One of the most uncomfortable decisions that Pokemon will be faced with headed into the next competitive season is what they should do with the Expanded format. For the 2016-2017 competitive season, Pokemon decided to give the Expanded format no rotation and did nothing to change the format beyond new set and card releases that followed the announcement.
Some calls exist to do away with Expanded format completely, but doing so would probably be detrimental to the game. The Expanded format gives cards a longer lifespan than the 1 1/2 to 3 years they get in Standard format allowing cards to hold greater long term value than before Pokemon created Expanded format. Additionally, with two formats available, potential players are more likely to find some format they enjoy playing in, which increases the likelihood of the game attracting and retaining new players as two formats doubles the chances of a player finding something they like about playing Pokemon.
While I think Expanded is overall a positive for the game and think for the most part it’s a good and skill intensive format, it is far from perfect and there are some questions that are yet to be answered about how Pokemon will handle its continued existence moving forward that. In this article I look at what may be in store for the future of Expanded Format and what Pokemon can do right now to make for a better format.
Moving Expanded Forward
There are three ways that Pokemon can let the Expanded format live into the future.
- Do nothing and let Expanded continuously grow with each new product release.
- Rotate sets from Expanded as Pokemon already does with Standard.
- Ban cards from Expanded to tailor the format to what they want it to be.
All three of these are viable options for Expanded format, but each of them come with their own issues.
The Do Nothing Approach
The “Do Nothing” approach is basically Pokemon saying that the format is going to be Black and White on, not deviating from this mindset, and just letting the Expanded format grow and grow as the years go on and more sets and cards are released.
This approach can be problematic because at some point eventually a few combos can become too overpowered to the point that they’re the only viable options for tournament play. At this point, the format has become solved and it’s not really that interesting for players to continue playing on in a format like this.
We can also disregard this approach because Pokemon has stated that they will ban cards if they need to, saying in their format rotation announcement, “This format will continue to be aggressively monitored to ensure fair gameplay balance, and individual cards may be banned periodically to maintain this balance.”
As for format rotation, we shouldn’t be questioning whether this will happen, but should instead be asking when will it happen and in what manner. Format Rotation seems like an inevitability for Expanded as at some point the oldest set probably becomes so old that Pokemon no longer wants to support the earliest sets’ legality because of how difficult it could become to obtain new cards and how intimidating too large of a card pool could become for new players.
It’s important to keep in mind that the format is called “Expanded” and not something like “Eternal”, which means one could assume the format’s purpose is is to provide a larger format than Standard, but not necessarily a format that never rotates.
As of this writing, the oldest set in Expanded is Black and White Base Set which was released on April 25, 2011 making the oldest set 5 1/2 years old, and 6 1/2 years old at the beginning of next season. When Evolutions releases in November, Expanded format will encompass two entire generations (Black and White/XY) and will be beginning on a third with Sun and Moon.
With Sun and Moon released, and three generational blocks in play, we will get our first glimpse into how Pokemon intends to handle format rotation in Expanded format. I think we will see our first Expanded rotation this summer, and then will begin to see more frequent rotations of Expanded, although I don’t expect every year in the future to have a rotation. I would also expect them to skip small rotations like NXD-on and instead use much more dramatic format rotations, most likely rotating out generational blocks in two rotations.
Here is how I personally expect Pokemon to rotate Expanded format moving forward.
- Summer 2017 – Boundaries Crossed-on (BCR-SM3)
- Summer 2018 – XY-on (XY-SM7)
- Summer 2019 – XY-on (XY-SM11) [No Rotation]
- Summer 2020 – PRC-on [New Generation]
- Summer 2021 – SM-on
It is always possible that the format actually does remain Black and White on this summer and remains to be that, but I think Pokemon will opt to go the rotation route with Expanded as it gives them an easy method to refresh the format to prevent it from stagnating around a few overpowered concepts and by limiting how much Expanded can expand they limit the risk of creating broken card combos.
The last option that Pokemon has for managing the Expanded format is banning cards. While rotation may seem inevitable, banning cards is the only form of management beyond doing nothing that we’ve actually seen take place.
Before Fall Regional Championships began during the 2015-2016 Play Pokemon Season, Pokemon decided to drop the ban hammer on Shiftry NXD. With the release of Forest of Giant Plants in Ancient Origins, you were then able to use that Stadium card to evolve into Shiftry NXD during the first turn of the game. Shiftry’s Giant Fan Ability had you flip a coin and if heads you could choose one of your opponent’s Pokemon and shuffle it back into their deck.
The Shiftry Donk deck aimed to win the game on the first turn of the game by shuffling all of the opponent’s Pokemon back into their deck with Giant Fan on the first turn of the game. The deck re-used the Giant Fan Ability by constantly re-evolving into Shiftry with Forest of Giant Plants and de-evolving/picking up Shiftry with cards such as Devolution Spray, Super Scoop Up, and Scoop Up Cyclone.
To read more about the deck, check out the two articles we did on the deck prior to it being banned:
- Expanded Explorations #2: The Shiftry Experiment – How Broken Is Broken Vince Space?
- Expanded Explorations #3: The Dirty Details of Shiftry Donk
Instead of allowing Expanded format to be ruled by Shiftry, Pokemon decided to ban the card. Pokemon deemed the concept too polarizing and didn’t want to create a permanent Rock/Paper/Scissors format where there were three deck types played in equal numbers, those being Shiftry Donk, Counter Shiftry Donk Decks, and Counter Counter Shiftry Donk Decks.
Banning cards is one of the moves a game maker can make that can cause the most impact if done on the right card. It’s in the nature of trading card games for some cards to be better than others, so naturally some cards will rise to the top above others. Removing one of the cards towards the top creates a power vacuum that must be filled, so game makers need to be careful when deciding to ban anything, because the alternative format that is created from banning a powerful card can be even more unbalanced than the former format leading to player frustration beyond that which existed in the original format.
For this reason, it’s important that game maker’s think carefully before deciding to ban any cards, as things can quickly get ugly if the power vacuum is filled by something even worse than what they were trying to stop.
The Reasons to Ban Cards
I believe that there are three primary reasons that a game maker would have for banning cards. These reasons are as follows:
- To Balance the format.
- To make the format more fun.
- To tailor the format to a style of play you want.
Lets take a look at each of these much closer.
To Balance the Format
This is the category that the banning of Shiftry NXD falls under. The Shiftry Donk deck was far too good at accomplishing a win condition on turn 1 that the format was going to continuously revolve around that one deck. There were counters to the deck, but those counter decks were good against Shifty and almost nothing else.
This is a much different beast than something like Yveltal EX decks, which have been the gold standard of the Expanded format. Yveltal EX decks are strongly countered by a deck like Night March, but unlike the counters to Shiftry, Night March is also strong against other decks in the format that aren’t Yveltal EX. Because the format was resigned to be about Shiftry and nothing but Shiftry, Pokemon banned it to re-balance the game and open the game back up for everything else.
Format balance bans aren’t something that should be needed too often, as the game should be being designed with balance in mind. If the game makers intend to release something that blatantly makes another card broken, there should be a ban planned in advance of the set release. We saw this last year with the banning of Lysandre’s Trump Card being set to coincide with the release of Bandit Ring in Japan.
The release of Bandit Ring gave us Forest of Giant Plants, which could be used to continuously evolve into Forretress FLF. Forretress has the Thorn Tempest Ability which lets you place 1 damage counter on each of your opponent’s Pokemon when you evolve into Forretress. Just like with Shiftry, you could continuously re-use this Abiity thanks to cards like Devolution Spray, Super Scoop Up, Recycle, and more. After using all these Abilities, you would then use Latios EX’s Fast Raid attack to finish off whatever remains of your opponent’s field. If Lysandre’s Trump Card was allowed to be played in a format with Forest of Giant Plants, either Latios EX/Foretress or Shiftry Donk were poised to be the top decks. Latios EX/Forretress is even more difficult to counter than Shiftry Donk was.
The deck had already proven very strong, with Shintaro Ito, who would later go on to win the 2016 Pokemon World Championship, using a precursor to this deck to finish second place at a Rayquaza Mega Battle.
While broken combos should be able to be spotted before a set is released and dealt with in development, sometimes a card is too interesting for the format to not release, at which point one of these bans needs to occur. Additionally, a balance ban may be needed in cases where cards are banned for one of the other two reasons. Removing a card from the card pool because of it being anti-fun could lead to balance issues, which could necessitate an additional balance ban.
To Make a Format More Fun
For a format like Expanded, this is where the majority of bans should come from. While you would almost never want to make one of these bans in Standard format because the cards will quickly rotate anyhow, in a format where cards can stick around for 6+ years, it would be in the best interest for Pokemon to remove cards that promote an anti-fun environment. The game is supposed to be for the players, so allowing cards that promote an anti-fun tournament environment to linger around year after year can negatively effect whether players want to continue on with the game or not.
This is also the type of ban that Pokemon has to be the most careful with making and would be something that there are some clear guidelines that they use when making such bans. If you asked players what cards need to be banned from Expanded because they are anti-fun you could probably get a list of 50 cards.
The question for what cards you ban for this reason boils down to picking guidelines for banning cards for such reason and not veering outside of those guidelines to make a ban. The following are the guidelines that I would use to determine if a card should be banned for being anti-fun.
- Are there easily accessible counter cards and strategies that can be used to counter the problem card that are effective within the current meta game? If the answer is yes, then a ban is not needed.
- Are the meta forces preventing counter cards and strategies from being played a short term trend or a long term trend? If counters are unavailable because of a short term trend, then a ban is not needed. If counters are unavailable because of long term trends, then a ban may be needed.
- Does the card promote skillful results? If the answer is yes, then a ban probably is not needed.
Using guidelines such as these should greatly restrict which cards can be banned for anti-fun reasons and keep any such ban list for this reason small. This isn’t something that should be used too often, but the game is for the players, so Pokemon should craft their formats with player fun in mind.
To tailor the format to a certain style of play
The last reason to ban a card is to tailor the format towards a certain style of play and away from a different style of play. This is essentially taking something out of the format that is forcing the game to be played in a certain way that is neither anti-fun or unbalanced simply to change the style of the format that is being played.
We already saw a ban like this with the pre-emptive ban of Lysandre’s Trump Card outside of Japan. While it would have ended up banned when Ancient Origins and Forest of Giant Plants came out anyhow, TPCI decided to give the rest of the world an early ban of Trump Card citing stylistic reasons for why they didn’t want the card in the format any longer.
Creating an Expanded Ban List
Taking what was stated above, I think we can take those three reasons of why a card should potentially be banned and start building a ban list to improve the Expanded format.
Right now there aren’t any cards that need to banned from the Expanded format for balance reasons. The Expanded format has proven to be a very balanced format with a good diversity of decks throughout the past season plus and while some decks have risen above others to be the strongest decks, the format has constantly flowed as there are a wide variety of options that players have available to counter specific cards and strategies. With no overly dominant deck and a constantly evolving meta game, Expanded is in a very healthy place in terms of balance.
Therefore all of the proposed bans in this article will be cards that are banned for promoting an anti-fun tournament environment and cards that are being removed simply to change up the style of the format.
Here is a list of the cards that I think should and/or have justification to be banned from Expanded Format.
1. Trevenant XY
No deck has created more unskilled match results over the past season than Trevenant BREAK decks. This isn’t to say that everyone who played the deck is unskilled or that skill doesn’t go into winning a Regional Championship with the deck (opposed to being the person that misplays into not making Day 2), but the simple set of actions of using Wally on the first turn of the game into Trevenant XY and then evolving into Trevenant BREAK and using Silent Fear until everything is knocked out, winning in a few turns because the opponent was Item Locked before they even got a turn in the game and didn’t draw the right card to draw out of it is probably the least skillful thing in the game.
A player can spend $500 to attend something like the National Championship or World Championship, get paired against Trevenant 3 of the first 4 rounds, lose the coin flips in those matchup, end up losing those 3 matches and essentially spent $500 to not play Pokemon. This isn’t good for the game, and will leave players soured on Pokemon tournaments, discourage them from attending future tournaments while cards like this are legal, and eventually lead to some player loss that didn’t need to happen.
First turn Item lock is certainly strong in its own right, but that’s not enough to force a ban. Vileplume AOR and even old decks like Trevenant XY/Gengar EX can take advantage of turn 1 Item lock, but neither has ever been considered to be much of a problem. Vileplume is mostly balanced from it being a two sided Item lock, preventing the Vileplume player from creating too much of an advantage. Trevenant XY/Gengar EX was strong, but the attacks only hit one Pokemon for significant damage, giving you time to formulate a counter attack.
The problem with the Trevenant BREAK deck is that it’s too many strong concepts coming together into one deck, which makes it far more powerful than any of the other turn 1 Item lock options. It has the turn 1 Item lock of course, Phantump’s Acscension almost guarantees the lock going 2nd, Trevenant BREAK gives it 160 HP making it difficult to knock out, it’s a non-EX so it gives up only 1 prize when knocked out, it has one of the strongest spread attacks ever released in Silent Fear which places damage counters instead of doing damage, and since the Item Lock is one sided it can play Energy denial cards to prevent the opponent from attacking, or Bursting Balloon to deter the opponent from attacking.
While Pokemon has released some counters to Trevenant BREAK (Magearna EX, Shaymin EX Promo, Bronzong FCO, Latias EX, etc.) none of these are easily accessible under Item lock, and a counter you can’t access isn’t a very good counter. By necessity, players are forced to play heavy Item engines because these are the best engines in the game and they would be at a severe disadvantage against non-Item lock decks (which make up most of the meta game) if they chose to play Supporter heavy engines, so by necessity most decks have to play a lot of Items making them overly susceptible to Trevenant’s turn 1 Item lock.
Turn 1 item lock as a whole promotes unskilled matches, but the one sided nature of Trevenant BREAK decks allows them to snowball too much of an advantage going first creating too many one sided, unskilled match results that aren’t fun to participate in for the person on the other side of the lock
Removing any part of the combination (Trevenant BREAK, Trevenant XY, or Wally) is probably enough to nerf the deck. I wouldn’t ban a card like Wally since it has usefulness in other decks beyond Trevenant BREAK and is underwhelming when not giving Trevenant turn 1 Item lock. Therefore I think one of the two Trevenant cards should be banned. I would go with Trevenant XY over Trevenant BREAK as the turn 1 Item Lock is the anti-fun aspect of the deck, and the annoyance that Silent Fear provides simply compounds on top of the Item Lock, and counter cards are easily accessible when you’re not also being submitted to Item lock.
The next card that I am proposing to be banned also falls under the anti-fun category. I personally don’t have too much issue with Ghetsis, but the card does create a similar anti-fun tournament environment that Trevenant XY’s turn 1 Item Lock has.
As stated with Trevenant, players are almost forced to play very Item heavy deck engines as those are by far the best engines in the game. Therefore, players are very susceptible to anything that disrupts hands on the first turn of the game.
Ghetsis is certainly a lesser offender than Trevenant in this regard as using Ghetsis on your first turn can certainly blow up in your face if your opponent has few and non-consequential Items in their hand, but it does attempt to win the game through very cheap means. That is Ghetsis is being used in Expanded to pick up cheap, skill-less wins, simply picking up a win because you won the coin flip, played this card, it messed up your opponent because of the cards they happened to draw in your opening hand, and then won you the game because they didn’t top deck the card to draw out of it.
Before moving on, I will say that it’s okay for players to use “cheap” strategies to win. This is not a knock on the players using these strategies in anyway, they’re legitimate strategies, and if they win games, they should absolutely be used in competitive tournaments. However, this article is being written from the point of view of how Expanded could be made a better format, and I do think, while these are legitimate strategies for players to use, the game makers should look to eliminate unskillful play from their game, and I do believe that both Trevenant and Ghetsis promote unskillful play because they can create too big of an advantage in board state on the first turn of the game before the opponent even got a turn. There isn’t any fun in a game when you lose before you’ve even done anything.
It’s hard to fully eliminate this type of thing from the game, but these type of one sided game states should be more of a gimmick thing that can be pulled off a low percentage of the time and thus something that doesn’t become a dominant tournament strategy. Having these types of strategies become core parts of the meta game takes away from the fun of playing in tournaments.
3. Life Dew
By banning Trevenant XY and Ghetsis, you take away two of the best counters to Sableye/Garbodor. By removing two of the largest deterrents for playing Sableye decks, Sableye then has the potential to reach it’s full potential and beat everything with the Puzzle of Time/Life Dew infinite loop. The removal of Life Dew is to make sure things remain balanced with the banning of Trevenant and Ghetsis.
In addition to the Sableye/Life Dew loop, Night March and Vespiquen are the other two decks that sometimes took advantage of Life Dew, and both of those decks gain some strength if Trevenant were to be banned.
4. Archeops NVI
The last card that is potentially deserving of a ban is Archeops NVI. Archeops is a fairly balanced card that can be played around by Evolution decks, but while some Evolution decks have managed to play around it, there are many more where the Ancient Power Ability is too strong to play around and still form a good and consistent deck, which means that a lot of potentially viable cards are being locked out of the Expanded meta game because of this one card.
Using the most recent set, Steam Siege, as an example, 52 of the 97 Pokemon in the set are Evolution cards. Therefore Archeops is able to successfully lock out 53.6% of the cards in the set from coming into play if they aren’t played alongside a counter. Being able to lock out more than half of the available Pokemon in the format from even coming into play without a counter is a very strong influence to have over a card pool.
While Archeops has great influence over the format, it is not a broken card as there are plenty of counters available to put Evolution cards into play going around its Ability. Banning Archeops would be a stylistic choice aiming to open the format to more Evolution cards.
If Pokemon follows something like the rotation schedule I outlined above, then banning Archeops can probably be taken completely out of consideration as it will leave the legal card pool in short time anyhow.
Of the four cards listed above, I think that it would be in Pokemon’s best interest to take actions to create a more fun format by banning the first three, either for being anti-fun or to re-balance the format after removing a card. Archeops could go either way, it doesn’t create an anti-fun tournament environment, but it is very restrictive in how we’re able to use large amounts of the legal card pool, so banning it may be in the best interest of Expanded format to open up the viability of many other cards that currently don’t make it into the meta game because of Archeop’s presence.
For the most part, Expanded is a very fun format and I hope Pokemon chooses to keep it into the future. Having two formats available makes it easier to find a format that is enjoyable for any individual player and it’s nice to be able to use our cards in tournaments for longer periods of time. However, Pokemon has let some completely anti-fun aspects linger in Expanded, and I do think the format could be improved upon if Pokemon takes a more active role in tailoring the format to be the best that it can be.
TPCI might not have a choice in whether Japan prints anti-fun cards, but they certainly have a choice in whether those cards can be used in the formats that they create for their organized play system. It’s time they start using the creative liberty provided to them as manager of the legal card pools to create better formats and fix some of the format issues Japan keeps shipping over.
Popplio image from Yukibenproject on Deviant Art