The Element of Surprise – Rogue Decks and Beyond
What’s up, PokeBeach? I hope everyone’s summer was as awesome as mine (still coming down a bit from the adrenaline of Saturday night’s Papa Roach / In This Moment / 5FDP concert). Anyway, it’s time to get back to playtesting and talking Pokemon again, as Fall Regionals inch their way even closer to all of us. There is a lot to prepare for, especially if you’re planning on attending the first weekend of Regionals, as the meta will be a bit unpredictable. Since we’re looking exclusively at the Expanded format for this fall’s Regional Championships, we can hold off on Standard for a bit. However, the Expanded format is massive, including 18 sets and over 150 promo cards, making it the largest format we’ve ever seen for a major Pokemon TCG event. With so many cards available, there are bound to be a lot of different decks present.
And in today’s article, we’re going to talk about some of the most outlandish of these decks. The four rogue decks covered in this article are a combination of old ideas reformed with the new and old cards brought together by Expanded, while some are underplayed concepts that have the potential to make a breakout performance at the upcoming Fall Regionals. I have tested all of these decks a lot the past few weeks, learning the ins and outs of them, and I believe they are all strong contenders in the right metagame.
Shiftry Joins the Banned
Okay, bad puns aside, Shiftry has been banned from Expanded since I last wrote for you guys. While I think an errata to Forest of Giant Plants would have been better, I can’t argue with TPCi’s decision to take Shiftry out of the game. Even if it wasn’t exactly tier zero, Shiftry was a first-turn deck and thus created a game almost entirely decided by the opening coin flip, unless the player’s opponent opened the game with one of the mere two counters to the deck. Of course, it remains to be seen if Forretress will become the next big “donk deck,” or if people will steer away from this type of thing. Personally, I don’t think first-turn win decks are good for the game, and I know plenty of people who will agree with me. However, Shiftry was the biggest offender in this instance, and we no longer have to worry about it now that the card has been taken out of the format. I’ve placed my Shiftry in a nice place next to Lysandre's Trump Card, Slowking, and Sneasel. Have fun rocking out with your three new comrades, Shiftry (and please take your Fennekin coin with you).
Expanded Format – Diversity Rules!
A diverse format can make it difficult to know which deck to play, as making the proper meta call becomes increasingly difficult when the format becomes more diverse. Still, I prefer the game this way. It makes things more interesting and introduces so many more possibilities in terms of decks and strategies that could end up doing well at any given event. This year’s U.S. Nationals was diverse enough in Standard that it produced eight different decks in the top eight alone. The same thing happened a few months earlier at the Ohio State Championships. This sort of thing really makes me love the Pokemon TCG even more, because it allows for people to be creative in the process of deck building and trying to cover as many bases as possible. It also heavily limits the chances of any deck from becoming tier zero, which means that just because a certain deck wins one tournament does not mean it has the best chance of winning the next one. I think this is great for the game in multiple ways – first, because it keeps you from having to play against the same deck almost every round of a tournament (which can get repetitive rather quickly, Mr. Seismitoad-EX), and second, because it helps keep card prices down, since not everyone is looking for the same 60 cards at once. This makes the game both more innovative and affordable for new players and experienced players alike, and has the ability to level out the playing ground while putting a premium on deck building and in-game decisions. It also keeps the Pokemon TCG interesting by allowing new decks to show up at each major event, some with the potential to do extremely well after having flown under the radar during playtesting. This brings me to what is perhaps my favorite part of any trading card game:
The Element of Surprise
Yes, you read that correctly. The element of surprise can be brutal. The presence of a single tech card can decide the winner of a game or even an entire match, and an entire deck that no one sees coming can blindside the competition and score you a direct pass to top cut in the proper setting. Of course, a rogue deck can also fall flat on its face against the wrong matchups. Rogue decks are tricky to build, because you’ll often have limited playtesting outlets and the meta call is still difficult for anyone going into a major event. That said, catching an entire tournament off guard with a deck no one expects can be a great way to gain an advantage on the majority of the competition. I will provide a couple examples of my own rogue decks (well, one of them isn’t considered “rogue” anymore, but it was at the time) and how I did with them.
The first is the now-known Blastoise / Archie's Ace in the Hole deck that I began playing at the Kentucky State Championship. Going into the tournament, only a few players from my local community had seen the deck I was going to play, and only Brad Weyers and I decided to play it. Brad ended up making Top 8 as the first overall seed, while I bubbled out in the last round (darn you, Silent Lab). Two weeks later, I attended the Ohio State Championship after making a couple of small changes to my list, and cruised to a record of 6-1-1 and a Top 8 finish of my own. After winning a pair of League Challenges, I took my Archie’s Blastoise deck to the U.S. National Championship where I finished Day One with a 6-1-2 record. On Day Two, I went 4-2 with the second loss coming against Kristy Britton in the final round. This earned me a 15th place finish (one game away from Top 8 and a Day Two Worlds invite). I think that’s pretty good for a deck that people thought wasn’t very good.
The second is a much more obscure deck from a couple years ago, so I will share the list with you guys in order to explain it in better detail.
4x Professor Juniper (PLB #84)
4x N (DEX #96)
2x Aspertia City Gym (BCR #127)
4x Double Colorless Energy (NXD #92)
I like to call this one The Flying Bison, affectionately named for Avatar Aang’s Flying Bison, Appa. The object of this deck was to use Bouffalant, Mewtwo-EX, and the original Tornadus-EX to take some early damage while I charged up the Team Plasma version of Tornadus-EX in an attempt to sweep my opponent’s board by dealing 180 damage with Jet Blast each turn. The combination of Aspertia City Gym, Eviolite, and four copies of Potion allowed my attackers to stick around for several turns while dealing massive amounts of damage throughout the game, regardless of whether or not I was able to score the Jet Blast for 180 damage or not. Needless to say, many of the competitors were not expecting a tanky Bouffalant / Tornadus deck with the capability of dealing 180 damage every turn if I managed to accomplish a complete setup. If I wasn’t able to set up the Jet Blast home run play, I could still use the Plasma Tornadus-EX for its Windfall attack in the early game and then attack with Bouffalant for 120 damage against my opponent’s Pokemon-EX, and to do so with a one-Prize attacker that had 120 HP (thanks to Aspertia City Gym) which took 40 less damage from my opponent’s attacks (due to Eviolite and Bouffalant’s Bouffer Ability) was an absolute nightmare of a matchup for several of my opponents. This method used the original Tornadus-EX and Mewtwo-EX as cleanup hitters once my Bouffalants were retired for the game, able to take the final Prizes and win me the game more often than not. Lastly, I included one copy of Sawk in order to deal with Tornadus-EX’s Lightning Weakness, particularly against the Team Plasma deck’s Thundurus-EX, which could deal a lot of damage for just one Energy. Needless to say, Sawk proved useful in the Plasma matchup during the course of the event. Although I did suffer a bit of a collapse on Day Two of the Regional in which I played this deck, I feel that winning seven out of nine rounds on Day One more than justified this deck, at least for that particular tournament, in proving just how powerful the surprise factor can be in the Pokemon TCG.
So now, how can you use the element of surprise to your advantage in the upcoming season? Let’s find out!
Now it’s time look at four different decks that I believe are solid plays for Expanded based on the overall meta and surprise factor that these decks bring with them. Two of which are fairly recent rogue decks which have yet to see much in terms of success, while the other two decks were played in the past and have been counted out by a vast majority of the competitive player base. I have tested each of these decks personally to see how they can fit into the current meta, and learned the strengths and weaknesses of each one. It is also important to remember that when playing a rogue deck, your chances of hitting a mirror match should be virtually zero, meaning that you won’t get mirror matches that are almost always decided by who wins the opening coin flip. This can be a very big upside to playing rogue or counter-meta decks and goes very well with the surprise factor. Now, onto the decks!
4x Professor Sycamore (PHF #101)
3x N (NVI #92)
1x Battle Compressor (PHF #92)
Wild yoga instructor appeared! Okay, maybe not that messed up, but this is still a viable deck. Players have bashed Medicham almost every time I’ve seen it mentioned in a competitive conversation, but the truth is this deck can be highly competitive. The ability to deal 180+ damage each turn with a non-EX attacker is insane, and the fact that you can conceivably take out TWO Pokemon in such a way (whether they have low HP or already have a bit of damage on them) is ridiculous. It’s important to remember, however, that Medicham’s Yoga Kick attack doesn’t apply Weakness and Resistance, meaning that while it becomes easier to take out the M Rayquaza-EXs of the world, it also becomes more of a chore to deal with something like M Manectric-EX when you aren’t hitting it for the usual Weakness to Fighting. Enter Celebi-EX, which allows us to capitalize on a Pokemon’s Weakness to Fighting (if they have one) by using Meditite‘s seemingly useless Smack attack! Yes, believe it or not, this is actually a viable strategy. So why don’t we just use Shrine of Memories to gain access to Meditite’s attack instead of benching a Pokemon-EX with 110 HP? Well, that would deny us access to Fighting Stadium, which is a very important card when it comes to boosting Medicham’s relatively low base damage. When you’re attacking twice each turn, any damage modifiers you have in play (such as Fighting Stadium, Muscle Band, Silver Bangle, or Strong Energy) will be doing their extra damage with each attack, meaning that a Fighting Stadium, Muscle Band, or Strong Energy will net you 40 extra damage each turn, while a Silver Bangle will net you 60 extra damage against opposing Pokemon-EX. That’s a lot of damage!
Of course, you also have supporting attackers too. Landorus can help you accelerate Energy early on with the use of Battle Compressor to drop some Energy into the discard pile, as well as later on if you need a turn to charge up another Medicham. Hawlucha can also hit for a heavy amount of damage for just one Energy while also providing you with a free retreater to send up after one of your Pokemon is KO’d. Finally, the lone copy of Landorus-EX is there to deal spread damage, which can either set up KO’s earlier in the game, or finish them off in the late game. Landorus-EX can also work with its non-EX counterpart to launch a massive Land’s Judgment attack, which can take out almost anything in the game with just one attack. This can be an excellent finisher and also present a huge threat that isn’t always able to be OHKO’d by your opponent.
Not only have I tested this deck myself, but a buddy of mine played a Medicham deck back at the Ohio State Championships a few months ago and managed to reach the top four with it. His achievement was no fluke, either, as I don’t think anyone saw this deck coming. In a format full of decks that either run off of Pokemon-EX or one-Prize attackers with rather low HP, Medicham has the potential to thrive by KO’ing two Prizes worth of Pokemon each turn, and only giving up one (or none if you have the Focus Sash equipped) in exchange. This makes for a very favorable Prize trade, and can win games as long as you can keep up a steady flow of Medichams and Energy to continue attacking until you’ve claimed all six of your Prizes.
That said, this deck has one glaring weakness: Bats. Golbat and Crobat can and will eat this deck alive. Early damage from Golbat’s and Crobat’s Abilities will take away any possible benefit of using Focus Sash, while taking advantage of Medicham’s rather low 90 HP. Medicham can also fall victim to Crobat’s attack, Skill Dive, which can deal a whopping 100 damage if Medicham is active and Crobat has a Muscle Band attached. This is probably your worst matchup, with the other dangerously bad matchup coming against Gengar-EX-based decks. However, if your meta is full of EX-heavy decks like Archie’s Blastoise, Yveltal-EX, or even Seismitoad-EX (sans Crobat), Medicham could be a very strong play. If you’re expecting to see lots of Crobat and Gengar-EX decks, it might be safer to leave this one in the deckbox/binder for another time. However, if Psychics appear to be on the down-low and you’re looking for an exciting rogue deck to play, try out Medicham and see how you like it!
Now, onto the other decks. Like I said before, all these decks are very strong in the right metagame, and are certainly nothing to be overlooked. The element of surprise may be enough to score you a high placement at Regionals!
This concludes the public portion of this article.
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