This weekend we will get the first big North American tournament in the Sword and Shield Expanded Format with the Collinsville Regional Championship.
In this article I go over the big changes that Sword and Shield brings to the Expanded meta, my observations on the new first turn rules, and then go over my three favorite Expanded decks headed into Collinsville – Snorlax VMAX/Cinccino, Turbo Dark, and Ultra Necrozma/Octillery.
Before I get into the primary content of the article, here is an update on how my season is going.
When I last wrote in January, I was at 344 Championship Points. Since then, I’ve continued to ride a hot quarter 2 to get up to 501 Championship Points to earn my invitation to the World Championship in London.
In Standard Format, I won a League Cup and also finished Top 4 at a League Cup with a Welder Box deck. In Expanded, I won a second League Cup with Ultra Necrozma/Octillery, using an updated list that was influenced by Ryan Harris’ 10th place Dallas list, I won a League Challenge with RoxieChomp, netdecking Hunter Butler’s Regional Championship winning list, and put my self over the finish line for the invite with a 3rd place finish at a League Challenge with Turbo Dark.
If you click on any of the links above it will take you to the list for these decks. Make sure to follow me @CharizardLounge on Twitter to stay up to date when I have a new article drop and also to see the lists that I use in tournaments that I haven’t written an article for.
A Clash of Generations
With the release of Sword and Shield, the Expanded Format now spans four generations of Pokémon Cards – Black and White, XY, Sun and Moon, and now Sword and Shield. Each generation brings new game mechanics, and in Expanded, with cards coming from various time periods, what ends up happening is that the game mechanics fall out of sync. This can create powerful card combinations and weaken previously good cards and decks.
The biggest change coming from the Sun and Moon through Sword and Shield transition is the change from Pokémon-GX to Pokémon V. A lot of cards from the Sun and Moon sets were designed to target or restrict either Pokémon-EX and Pokémon-GX, and now these card effects don’t target Pokémon V, the new ultra-powerful Pokémon mechanic.
The three most important cards to focus in on with the generation clash for me are Great Catcher, Choice Band, and Counter Energy.
In the Cosmic Eclipse Expanded Format, players started playing one or two copies of Great Catcher in their decks as most of the top decks were based around Pokémon-GX and Pokémon-EX, or played cards like Shaymin EX and Dedenne GX as part of their consistency engine.
Headed into Collinsville, Great Catcher should still be a strong play. Most decks, even Pokémon V decks, will be playing Shaymin EX and Dedenne GX as part of their consistency engine, so you will still have Great Catcher targets in most matchups. Pokémon V are strong and will have a strong presence in Collinsville, but a solid portion of the meta should also still be decks built around Pokémon GX and Tag Team Pokémon and you can get great use from Great Catcher in these matchups.
Players will not be able to take an extra 30 damage with Choice Band on Pokémon V as they currently can do against Pokémon-EX and Pokémon-GX. With this, players are going to have to crunch the math for the deck that they’re playing to figure out what damage modifier, if any, they should be playing. Which damage modifier (Fighting Fury Belt, Choice Band, or Muscle Band) is the best will need to be figured out on a deck by deck basis.
I expect Choice Band will see a fair amount of play as it can help some decks get the knockout math on Tag Team Pokémon. For example, Zacian V does 230 damage, so it is already going to be knocking out most Pokémon-EX, Pokémon-GX, and other Pokémon V. With Choice Band, it can get up to 260 damage against Tag Team Pokémon, and then it can further increase its damage output to 270 or 280 damage with Dhelmise GRI to take the OHKO against most Tag Team Pokémon. This makes Choice Band the best option for Zacian V, as Muscle Band doesn’t help it take any extra knockouts, while Choice Band can be used to help it get the OHKO’s on Tag Team Pokémon.
The last big card to keep in mind when building decks is Counter Energy, which can be used with Pokémon V. This gives Pokémon V a way to power up their attacks more easily when behind on prizes. Celebi V, for example, might not look great on the surface, but with Counter Energy it could be powered up with a single attachment and be used to OHKO Grass weak Pokémon.
You may even see a few copies of Counter Energy being slid into decks like Zacian V, which would allow Zacian V to be powered up by one Counter Energy attachment and then a second attachment from either Max Elixir or Metal Saucer.
A byproduct of Counter Energy being played in a deck like Zacian V is that it would allow these decks to also play various counter attackers to try to fix problematic matchups, or to strengthen 50-50 matchups.
Players need to be careful when deckbuilding with Pokémon V and avoid getting too cute with Counter Energy. Counter Energy is only effective when behind and in a deck like Zacian V it doesn’t fulfill any of Zacian V’s attack cost in a tied game or a game in which you’re ahead, which creates game states where Counter Energy is useless. Players may also put too many techs in their decks to be used with Counter Energy, which could hurt their deck’s consistency. Additionally, if you’re only playing two copies of Counter Energy in your deck, it may be difficult to find both Counter Energy and your tech attacker when you need it in a matchup, especially if you aren’t playing search cards like Teammates or Guzma & Hala which can be used to search for the Counter Energy.
Beyond these cards, cards like Power Plant, Shrine of Punishment, and Mimikyu CEC become more situational and will lessen in power with each new set release as the meta shifts more and more towards Pokémon V and Pokémon VMAX and away from Pokémon-EX and Pokémon-GX.
Cards like Keldeo GX and Hoopa SLG which could be good in some matchups in Expanded will also become worse the more the meta shifts towards Pokémon V.
Headed into Collinsville, I think Pokémon V decks are in a good position to do well as they have strong attacks and higher HP than the Basic Pokémon-EX or Pokémon-GX, but are not affected by some of the strongest cards from the Sun and Moon sets that target or restrict Pokémon-EX and Pokémon GX.
The New First Turn Rules
The big change coming with Sword and Shield are the new first turn rules, which say the player going first cannot play a Supporter.
Prior to testing the format, I was worried that the new rules changes may have tipped the balance too far in the direction of the player going second, but after playing a lot of games in the format, I think things are now pretty balanced.
In previous formats, it was pretty clear that the player going first had a big advantage. With the new rules, something I noticed was that more matches in my testing were going 2-0 to the deck with an advantage in the matchup. In previous formats, it felt like 2-1 splits happened more frequently, with the deck that got to go first two out of three games having the advantage.
As far as player preference, it is clear from testing on PTCGO that most players are going to choose to go second in Expanded as we head into Collinsville. Very few people that I’ve played online have chosen to go first and I saw much of the same at the League Challenge I attended this past weekend.
I think this makes a lot of sense headed into Collinsville, as players haven’t had enough time to fully test out the new rules and fully learn the implications of the first turn rules on every deck. Going second lets players do what they’re comfortable with, playing Supporters on turn one.
A lot of the top decks from last format – Turbo Dark, Ultra Necrozma, Mewtwo & Mew GX, RoxieChomp, and Trevenant & Dusknoir GX/Milotic are pretty well off whether they go first or second. One of the big newcomers, Zacian V, is very solid going either first or second thanks to its “Intrepid Sword” Ability.
The biggest advantage of going first is that you can evolve first in a game, which could be advantageous for a deck like Snorlax VMAX, allowing you to hit for massive damage on turn 2.
The other big advantage is being able to setup some type of roadblock for your opponent to overcome, the biggest one being Ability Lock. Ultra Necrozma, for example, can put a Silent Lab into play on turn one to try to lock an opponent out of their draw Abilities on turn one.
Another Ability Lock option is Wobbuffet PHF, whose “Bide Barricade” Ability removes Abilities from any non-Psychic Pokémon when Wobbuffet is active. When you go first, you can search it out to disrupt your opponent’s turn one setup. In games where you go second, if you happen to start it, then your opponent won’t be able to do much of anything on turn one, not being able to play a Supporter or use Pokémon based draw options.
I think the deck we will see Wobbuffet in the most is Trevenant & Dusknoir GX/Milotic. This deck is able to utilize Wobbuffet well because it has a lot of Ability based draw and Pokémon search cards which makes it fairly easy to get into Wobbuffet on turn 1, even if you don’t start it. When the deck is playing Wobbuffet, it also plays Dawn Wings Necrozma GX so it can use its “Invasion” Ability to get Wobbuffet out of the active spot so that it can use non-Psychic type Abilities such as Shaymin EX’s “Setup” or Milotic’s “Energy Grace” Ability.
If you see decks with Wobbuffet gaining steam headed into the tournament, then playing a copy of Tapu Lele GX may be a good idea as it lets you convert your Ultra Balls or Quick Balls into a Supporter in the games where your opponent sticks a Wobbuffet active on turn one, preventing you from dead drawing like you may if Dedenne GX and Shaymin EX are your only consistency outs that can be searched out with your ball cards.
Another roadblock that I’ve seen quite a lot of is Sudowoodo from Guardians Rising, which of course has the “Roadblock” Ability. This can punish players who play down a lot of draw Pokémon during their first turn but fail to setup the rest of their board. Make sure to keep Sudowoodo in mind on your first turn to avoid clogging up your bench with Pokémon that you didn’t need to play down.
The biggest disadvantage of going first is the donk factor. Some games you just start a lone Pokémon, no search cards and need to pass with one Pokémon in play. Some decks, such as Turbo Dark and Zacian V are very good at capitalizing on these situations and ending the game quickly.
One deck that I’ve found to struggle with going first is Rowlet & Alolan Exeggutor GX/Vileplume. When going second, the deck is great, being able to Item lock an opponent with Vileplume before the opponent has even gotten to play a Supporter. However, when you go first, you often start a lone Pokémon and are at risk of being donked on your opponent’s first turn.
This is a whole new frontier, so headed into Collinsville I would say focus in on your deck choice and figure out whether you prefer going first or second with that specific deck and then figure out if there is any matchups in which you would want to stray from that preference.
I think Snorlax VMAX is the best deck to come to Expanded from Sword and Shield. It’s the card that power creeps the format the most in both the power of its attack and the power of its defense. With a full bench and Sky Field in play it hits for 300 damage, which is enough damage to OHKO any Tag Team Pokemon, only falling short against other VMAX Pokemon. If VMAX Pokemon become popular you can play damage modifiers like Muscle Band and Professor Kukui to try to OHKO them too.
As for its defense, it has 340 HP making it nearly impossible to knockout with a single attack. This allows you to play Snorlax VMAX as both a tank deck and a OHKO deck, a powerful combination.
The way that I’ve built my Snorlax VMAX deck is to play into this tank strategy. It is very difficult to knockout Snorlax VMAX, so I play healing cards to prevent my opponent from doing just that. AZ gives you a way to heal off your Snorlax VMAX that can re-used with VS Seeker. In addition to that, I play 2 Max Potion, which lets you clear the damage off of Snorlax VMAX while still being able to play a Supporter to draw cards or to gust up an opponent’s Pokemon.
The deck is powered on Triple Acceleration Energy and since that discards at the end of your turn, you need to have the draw power necessary to keep finding them. I include a 3-3 Cinccino line to use its “Make Do” Ability to draw through the deck and repeatedly find the Triple Acceleration Energy.
I’ve seen some lists playing only Shaymin EX and Dedenne GX for Ability based draw, and while these lists are a bit more consistent in getting setup they can easily crumble in the late game from dead drawing after an N. This list still plays 2 Shaymin EX and 1 Dedenne GX, so it does have a decent amount of early game burst potential in it as well.
When using “Make Do”, you may be tempted to repeatedly use “Propogation” with your Exeggcute when using the Ability, but it’s a good idea to thin out dead cards in a matchup as much as possible in the early stages of the game. Unlike Zoroark GX decks, which were powered on Double Colorless Energy, this deck needs to find a new Energy card to attach every turn so you need to do whatever you can to increase the probability of drawing those cards because one missed attachment could be what swings the momentum in the game.
The deck will be countered by a few different angles – bench limitation, weakness, and special effects.
The first angle will be by limiting the Snorlax player’s bench, most commonly with Sudowoodo GRI and its “Roadblock” Ability, which limits the opponent’s bench to four Pokemon. The counter to this is Alolan Muk SUM’s “Power of Alchemy” Ability which removes Abilities from Basic Pokemon. This can be countered back, however, with Stealthy Hood.
The second angle will be by hitting it for its Fighting weakness. In particular, Sudowoodo BKP using its “Watch and Learn” attack to copy “G-Max Fall”. Buzzwole FLI would also be able to take a OHKO on the four prize turn with a Beast Energy and Muscle Band attached. Marshadow GX is another Fighting type Pokemon that sees play in Turbo Dark, which can also be countered with Alolan Muk as it copies attacks with its “Shadow Hunt” Ability.
The counter to these Fighting Pokemon is Altaria ROS 74, whose “Clear Humming” Ability removes weakness from Colorless Pokemon. With this in play and no Weakness being hit for, these Pokemon will fall well short of a OHKO on your Snorlax VMAX.
The third angle of attack will be with the special effects of attacks. The most common would be Darkrai GX’s “Dead End GX”, which lets Darkrai GX knockout a Pokemon that is affected by a Special Condition. Another one of these attacks is Raticate BCR, which can effectively OHKO a Snorlax VMAX with its “Super Fang” attack when Snorlax VMAX is Burned or Poisoned.
The counter to these types of attacks is Galarian Rapidash, which prevents all of your Pokemon from being affected by Special Conditions. This has the side benefit as acting as a Shock Lock counter.
Right now I am choosing to only be able to evolve into Altaria and Galarian Rapidash off of Ditto Prism Star, as I expect a very diverse meta, but as more of a concrete meta forms for Expanded after this weekend, for future tournaments in Expanded you may want to include a Basic for one of these Pokemon if one of these counter strategies ends up being much more popular than the others.
Another strategy that you may see decks employee to try to take you down is by targeting your bench. One way you can mitigate the damage that can be done with this strategy is by using your Field Blower to bounce Sky field from play so you can discard two prize liabilities like Shaymin EX from your bench. You still hit for 210 damage with a five Pokemon bench, which can net you a OHKO in a lot of scenarios, and of course you could then play down a new Sky Field and play some more Pokemon to get back up to OHKO numbers against something like Zacian V or a Tag Team Pokemon.
If you’re winning the prize trade against a multi-prize deck the “Guzma the bench” strategy falls apart as you will win the game as long as you can continue stringing knockouts on their two or three prize Pokemon.
I think Snorlax VMAX has a lot of potential for a strong performance this weekend. The deck sets up relatively fast and can start hitting for OHKO’s as early as turn two. With its healing cards, Snorlax VMAX generally trades very well with Tag Team decks, such as Mewtwo & Mew GX, Gardevoir & Sylveon GX/Aromatisse, RoxieChomp, as well as against the hot new Pokemon V deck of Turbo Zacian V.
The deck will definitely struggle against control decks. You have limited resources and any control deck will be able to prey on that fact. The deck is solid enough to take wins against Rowlet & Alolan Exeggutor GX/Vileplume a decent amount of the time, but is hopeless against decks like Doll Stall.
Update: The Sword and Shield Minccino is the best one for this deck. You can make do with any other one, but the 70 HP brings the most to the deck given you don’t play any Energy you can attack with it.
Turbo Dark is still one of my favorite decks in Expanded and it’s still very good. I think the best way to build it in the current format is to chase high damage numbers with “Dark Pulse”. This means playing Dowsing Machine to give you an extra Dark Patch, playing 12 Darkness Energy, so you have more Energy to get into play, and playing Choice Band to take extra damage against Pokemon GX and Pokemon EX.
With these changes, it becomes much easier to take the big OHKO’s on Tag Team Pokemon like Garchomp & Giratina GX and Mewtwo & Mew GX.
The one Pokemon I think you need to concede the HP battle to is Snorlax VMAX. 340 HP is very difficult to get in one attack. Instead, you need to rely on Marshadow GX to hit Snorlax VMAX for weakness, “Dead End GX” for a OHKO, and Guzzlord to take extra prizes. Of course, Snorlax VMAX has counters to both weakness and special conditions, but they won’t be able to setup all of the counters they need right away in most games, which will give you an opportunity to take some big knockouts early.
If you’re choosing a turbo deck, I think the case for Turbo Dark over Zacian V is that Turbo Dark is much more competitive against Snorlax VMAX and with Guzzlord, it has a much better matchup against one prize decks, such as Ultra Necrozma, which Zacian struggles to deal with.
Two list specific things I want to highlight are the following. First, I have settled in on a 3/2 split of Ultra Ball and Quick Ball. Which is better is variable depending on the hand. Sometimes Quick Ball will be better as you don’t want to discard much from your hand, but other times Ultra Ball will be better, such as when you have a Darkrai GX and Energy you want to discard, or when you want to get your hand lower to draw more cards with Shaymin EX. I think you definitely should play more Ultra Ball than Quick Ball so that you have more outs to Weavile GX.
The second card I want to highlight is Stealthy Hood, a card that has proven its worth over and over again for me in testing. I initially put Stealthy Hood into the deck to be able to use Weavile GX’s “Shadow Connection” against RoxieChomp decks that had Mimikyu in play. Other situations I’ve found it extremely useful in are to re-activate “Dark Cloak” for free retreat against Ability Lock Pokemon, such as Garbodor or Alolan Muk, and to be able to attack with Marshadow GX when under Ability Lock from those same Pokemon.
Ultra Necrozma is another deck from last format that I think is very good, but which doesn’t really change much headed into this format. I still believe a variant built around Octillery for consistent draw power and some counter attackers to deal with meta threats is the best way to build the deck.
My current list for the deck is pretty close to the one I used to win a League Cup a few weeks ago, but I’ve swapped out the Cobalion STS, which was in there to counter Gardevoir & Sylveon GX/Aromatisse decks for a Marshadow UNB to give a very easy to access out for bouncing Chaotic Swell from play. I don’t think Gardeon will be a very popular deck for Collinsville as it struggles with Zacian V because of weakness, and with Snorlax VMAX, as Snorlax can OHKO it while not being able to be OHKO’d back.
This list is a little bit less consistent than my initial list for the deck, it plays Dowsing Machine over Computer Search and cuts back on one of the shuffle and draw Supporters, but it works well enough. Ryan Harris got 10th place at Dallas with the consistency card counts in this list, and I experienced first hand it working fine in a League Cup win.
The deck seems fairly well positioned headed into Collinsville. It trades very well with Zacian V and it should have a solid Snorlax VMAX matchup. The Altaria in Snorlax VMAX is somewhat problematic as it will prevent you from hitting for weakness with Sudowoodo, but I think you can do a pretty good job of using Guzma and Great Catcher to pick away at their bench for your prizes. If you knockout the Altaria, they also need to get it back into play, otherwise you will be able to use Sudowoodo to OHKO a Snorlax VMAX.
Outside of those two new decks, I don’t think much changes with the deck’s matchups. It has solid matchups against most of the meta, but it will struggle against most stall decks and Rowlet & Alolan Exeggutor GX/Vileplume is an auto loss if they don’t draw pass into a donk.
Collinsville will be a wide open meta with lots of decks seeing play. The only two big new decks I would expect to see are Snorlax VMAX and Zacian V. Outside of those decks, I think much of the rest of the meta will be formed off of the Dallas meta, with players defaulting to their favorite decks from last format.
I don’t expect any one deck to have an enormous meta share, but here are the top decks I would make sure to work out strategies for headed into the tournament:
- Turbo Dark
- Zacian V
- Ultra Necrozma (Both Garbodor and Octillery variants)
- Snorlax VMAX
- Mewtwo & Mew GX
- Rowlet & Alolan Exeggutor GX/Vileplume
- Trevenant & Dusknoir GX/Milotic
- Doll Stall
The meta will of course have more decks than this, but if you focus most of your testing time against these decks I think you will be pretty well prepared for the meta you will face in Collinsville.