Metagaming Regionals, Understanding Variance, and Three Powerful Expanded Toad Decks

Hello everyone! I hope you all survived the Winter weather and that there isn’t much more to come. I’d be willing to bet that everyone has been staying inside and playing Pokemon! Hopefully everyone’s Cities seasons went well. I have personally just moved to Virginia (near DC) and started a new job, so my life has been extra busy lately. It’s true that I haven’t been able to make it to as many events as I did last year, but Pokemon is still important to me. It will be rough to try and get my invite without Cities or Worlds points (I only have 30 from a Fall Regionals right now), but it could still happen. I’ll be attending Virginia Regionals and some States, so I have faith! I appreciate everyone’s support in reading my articles. Congrats to those that put in the work and already have their invites and to everyone in the same busy boat as me: we can do it if we want to!

Let's Do It!
Let’s do it!

Cities have just ended, so now it’s time to switch gears and start thinking about the Expanded format. An easy place to start is to look at what did well in the last cycle. This obviously lets us see the decks that were played and placed, but it also lets us pick up on trends and isolate specific cards that are strong in Expanded. There have been new cards added to the pool with BREAKthrough, but we will put those to the side for a moment when analyzing this data. Let’s take a look, shall we? After I go over previous tournament results we will be looking at variance and metagaming in Pokemon. I will conclude by showing you three strong Seismitoad-EX variants for Expanded.

Week 1: Phoenix, AZ

Week 2: Lancaster, PA

Week 3: Ft. Wayne, IN

Editor’s note: Due to technical issues this article could not be published before Virginia Regionals took place. Some of the information in this article is outdated. However, it still contains other content that may be useful to readers, especially if you are planning to attend any Regional Championships the following weeken.

Metagaming Regionals

First, let’s look at some general trends. Week one is the only week we see Blastoise appear at all. Was its presence in Top 8 spurred by Jacob Van Wagner’s recent Worlds victory? Perhaps the principle that I discussed in my last article applies here. If many people played Archiestoise (Archie's Ace in the Hole/ Blastoise) following in Van Wagner’s footsteps, due to sheer over-representation, it was bound to seal up a few spots in Top 8. This could explain why it dropped off in the following weeks as public focus turned toward other, newer decks. A more likely explanation, however, is that Blastoise was still an inherently powerful deck even after Worlds, and many people started to build their lists to counter it. There is a lot, and I mean a LOT of Yveltal-EX in this list. Yveltal seemed to be everyone’s go-to deck for Expanded, most likely because of the strength Dark Patch adds that’s missing in Standard. It’s very consistent and has a great early, mid, and late game. This makes Dark decks a smart play for events with many rounds like Regionals. It does have an easily exploitable Weakness in Lightning Pokemon, which explains the rise of the creative M Manectric-EX / Garbodor deck that saw play in week two. These players were able to sail through the seas of Yveltal straight to the Top 8 due to Manectric’s type-advantage. Garbodor in turn boosted their unfavorable Blastoise matchup. By noticing the two most prevalent decks in the format, the Manectric players made a great meta call that turned out in their favor.

This brings me to a metagaming principle that I’d like to discuss. It’s pretty easy to look at the results of what won week one, isn’t it? It’s not hard to see what was popular and craft a deck specifically designed to beat that. Most players can see and understand this concept. However, there are two pitfalls that players fall into. The first is recognizing the need for a counter to the meta, but misinterpreting this to mean “I should play a rogue deck that no one has ever seen before!” I sometimes see players design a risky glass cannon list that when played perfectly and draws well, beats everything in the format, but can often fail thanks to unexpected techs in other people’s lists and poor draws. The first error here is in trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s usually a bad idea to bring a deck that’s untested in tournaments at all to a high level tournament, unless you’re extremely confident in the list. The second error that I see is when players feel like they need to beat every deck that they’ve seen around. What the Manectric players did was take two cards that have been proven to be strong in competitive play, Manectric-EX and Garbodor, and combine them to beat two decks that were popular in the format, not all of them. It’s okay if your deck doesn’t beat Pyroar. You might avoid that matchup or get lucky with your draws. Worst case scenario is that you lose a round, which you can afford to lose two of on day one of a Regionals. The second error is related. You can have a spot-on idea, but if you’re unable to translate it into a efficient, consistent decklist, it will undoubtedly fall flat.

There are two main ways to metagame a Regional Championship. The first is as I just described, by identifying the two or three most popular decks and building a solid deck to counter them. The problem with this is that it often lets other matchups fall by the wayside. I will continue to use the M Manectric-EX / Garbodor deck as an example. While the deck bodied Yveltal and Blastoise, none of its players finished beyond the Top 8. This is because the deck was built only to deal with the most popular decks currently being played, but not the less common or Tier 2 decks. It wasn’t particularly good against aggro decks like Vespiquen or lock decks like Seismitoad-EX / Giratina-EX. Therein lies the danger of the anti-meta deck. Unless the deck is extremely and uniquely well-rounded, it won’t be able to deal with every threat. That’s not to say that playing a deck like this is a bad choice. If you’re after a surefire way to get points, this strategy could very well work for you. It’s simple probability: if you have a good matchup against 75% of the meta, you’re likely to make cut.

Metagaming is always risky, but the second way to metagame a Regionals involves a bit more risk than the first. Instead of playing a deck that has overwhelmingly good matchups against the popular meta, we could play an underplayed or rogue deck that has the potential to win every match. It may rely on us getting a bit lucky, but the reward is higher if we do. Vespiquen was an example of this in the Fall. If it runs well and manages to avoid Toad, it can beat anything. This idea could work with a Tier 2 deck that happens to be positioned well in the metagame, or even a rogue deck that’s been carefully crafted and tested.

Not into metagaming? It’s not stupid to play the deck that has been experiencing the best results. If you love Yveltal and know you can pilot it well, go for it. There are also two ways to go about doing this. The first is to play a very vanilla list, one that values consistency above all else. This is the most you can do to guarantee that you draw reasonably well every round. The second way is to craft your Yveltal list so that it sacrifices a bit of consistency for tech cards. These tech cards can be to help you win your worst matchup, like using Shadow Circle to counter Manectric. Go this route if you think you will be facing a lot of uphill battles. Another way you can use techs is to give you an advantage in a 50 / 50 matchup, like the Yveltal mirror. In this case, it could be something as simple as an extra Muscle Band or playing Keldeo-EX / Float Stone when you otherwise might not. Turning a 50 / 50 into a 60 / 40 is an underrated principle that can really help you stack wins during a tournament.

A lot of thought goes into the Pokemon TCG.


Of course, both of the metagaming methods could fail. Nothing is foolproof at a big tournament like Regionals. There are certain players who seem to do well at every cycle, and these are the players who have put a lot of thought and practice into their deck choice. These players are good at the game, and they know how to devise the best play for a nine round tournament. However, we are all human, prone to error and subject to luck of the draw. Don’t be discouraged about your play even if you lose the first round. A larger tournament is all about variance. Of course, smaller tournaments are about this too, but it comes into play as less of a factor because of the smaller sample size of a Cities or League Challenge.

Webster’s simple definition of variance is as follows: an amount of difference or change. For my purposes, this definition will work just fine. When I’m talking about variance in Pokemon, I’m referring mainly to the matchups faced in Swiss, not to card draw. Everyone knows that we have no control over what decks we are paired up with during Swiss. If you get to the tournament with two or three decks prepared, as I know most people do, you might take a walk around the room to see what’s popular. Using your knowledge gained from recent LC’s and Cities, you might combine that foreknowledge with what you see the morning of to make your final deck choice. For example, you see that the field appears to be at least 50% VirGen (Virizion-EX / Genesect-EX). The other decks you see around are mostly Yveltal-EX / Darkrai-EX and Seismitoad-EX / Hammers. Thus, you decide that your Pyroar / Blacksmith deck could take this tournament by storm. However, you see a few decks that worry you – Donphan and M Manectric-EX. They seem to be few and far between, however, and you decide that the number of good matchups you will have outweighs the number of bad ones. You turn in your decklist, the picture of confidence. However, round one you find yourself paired with a Donphan. You continue on but end the day at 6 – 3, having lost to two Donphan and a Manectric and missing cut. You see that several other Pyroar decks made the Top 32, even though the deck wasn’t that well represented, and think, why me?

In this case, you were a victim of poor variance. Despite having made an accurate assessment of the meta, you just didn’t play the correct percentages of your good versus bad matchups. If you had just played Virizion / Genesect yourself, you would have had a 50 / 50 matchup against those Donphan. However, instead of breezing through six rounds of V / G and Yveltal, you would have found yourself with 50 / 50 matchups that can be largely affected by card draw. My point here is not to let your given variance in any tournament discourage you. It doesn’t mean you are a bad player or made the wrong deck choice. Variance is why players who go to large amounts of tournaments are generally rewarded – they are bound to experience good variance at one point or another. The two different types of metagaming I described above play into whether you will have good or bad variance. The reason metagaming is different from just playing what’s won and what’s popular is because it inherently involves more of a risk because metagaming is more matchup-based, so naturally it will be more greatly affected by variance. They work together, and different players have different preferences. Some love to rely on variance through metagaming, and some prefer to go for maximum consistency and outplaying their opponent in mirrors and 50 / 50 matchups.

Let me know how you feel about my analysis and this section in general. I’d like to include more theoretical discussion in my articles instead of just lists, so any pointers on how to improve or subjects you’d like to hear me talk about would be very helpful!

Moving on to the present day and the issue at hand: Winter Regionals. I’m of the opinion that different regions of the U.S. have vastly different metagames and overall skill levels of players. I’ll be attending Virginia Regionals, so my choices will be based mostly on that area. However, Pokemon isn’t that big of a game that these choices couldn’t be applied to other areas, especially if they have a similar metagame. It’s just that I don’t have as much knowledge about these other regions since I don’t live or play there usually. Virginia is a Regionals that would get a mid to high level skill rating from me, based on my knowledge of players and past experiences playing in different areas.

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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