Expanded Explorations #2: The Shiftry Experiment – How Broken is Broken Vine Space?
Any time that a card pool gets deep, the format opens itself up to combo decks being discovered that exploit powerful combos that the card makers didn’t quite have in mind when designing the cards. Generally these combos will aim to win the game in one turn without giving the opponent an opportunity to play the game. Pokemon players have been quick to point out one of these new combos that becomes possible thanks to the printing of Forest of Giant Plants in Ancient Origin. The stadium card lets players evolve their Grass Pokemon on the first turn as well as the turn that they put a Pokemon into play, acting as a Grass version of the old Broken Time Space Stadium card. (Players have been quick to dub this card as Broken Vine Space, which is absolutely the best name for the card!)
The combo uses Shiftry from Next Destinies in an attempt to bench your opponent on the first turn of the game. Shiftry has an Ability, Giant Fan, which has you flip a coin when you evolve into Shiftry and if heads you choose one of your opponent’s Pokemon and your opponent shuffles that Pokemon into their deck. The deck plays Devolution Spray and Super Scoop Up to pick Shiftry up off the field and then instantly re-evolve Shiftry using Forest of Giant Plants.
This brings into questions two main things. First, how would this deck be able to take advantage of the format. Second, does the deck actually work?
The Difficulty Level of a Shiftry Game
When looking at a deck like this, the game boils down to a difficulty level set out by how many Pokemon your opponent can get out before you have a turn in the game. Going first is a huge advantage for this deck, as your opponent won’t get an opportunity to play down additional Basic Pokemon beyond what they get in their opening hand. If you go second, the difficulty level of the game goes up as your opponent has time to find addition Basic Pokemon, and then the game comes down to whether you can bench however many Pokemon they get down on the first turn of the game or not.
For purposes of this section, I will link to an article that Patrick Roberts wrote for Six Prizes on Pokemon Probabilities. In section 3.2; Table 1 he covers the probabilities of starting either 2 or 3 Basic Pokemon in the opening hand. He didn’t go beyond starting 3 Basic Pokemon because of how low the probability is to do so. As you can see from his table, in most cases your opponent will be starting either 1 or 2 Basic Pokemon, although 3 isn’t that improbable in decks playing a lot of Basic Pokemon.
With opponents likely to start with 3 or less Basic Pokemon in most games, the goal for a Shiftry deck to be successful is that it should aim to get around 3 successful Giant Fans off on the first turn of the game to bench an opponent when you go first.
The deck list I used for this experiment was one posted onto Virbank City by Robin Schulz. I think most Shiftry lists will end up similar to this list, so it provided a great base for testing the deck out. I actually ran two trials for the deck, one with AZ as he had posted in the list and one with Professor Juniper.
Pokemon – 19
4 Seedot FLF
Trainers – 41
2 AZ / Professor Juniper
4 Ultra Ball
4 Forest of Giant Plants
Energy – 0
This list is fairly straight forward in that you aim to draw through your entire deck on the first turn of the game to get as many Shiftry into play as possible. You use Shaymin EX and Unown for their draw Abilities, as well as various draw Items to cycle through your deck as fast as possible.
You do need to get Forest of Giant Plants into play before you can start evolving, so Trainer’s Mail works well for digging four cards deep into your deck to try to find them as fast as possible.
Super Scoop Up and Scoop Up Cyclone are multidimensional as they can pick up Shiftry to give you an additional Giant Fan or pick up a Shaymin EX so you can use Setup again.
Devolution Spray lets you pick up Shiftry and then you can re-evolve it for a Giant Fan. Recycle lets you flip a coin, and if heads put a card back on top of your deck. This can be used to put additional Devolution Sprays into your deck.
The Battle Compressor is to thin dead cards out of the deck. The main dead card is Forest of Giant Plants, as once you get one in play, the others are useless, but sometimes you will find yourself discarding something like a Seedot if you already have three in play and had to discard a part of the evolution line earlier in the game. The Float Stone is to retreat Unown if you start it so that you can use its Ability, which only triggers from the bench.
I do think that going for the all out donk strategy is the optimal way to play this deck, and this list does a good job at putting an emphasis on that. I don’t think adding in additional strategies into this deck to try to deal with other threats actually works and would kill the consistency behind the core concept of the deck. With a deck like this, you just have to accept that there are a few counters to it and takes losses against those while maximizing your probability of winning your other matchups.
As the deck is built here, with optimal draws, you have a maximum potential of 18 Giant Fans in a single game with AZ and 17 with Professor Juniper as the Supporter card.
Trial 1 – AZ
Here are the results from trial 1 using AZ as the Supporter card. When testing this I only recorded the number of Giant Fan Abilities I used and not the number of successful Giant Fans that were pulled off in a game. I think using the theoretical probability is of greater use than using the probability from a small sample size trial.
Trial 2 – Professor Juniper
Overall, I felt the Professor Juniper version of the deck was stronger. I think it makes more games playable for you than playing AZ. If you start a single Pokemon, AZ will cause a dead game if that is your last out in hand to do something. If you play Professor Juniper, a game where you run out of opening turn outs besides the Supporter can be extended with a fresh new hand of 7 cards.
Probability of Giant Fanning X Pokemon
As you can see the averages from the two trials are 5.1 and 5.7, so on average you’re getting about 5-6 Giant Fans per a game. In the total of 20 games that I played with the deck, I had 3 dead games, plus two other games where I got off less than 5 Giant Fans. In 75% of the games, I got off at least 5 Giant Fan Abilities. The highest number of Giant Fans I was able to get off in a single game was 10.
Here are the probabilities of getting x number of successful Giant Fans based on the number of Giant Fans that you get off in a game.
|Successful Giant Fans|
Next, here are the probabilities of getting at least x number of successful Giant Fans based on the number of Giant Fans that you pull off in a game.
|At Least X Successful Giant Fans|
As you can see, the deck has a very high probability of winning games against opponents who start either 1 or 2 Pokemon. Things start to get shaky when your opponent gets to 3 Pokemon, but even hitting the average number of Giant Fans in a game gives you at least a 50% probability to win the game against someone that starts 3 Basics.
Problems with the Deck
There are a few issues with this deck, but I don’t believe any of these are big enough issues to keep this deck from being a dominant force.
The primary issue will be Pokemon that disrupt your Abilities in some way or another. There are two Pokemon that will do this, and those are Wobbuffet PHF and Baltoy AOR.
Wobbuffet’s Bide Baricade Ability shuts off all Abilities of non-Psychic Pokemon when Wobbuffet is in the Active position. This means that you won’t be able to use Setup or Giant Fan when Wobbuffet is Active, effectively shutting down the deck. If your opponent ever chooses to attack with something that isn’t Wobbuffet, then you could theoretically remove the Wobbuffet with Giant Fan while it’s on the bench and try to bench your opponent the turn they cede you Abilities. If the player who starts Wobbuffet chooses to do nothing, you will deck out before they do if they play Colress in there deck.
A deck could use Wobbuffet to bide time to setup Garbodor DRX before moving into an attacker, which would work well in shutting down the deck while still allowing you to attack with a strong attacker for other matchups.
Baltoy effectively would auto win against this deck too if your opponent starts it, and it’s even stronger than Wobbuffet as it guarantees there is a Pokemon on the field that a Shiftry player can’t remove. Shiftry can’t remove it from the field because it has the Theta Stop Ancient Trait which prevents it from being affected by your opponent’s Abilities. M Sceptile EX also has this, but your opponent would need to go first to get that into play.
While these are strong counters to the deck, your opponent actually has to start them (or get them into play, as well as Active for Wobbuffet if they go first) for them to work. Wobbuffet and Baltoy don’t work as decks on their own, so they will have to be played with other Pokemon as part of some deeper strategy. Your opponent can play one of these cards and not start them and still lose against this deck.
Going second is also disadvantageous to the deck because something like Vileplume could come into play on your opponent’s first turn of the game, effectively shutting down this Item heavy deck. However, those decks could still whiff the turn 1 Vileplume and then lose the game on the Shiftry player’s turn. Hex Maniac could also stall for a turn, but you still could lose the game on a turn where Hex Maniac isn’t in effect.
The deck also has the issue of having to follow a set order of operations to work. If it doesn’t have Forest of Giant Plants in play, then it can’t evolve into Nuzleaf and then Shiftry. This was the biggest issue I had with the deck for keeping my Giant Fan counts low. There were quite a few games where I couldn’t find Forest of Giant Plants until I was pretty deep into my deck so I was losing potential Giant Fans each moment that went by without it in play.
I think it’s important to remember that this is a starting list for the deck and that there are probably more optimal lists for the deck waiting to be discovered. If a better list is developed, the number of Giant Fans averaged per a game could go up, making the deck even more effective.
The biggest thing I would look to improve on the deck is it’s ability to get Forest of Giant Plants into play earlier. Some options to do this would be to play Computer Search as the Ace Spec to give a 5th out to Forest of Giant Plants.
Another one would be to replace the Unown with a 2-2 Roserade DRX line. Roserade’s Le Parfum Ability lets you search your deck for any card when you evolve into Roserade, effectively acting as a Computer Search.
Edit: Scratch the above. Roserade is still worth testing to replace Unown, but you would need Forest of Giant Plants in play to be able to evolve it on turn 1, so it won’t be able to be the card to search out the Stadium for you.
It is fairly clear from the 20 games that I tested with this deck that the deck functions successfully. I’m very scared of how effective the deck can be as a better list for it is developed in the future.
The only way to really feel safe against the deck is to play cards like Wobbuffet or Baltoy, and if you don’t start them and go second then they’re not even useful against the deck. Against anything that didn’t start Wobbuffet or Baltoy, this deck has a high probability of winning the game on the first turn of the game.
This is only one of the powerful turn 1 strategies that will be possible in Expanded using Forest of Giant Plants. Another one on players minds is Forretress FLF, whose Thorn Tempest Ability places 1 damage counter on all of your opponent’s Pokemon. Forretress is a Stage 1, so it’s much easier to get into play than Shiftry. I haven’t tested it yet, but I wouldn’t be shocked for a Latios EX/Forretress deck to be able to place around 100-120 damage on each of your opponent’s Pokemon with Forretress on the first turn of the game using a similar engine.
These strategies are problematic for the Expanded format and hopefully Pokemon will make a preemptive strike against them to make for a fun and healthy format for Fall Regionals, which will be played in the Expanded format. I’m all for there being a powerful deck that is the central focus of the meta game, but it shouldn’t be turn 1 donk decks like this.
I think some type of ban or card limit will need to be in effect to allow for a healthy Fall Regionals format. I’m not sure what the best course of action is for dealing with these cards to allow for a healthy format. I would hate to see a card like Forretress get banned when it could combo well with other cards in the format like Team Magma’s Groudon EX and M Tyranitar EX.
One option is that they could ban the card allowing these broken strategies, and that is Forest of Giant Plants. I think I would be okay with that outcome, as it gets rid of the unhealthy combos with Devolution Spray in Expanded while still allowing for healthier Grass decks to see play using the card in the Standard format.
I’m really not sure what the best course of action is for dealing with these cards, but Pokemon will have a lot to think about as they figure out how to best deal with these combo decks. One thing I’m sure of is that Pokemon needs to do something if they want Fall Regionals to be played in a healthy format that doesn’t involve one player taking 10 minute turns to try to bench their opponent.