non-GX attackers that could either evolve to take knockouts with Trashalanche or disrupt powerful abilities, such as Deluge, with Garbotoxin. The deck had been strong in the past, and there was an opening for it to be strong again. Without Trevenant being able to Wally/ Forest Curse the deck out of the game, a Float Stone on an early Trubbish provided players with enough security to not mind the matchup. Against Zoroark, the puzzle and Ghetsis ban meant the deck could more easily run Zoroark out of energy with righteous edge, and there was less chance for Zoroark to steal games with Ghetsis.
This also lead to the concept of Shrine potentially being strong due to both having its own Garbodor, plus a strong way to deal with Drampa (or almost any gx attacker) through baby Buzzwole. This concept did not lose much steam going into expanded, but looking back, the deck just feels mediocre in comparison to the rest of the field.
This is where my mindset breaks off from the group mentality.
Initially my mind was filled with thoughts of Seismitoad and Garbodor. I had intended to play a hybrid Seismitoad / Garbodor deck that played like a lot of different older Seismitoad decks. Firstly the deck would have a powerful, secondary, 1 prize attacker in Trashalanche Garbodor to quickly end games after long periods of using quaking punch. Then, it also played like old Seismitoad Garbodor decks that would lock abilities and deny energy, but this time around it ran Lusamine chain. The deck even had a Rough Seas in it, so it heavily resembled the winning Seismitoad Zoroark in certain aspects. The deck was a result of me wanting to hard counter Blastoise with Quaking Punch and Garbotoxin like what Blastoise was scared of back in 2015 Worlds. The deck had a rough time with mill decks and had a poor late game if Seismitoad EX was overwhelmed early, so I ended up scrapping the deck in favor of something more familiar.
My first look at Trevenant was sad. I was very excited for Trevenant’s Wally ban. This ban hitting Wally was a blessing. If Wally had kept its spot in the format, many players would have defaulted to “that other best deck”. Getting Wally out of the format gave way for people to start soft-countering Trevenant versus believing they needed a hard counter to win. Many Trevenant players were also turned off by the concept of letting their opponent have a single turn of items, heaven forbid. Luckily for me, this took away a large chance that Trevenant would hit the mirror, which allowed the deck to become less “Trevenant proof” itself to fix harder matchups.
Taking away the Wally also permitted the play of Brigette. Brigette was the card Trevenant always wanted. The hardest part about Trevenant was discarding off of Ultra Balls and fitting in Level Balls for early Phantumps. Brigette allowed very welcomed space to potential Trevenant decks by decreasing need for level balls while adding the Phantumps consistency to boost the efficacy of Rescue Scarf.
But my original Trevenant list was very scared of mill decks. The deck was running Lusamine chain and Silent Lab for Latias-EX, along with a Brock’s Grit for infinite energy/Pokémon. This deck was obviously much slower than what Trevenant needs to be against decks like Zoroark, and these cards lessened its potential over some more aggressive decks like Rayquaza and Turbo Dark. Given that I was struggling with aggressive decks, I did drop Trevenant for a short period of time.
At one point, I had favored the idea of Travis Nunlist’s Gardevoir deck, because the idea of not getting knocked out is appealing. After I had played a game against Buzzwole, the luster of the deck quickly faded, and I was unwilling to find beaches for a deck that would require me to draw very well to have a mediocre game plan.
Eventually, I sent Travis a Trevenant list that was still super Supporter-heavy. He responded with a crude list that did not play Guzma or Lysandre, but rather fit in 2 Counter Catcher, 2 Silent Lab, and Teammates. This led to my epiphany where I claimed that “Not having access to Guzma or Lysandre in a deck that can stick something and win because of it with 4 VS Seeker sounds bad, Travis.” To which Travis responded basically, "I do not understand new Trevenant."
Now I was stuck on Trevenant for all the wrong reasons. I started grinding games and quickly realized a few things: Firstly, I noted how strong Ace Trainer was against almost any deck that had the potential to be too aggressive. Then, I realized I was mainly dropping games because of early bricks with the heavy Supporter counts. After that, I noticed that the Blastoise deck that was supposedly supposed to trounce new Trevenant due to Volcanion Prism Star really couldn’t manage to win if the attacker was knocked out and the opponent was never permitted to play superior energy retrievals after. Finally, I noticed just how much I never wanted to play Computer Search because of how valuable the resources in my hand were and Colress draw almost always guaranteed hitting what was needed after a Brigette.
In this passionate spell I had for building a Trevenant list to spite Travis, I accidentally made one of the smoothest lists I have played in a long time. The deck only ever really lost to Zoroark-GX on bad hands, and to getting donked.
..And like that and like this and uh
This smooth list was made in the course of 44 games in 2 days where the win-to-loss ratio boiled down to a clean 10-1, and the final list was decided on about 3 weeks before the tournament. Confirmation bias says this was the correct method for preparation, but confirmation bias is always something that is difficult for card game players to dissociate from true results.
True Pros of this technique for building and playing a deck:
1. My pick was strong for everything I had perceived being in the Meta.
2. My idea of the Meta was based on an abundance of previous experience with the format as well as familiarity with strong new cards that had not been introduced to the format yet.
3. I had an abundance of experience in the archetype that would hopefully lead to quick and perfect play.
The Cons of my decision making this time around:
1. The deck was chosen too early, and my perception of how the tournament would play out stopped long before the winning deck was even thought of, or, at least, before the deck was brought to the attention of many of the people who played it.
2. My solution to the format was not format-breaking like the Seismitoad / Zoroark deck. Trevenant was a known entity, and if more people would have ended up on the idea, mirrors would have been troublesome and harder counters would have been commonplace.
3. While experience with a deck is nice to promote perfect play, comfort and spite are never good reasons for making rational decisions.
Portland Regionals Report
Most of this article is covering the rationale behind the deck choice because it will be more helpful than talking about big brain plays that happened in the tournament. Improved deck building and having more tangible rules for deciding on the right deck can improve placements at tournament dramatically. The tournament report will be kept short and to the point so we have more time to dive into Anaheim.
Going into the tournament, I did not have much fear with the deck. After round 4, I was 2-2. My loses included Mia Violet’s Yveltal / Dusknoir deck where I threw the game on stream due to miscounting my remaining energy and not knowing a Trevenant Break was prized, and Ian Robb’s Garbodor deck where I had 6-7 cards in deck and needed to hit a basic energy before the bottom two cards and did not. After this my rounds got easier as I started to hit Donphan, Seismitoad-EX with Crobat, and Shrine decks. On my win/tie-and-in, I decided to play the match out due to some pretty basic math that I have been preaching since 6-2-1 records were guaranteed day 2. The math works out that if a player has a 50/50 to win a round, playing that round out has about a 5% greater chance of making top 8. Please see Andrew Wamboldt for more details. The more scared of the day 2 meta a player is, the more they want to roll the dice on the last round as well due to having less opportunity to earn points day 2, and Toad / Zoroark with Rough Seas seemed big in day 2.
After a convincing win-and-in against Blastoise, I was ready for day 2.
In day 2, I play against Kenny Britton on Drampa / Garbodor. This game goes quite a bit better than against Ian since Kenny does not have access to Muscle Band. I do remember Kenny asking me if Trevenant was just my favorite deck, and I remember being very embarrassed and denying my love for Trevenant profusely. (I never knew I was a tsundere.)
Next round I am smashed by Isaiah William playing double Delinquent in Zoroark. I recall specifically noting the Delinquent in the discard and then playing my hand down to three. My hand was then removed and Isaiah promptly took two easy games off of me.
The next two rounds I whoop on Lonzo and Zoroark / Lycanroc. In three of the four games, the opponents complained of drawing poorly, but in one game, I was able to make a 1-6 prize come back on the final turn with a MAGICAL, Magical Swap.
On my win and in, I am paired down to an Executor playing only two Exeggutor, and I swiftly knock the coolest deck out of cut.
In top 8 I finally play against a Buzzwole, but this Buzzwole is piloted by home town hero and DDG member, Austin Ellis. Unfortunately, this Buzzwole is all teched out for Trevenant and more. Austin’s deck relies heavily on Korrina engine and is designed to drop both Zygarde EX and Giratina Promo against Trevenant. Luckily, my deck played just enough Tapu Lele to go for big energy drive after big energy drive in each of the games. In game 2, I end up benching the 3rd Tapu Lele GX though, and this leads to a big loss that went unpunished due to a lucky turn 1 Marshadow in Game 3.
In Top 4 I play against my second Blastoise of the tournament. This occurs right after Caleb Gedemer attempts to convince me of how bad of a match up Blastoise is for Trevenant. It gets rocky in game 1 after he misses T1 Blastoise, but I miss T1 Ascension. On T2 however, my opponent plays Battle Compressor, shuffles his deck, plays a VS Seeker, and then picks up his cards because he had forgotten he had used VS Seeker in the first turn to guarantee Archie’s the second turn that I had N’d away. In Game 2, I prize both Brigette and Guzma, and when I hit the counter catcher, his 2 card hand has a Guzma, and I lose. Game 3 is much more convincing. He gets Blastoise, but I trap it active and get Silent Fears off until he concedes.
In finals, I ask the Joni with me if I can just concede, I am told no, and I am throttled by a near unwinnable match up.
Looking Forward to Anaheim
Now it is time to do it all over again. Note the following reasoning will have room to evolve before Anaheim.
Lost Thunder’s impact on expanded:
1. Faba — I already have a tiny, free article on argcircuitseries.com about this cards impact on expanded. Faba? More like Fabusted!
2. Unown Damage — this card has the potential to take the tournament by storm. Turn 1 Blastoise plus 64 damage counters with frozen city sounds crazy, but expanded is meant to be crazy. The appeal of this deck will pull people in with the idea of playing a Solitaire game that is near unpreventable and it will lead to people taking necessary precautions like playing Sudowoodo or Wobbuffet to help prevent the chance of the deck going off, and if the deck does not go off, it does not win.
3. Unown Hand — This card can lead to Wailord being an even more dominant powerhouse of mill. Luckily, Unknown damage and normal Blastoise can run through Wailord currently, so there will be play, but likely not as much as there should be.
4. Ninetales-GX — This can translate nicely into expanded. The attack is nice against unknown damage, and the ability is good to make Gardevoir more playable in expanded.
5. Girafarig — This card is scary in expanded. Most of the most consistent versions of decks abuse 1-of Supporters with VS Seekers and many decks play limited resources of certain cards. For example, if Blastoise misses Archie’s Ace in the Hole turn 1, this can cheese the game by putting 2 Blastoise into the Lost Zone. Girafarig hitting Eggs, Lusamine, basic Energy, 1-of Supporters, and Resource Management Oranguru is huge! If a Girafarig is able to get value off of multiple attacks after a Delinquent to zero, the game is probably over.
Ain't Nuthin' but a "T" Thang, Baby!
Due to Unown’s potential and the decks each are played in being super fun to play, the first answer would be to play Gardevoir-GX with the new Ninetales-GX and Sudowoodo. The deck already packs soft answers for the two decks that run Unowns and Gardevoir has a solid time with the Portland Regional winning list. Gardevoir has way too much HP for Seismitoad-EX to reliably deal with and the GX attack is strong against all decks that attempt to Lusamine chain. Gardevoir can get over most mill decks and can throttle decks like Turbo Dark if it tries to make a comeback due to Trevenant’s success.
Creep to the Mic Like a Phantump
Next we obviously have Trevenant. Trevenant has a hard time being built to beat both super aggression and mill decks, but there is a nice if-then chart I have jokingly created that bolsters a ton of value to "people" who give it the time of day.
1. Do you play against mill?
a. Yes: Play Trevenant / Lusamine Chain with a Brock’s Grit. Let Marshadow carry you against agro decks. Then, go to (2).
b. No: Go to (2).
2. Do you play against Blastoise with Unown?
a. Yes: Play Trevenant / Brigette with 2 Tapu Lele-GX and a Wobbuffet.
b. No: Go to (3).
3. Play smooth Trevenant.
Faba in Trevenant is crazy good against Zoroark, and keeping Rough Seas away from Lusamine sounds very good. Trevenant can also use Girafarig for free with Dimension Valley, so a tech Girafarig might be enough to break Lusamine chain and beat mill decks by itself, but I have not seen how this plays out. Girafarig would be a fine replacement over Espeon-EX since baby Tapu Lele is good enough against aggressive Zoroark Decks and Girafarig’s attack can hit Latias-EX and is just ever-so-slightly easier to use due to Counter Energy applying towards it. You can use the base list on the Team ARG Facebook page. Final's List. And, To answer PaPaSea's awesome thumbnail, no, not anymore.
Finally, I am suggesting people do go for the meme Blastoise / Unown play. The deck sort of still feels unbelievable and is bound to nab some turn 1 wins against unsuspecting and disrespectful players. There is a hot list available @CharizardLounge on Twitter. So just chill, 'til the next episode...
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