Sneaky Plays for Toronto — Four Powerful Decks in Expanded

Hello everyone! Alex back at you with a whole heap of insight on the Expanded format heading into Toronto Regional Championships, as well as a few thoughts moving forward in the Standard meta as the season winds down. There is a lot I want to talk about today, so let’s just dive right into it!

State of the Meta

There is a lot of things to discuss about where we are as a whole in terms of meta calling and what to play. The first thing is that this is not a new format for us. In fact, this is the first time all season that an Expanded format will be played for the third time amongst Regional Championships. It would have been the first time that a format was used three times over all, but Virginia is the third time Standard Primal Clash – Sun and Moon will be played. Regardless, we have a lot of information to base our meta prediction off of. Both St. Louis Regional Championships and Portland Regional Championships were played in the Black and White – Sun and Moon format. Since we base most of our results off of Top 32s, we now have 64 decks to sift through and find out what beats the bulk of them. We also have tons of lists and resources from talented writers that you can look through as well. So basically, while there isn’t a whole lot of new things going on, there is a lot of information on how to prepare for said things.

Dark is Still King

The most recent tournament was Portland Regional Championships, a tournament where Dark reigned supreme. A tournament that saw two Turbo Dark and three Maxie’s / Yveltal make top cut, with a Maxie’s / Yveltal mirror match for the finals. That’s fairly telling in itself right there. So basically, if you can’t beat Dark, don’t play it.

I’ve always said Pokemon is slowing devolving into a matchup based format. That’s more true for Standard, but the same logic still applies to Expanded. The problem with Expanded is that there are way more decks to expect and try to counter. For example, at Portland Regional Championships last month, I played against a Lurantis-GX / Vileplume, a Wailord, and a Raikou / Eelektrik deck, all of which I really didn’t expect to be there. I also played against two of the possible four Trevenant in the room that day. But the point I’m trying to make here is that while the format is so open and it can be hard to place a finger on exactly what decks to beat, if you can’t beat Dark, then don’t bother.

If you take that same thinking to Top 32, the picture becomes even more clear. Of the 64 decks between the two tournaments that made day two, 23 of them were some form of Dark heavy variant. Just to be clear, by Dark I mean Maxie’s / Yveltal, Turbo Dark, and Dark / Dragons. If you expand that count to every deck that include Dark Energy (and I don’t know why you would) then that number increases to 25 of 64, nearly 40% of the meta. That’s crazy. So while you might not play against Night March or Primal Groudon-EX, you can bet your top dollar that you will play against at least one, if not two or three Dark decks during your run in Ontario.

Where is All of the Item-lock?

Okay, yes, I was wrong. In my last article when I outlined the entire Expanded meta, I claimed that Item-lock was the one true thing to beat going into Portland. Boy was I wrong. This can be seen by only one Item-lock deck making day two, a Seismitoad-EX / Garbodor list played to a 5-0-4 finish by Lawrence Xu. So with that in mind, what will all of the Item-lock look like going into Toronto?

My gut tells me it will be much like Portland, where it will be lurking around, but not make a giant splash due to the high amount of counters and the high amount of not-so-great matchups. Item-lock is based almost purely on your opponent dead drawing after the lock. That may seem kind of obvious, but it does need to be stated. Trevenant, Vileplume, and to some extent Seismitoad-EX decks only win because of early game locks. And even so, sometimes those decks can be fragile and lose out very quickly. Ten minutes before Portland started, I had three Wobbuffet in my Sableye list just to counter all of the Vileplume. I’m glad I took them out, since Vileplume was almost nowhere to be seen in the room. Sure I ran into one myself, but again, how can you ever know what you’re going to play against?

Don’t build your deck to specifically counter Item-lock. Instead, just practice a few games against the big Item-locking decks you’re scared of. I’m personally not that scared of any Item-lock, but if you’re worried about Trevenant, believe me, you can beat it by just outplaying them. For the most part, every Item-locking deck is fairly linear, so beating them just takes practice and not a deck change. If the meta devolves into a heavy amount of Item-lock, then you can start considering playing hard counters like Wobbuffet and Hex Maniac. But until that day comes, practice will do the trick.

What Else is Missing?

As I said, I did post a massive list of the decks to expect or not expect going into Portland. From that list, there were five decks that were missing from the Top 32. Those decks were correctly assumed dead at the time of writing that article, and for the most part, still are. Those decks were Seismitoad-EX / Bats, Vileplume / Walls, Greninja, Carbink BREAK / Zygarde-EX, and Archie’s Blastoise.

The big one I want to talk about here is Greninja. We’ve all known for some time now that Greninja is just flat not being played by a lot of players. It used to be played as a pseudo counter to the meta. But now, there aren’t a whole lot of decks that this deck really beats. Heck, even Sableye / Garbodor has outs that have been discovered now. So why talk about it then? Well, I’ll get to that in a second, but just keep in mind that the decks that used to get housed by Greninja are now rearing their ugly head again and are good plays for Toronto.

Where Are We Now?

So after that quick, 1,000 word catchup, we’re now left with a meta that seems to be fairly balanced. Dark is a good deck, but I think its popularity has more to deal with people copying results, rather than trying to find counters to certain things. You can’t argue that Maxie’s / Yveltal is the most popular in the format, but does that make it best deck by default? Some people would be quick to say so, but I’m not so certain of that. Sure, Yveltal players have a lot of options at their disposal to counter any deck they see, but I’ve seen many players flop with the deck because they don’t know how to play out of every situation. To me, a clear “best deck in format” should be crowned when any average Joe can pick up the deck and win a tournament with it. That’s not the case for Yveltal.

So what is the best deck in the format? An age old question my dear reader. However, a question that really doesn’t matter. The better question is what is the most popular deck in format. Yveltal is the king there, followed by other Dark variants, Night March, and probably the Mega decks of Primal Groudon-EX, M Gardevoir-EX, and M Rayquaza-EX if you lump those last three together. So with all of that, and a somewhat clear picture of what you should beat, I bring you to the main part of this article, and that is my top four, in order, sneaky plays for Toronto.

#4 Night March

I start you off with the poorest excuse I have for a “sneaky” play. Unless this is the first article you’re ever reading about the Pokemon Trading Card Game (if it is, welcome!) then you’ve probably heard of Night March before. I remember smashing this deck left and right back in the Exeggutor and Lysandre's Trump Card days. It’s been through quite the evolution over the years, from crazy cool rogue deck to meta defining. So why would I every consider it a “sneaky” play?

Well that’s because it has seemingly fallen off the face of the earth. Night March will always be a good deck since the direct counters to the deck can be played around. Night March will always have the advantage of Prize-trade, since all of its attackers are non-EX Pokemon. Night March will always be popular due to the ease of getting cards and the perceived ease of playing the deck. Don’t get me wrong, Night March is an easy deck to play, but a very hard deck to master. Even a scrub like me can pick the deck up and fart out 50 Championship Points at a League Cup, but you can bet yourself anything that I would never win a Regional Championship with the deck.

So since it has fallen off the face of the Earth, I would say it’s a good time to pick the deck up again. But before I get going, here is a list I’ve thrown together.

Pokemon (18)

4x Joltik (PHF #26)4x Pumpkaboo (PHF #44)4x Lampent (PHF #42)2x Shaymin-EX (RSK #77)1x Jirachi-EX (PLB #60)1x Gallade (BKT #84)1x Archeops (NVI #67)1x Tauros-GX (SM #100)

Trainers (38)

3x Professor Juniper (BLW #101)1x Team Flare Grunt (XY #129)1x N (NVI #92)1x Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick (PRC #133)1x Lysandre (FLF #90)1x Hex Maniac (AOR #75)4x VS Seeker (PHF #109)4x Trainers' Mail (RSK #92)4x Ultra Ball (DEX #102)4x Puzzle of Time (BKP #109)4x Battle Compressor (PHF #92)2x Fighting Fury Belt (BKP #99)1x Float Stone (PLF #99)1x Enhanced Hammer (DEX #94)1x Escape Rope (PLS #120)1x Special Charge (STS #105)1x Startling Megaphone (FLF #97)1x Town Map (BCR #136)1x Life Dew (PLF #107)1x Dimension Valley (PHF #93)

Energy (4)

4x Double Colorless Energy (NXD #92)

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the best Night March player in the world. However, this season I do have 12 Championship Points from it, so I guess that qualifies me to at least post a list on a website.

Tauros-GX has been the best thing for Night March since Puzzle of Time came out. It gives it an edge in the early Prize-race against other decks that are trying to out-speed the deck. Granted not a whole heap can out-speed Night March, but the idea of forcing your opponent to play differently is nice. Early game one shots against big bopping Pokemon-EX is nothing to shake a stick at, as well as a decent Trevenant counter is great to throw in a deck. It also give you a bit of mid to late game insurance against all of those crazy people running Karen out there. Gallade is a nice way to get around that problem, but having a backup to that plan is nice to have. All in all, Tauros is everything this wanted, without realizing it wanted it.

I also am going to prefer the Maxie’s version of this list as opposed to the straight Night March version. Reason being is because it covers more matchups. Night March has always had a poor Turbo Dark matchup due to Darkrai-EX from Dark Explorers running through it. Mr. Mime in Night March is easily a thing of the past, so a Fighting Fury Belt on an attacker doing 100 and sniping for 30 is hard for Joltik and Pumpkaboo to combat. I had a couple of buddies who also played the non-Maxie’s version in Portland and said they hated it. I never really got details why, but I know it had something to do with the lack of access to Archeops and the poor Turbo Dark matchups.

The last thing I want to touch on in this list is the Team Flare Grunt. I’ll always have a soft spot for this card, but I think with the combination of the Enhanced Hammer, you can almost lock up your Dark / Giratina-EX matchup, your M Rayquaza-EX matchup, and even, to an extent, your Yveltal / Maxie’s matchup. These are all things you can fight against, but the turn one slowing down of a Flare Grunt can really hurt the speed of these decks. It also acts as a Giratina-EX counter, since Energy denial will be the name of the game there. Sure, Xerosic would work well in many of these cases, but Flare Grunt has been doing the trick for me and my testing team so far.

All in all, you can’t go wrong with Night March. No Greninja BREAK, a very lack luster showing of Decidueye-GX in Portland, and a larger Dark following set this deck up for success going into Toronto. It’s not a sneaky play, since it’s been around since the dawn of time it seems, but if you like Night March as much as the next person, then I say go with it.

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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