Primal Problems and the New Expanded Meta

This past weekend I got to attend my first Expanded tournament of the season with a League Cup at Yeti Gaming. For the tournament I played Primal Groudon EX, a deck I had been considering for the upcoming Fort Wayne Regional Championship, but one which I no longer consider a viable option for this upcoming weekend’s Pokemon action. I think the deck is ultimately still a solid deck, but some of the changes in the meta game make it a very rough deck to play into the current meta.

In this article I will first go over Primal Groudon EX and its struggles in the new meta, and then I will summarize some of the new meta stuff that you can expect to see being played at Fort Wayne Regional this weekend.

Primal Groudon EX Decklist

First, before we get into any further details, here is the decklist that I used for the League Cup.

Pokemon – 12

2 Groudon EX PRC
1 Groudon EX DEX
3 Primal Groudon EX
4 Wobbuffet PHF
1 Regirock XY49
1 Mr. Mime PLF

Trainers – 38

4 Korrina
4 Professor Sycamore
2 N
1 Lysandre
1 Olympia
1 Pokemon Center Lady
1 Xerosic

3 VS Seeker
4 Puzzle of Time
2 Enhanced Hammer
2 Robo Substitute
1 Escape Rope
1 Max Potion
1 Mega Turbo
1 Nest Ball
1 Professor’s Letter
1 Scramble Switch
2 Focus Sash
1 Float Stone

4 Tropical Beach

Energy – 10

5 Fighting
1 Psychic
4 Strong

If this list looks familiar, it’s because it is essentially the same list that Chris Schemanske piloted to a 2nd place finish at the Toronto Regional Championship. The only card I changed was the Bunnelby for another Fighting Energy to make it easier to draw into them. As I wasn’t playing in the land of the French Tropical Beaches, it was unlikely I would play a mirror match (one other person actually did play Primal Groudon, however), and outside of the mirror match and some other vey niche situations it wasn’t useful enough in my testing to justify playing it.

I think Chris has pretty much perfected the Primal Groudon EX decklist, and this should remain the standard as far as the deck build is concerned until something is released that can improve the deck further.

One card that has gained some hype as possibly being this card is Wishful Baton, which came out in Burning Shadows, but I’ve found that to just be some wishful thinking and not anything of substance.

This card lets you move three Basic Energy from your Active Pokemon if it is knocked out by damage from an opponent’s attack. I personally don’t think this card belongs in a Primal Groudon deck, and I think it runs counter to the deck’s core essence.

The biggest strength of Primal Groudon EX is that it cannot be OHKO’d because of Focus Sash, with a few exceptions. This allows us to create a board state where our opponent becomes unable to take knockouts as we prevent OHKO’s with Focus Sash, can heal chip damage with cards like Pokemon Center Lady, and then if a Primal Groudon EX gets too damaged, then we can Scramble Switch into another Primal Groudon EX which also has a Focus Sash and can’t be knocked out either. Then with Puzzle of Time and Max Potion, we can re-cycle this play at least once more in a game.

With Wishful Baton we take away the protection from OHKO’s and open up Primal Groudon EX for OHKO’s. Some of the new attackers from Guardians Rising and Burning Shadows can hit for OHKO damage against a Primal Groudon EX, and a card like Choice Band gives some other decks greater reach as well, so decks knocking it out in one hit is a very realistic possibility.

Additionally, I don’t think Wishful Baton is even good at conserving Energy. If you have to use Strong Energy to power up a Primal Groudon because that’s all you drew into, that Energy won’t be conserved with Wishful Baton. Additionally, against some decks, such as M Rayquaza EX or Gardevoir GX you need two Strong Energy to reach OHKO numbers, so Wishful Baton will not help you setup an additional Primal Groudon EX capable of getting a OHKO. Just moving those Energy with Scramble Switch after denying a knockout with Focus Sash does work at powering up another attacker capable of a OHKO.

Primal Groudon at the League Cup

Headed into this weekend’s League Cup, I thought Primal Groudon EX would be a safe play. I had figured that the majority of players would be playing either Turbo Darkrai EX or Night March/Marshadow GX, both very strong matchups for Primal Groudon EX. Additionally, I expected there to be Volcanion EX, M Rayquaza EX, and plenty of Seismitoad EX decks, which are all also good matchups for Primal Groudon EX.

The bad matchups I wanted to avoid? Greninja BREAK and Trevenant BREAK. I feel as though Greninja has mostly been power creeped out of the Expanded meta, and I didn’t expect it to be played in high numbers. While I respect Trevenant BREAK as one of the top decks in the format, I expected only one major player to play the deck, so while good, it would have low meta representation.

However, the meta game was quite different from what I expected it to be, and there were loads and loads of new decks utilizing Sun and Moon-on concepts in the tournament, not something that I had expected out of the early Expanded meta for this year.

Here is my tournament run down:

Round 1 – Volcanion EX – WW
Round 2 – Greninja BREAK – LL
Round 3 – Gardevoir GX – LL
Round 4 – M Rayquaza EX – WW
Round 5 – Golisopod GX/Garbodor BKP/GRI – LL
Round 6 – Seismitoad EX/Garbodor BKP/GRI – WW

The tournament didn’t go very well at all. Running into Greninja BREAK was unfortunate, but I think the overall meta would have taken me down later in the tournament, even if I avoided the early loss. While the deck is amazing against the old decks of the Expanded meta, the newer decks can be very rough on it.

A lot of the new meta is very rough on Primal Groudon EX and counteracts the deck in some harsh ways. Here are some of the things in the new decks making their way into the Expanded meta that hurt Primal Groudon EX’s competitive viability.

Tapu Koko SM30 – A popular inclusion in standard, Tapu Koko has made its way into Expanded. The decks I saw it being played in were Golisopod GX/Garbodor, Vikavolt/Tapu Bulu GX, M Rayquaza EX, and Drampa GX/Garbodor. While we have Mr. Mime to stop spread damage, against Pokemon like Tapu Bulu GX and Golisopod GX which can easily OHKO us, rushing Primal Groudon EX’s into play is a big priority, so also needing out Mr. Mime to prevent the spread to break Focus Sash puts the deck under great stress that it sometimes fails to overcome.

Oricorio – This has been thrown into some decks as a Night March counter. It’s even worse for us as it can get around Mr. Mime to break out Focus Sash. After a few Wobbuffet have been knocked out this can be used to try to break Focus Sashes.

Tapu Lele GX – There is a lot of hype around using Tapu Lele GX to get an early game Guzma, but this play itself is a rather poor opening play as the Primal Groudon EX player can just search out Escape Rope with Korrina, get their Primal Groudon EX back to the bench, and then heal it off. However, what Tapu Lele GX does do is create some decks that can setup super consistently under Wobbuffet’s Ability Lock. Some of these decks can then put on very early pressure against Primal Groudon EX which can prevent Primal Groudon EX from getting enough turns to setup properly.

Grass Pokemon –  As previously mentioned, Golisopod GX and Tapu Bulu GX were seeing play. Both of these Pokemon can easily OHKO a Groudon EX or Primal Groudon EX, so these Pokemon put the deck under immense pressure. The biggest obstacle these cards  present for the deck is the inability to get two Primal Groudon EX into play. As we can only Mega Evolve once per a turn without Focus Sash, there will be a turn where there is a Groudon EX is exposed on the bench which can then be brought up with Guzma if you ever try to get out a second Primal Groudon.

Initially it looked like Grass would be on the decline with the banning of Forest of Giant Plants, but some of the new Grass attackers are so good that they will probably make it into Expanded.

Wobbuffet Slayers – Pokemon like Espeon GX, Garbodor GRI, Gallade BKT, Tapu Bulu GX, among others that are being played in the new decks hit the right numbers to OHKO a Wobbuffet, so these decks usually can work through a wall of Wobbuffet fairly easily, putting immense pressure on you to get your Primal Groudon EX powered up quickly.

Less Stadium Cards – With the release of Field Blower, there are many more decks in the meta that aren’t playing any Stadium Cards and are instead playing Field Blower. This makes it so there are a set of decks that can remove your Stadium Card from play while not replacing it with a Stadium of their own, making it more difficult to have the necessary amount of Stadium Cards to get off enough Gaia Volcano attacks for 200 damage to quickly close out a game.

Case Study: Gardevoir GX Matchup

My match against Gardevoir GX illustrated a lot of these problems very well. I ended up losing both games in the match, but this was one of the most fun Pokemon games I’ve had as of late.  My opponent played the matchup 100% correctly, and while both games were close, neither buffed out because some of the things he was able to leverage against me.

First, as he was not reliant on a Shaymin EX setup engine, he was able to consistently setup his deck as Wobbuffet’s Bide Barricade did nothing to disrupt his setup. He then was able to use Gallade BKT on around turn 2 or 3 and start knocking out Wobbuffet’s, which put me under pressure to get a Primal Groudon EX powered up.

He then was able to use Field Blower to remove my Tropical Beach from play, while not replacing it with another Stadium Card, of which he ran none. I would then end up in a pinch for being able to stream Stadium Cards to get the necessary OHKO’s.

For example, before getting into the Gardevoir GX, I had to knock out Gallade BKT typically. This would require either going up to 3 Strong Energy, or discarding one of my precious Stadium Cards. I think in both games I was forced to go up to three Strong Energy on a single Primal Groudon EX to knockout Gallade, and in both games things didn’t work out because of that one good non-EX trade he could make.

In the first game, I had it setup to Scramble Switch immediately after my first Gaia Volcano, but got N’d out of that play and did not draw back into it or a Korrina/VS Seeker to search it out. In the second game, I ended up in a situation where I was going to have to lose a Primal Groudon EX to knockout, and would have to use double Puzzle of Time to get a Strong Energy back from the discard pile so I could do 240 damage on a Gardevoir GX for a OHKO to end the game. After taking my 3rd knockout of the game to go down to a single prize, I had failed to secure the game as my last Puzzle of Time ended up as my sixth prize card. As my opponent intelligently played the game with a lot of foresight and limited his bench, there was no Lysandre target for me to end the game with an easy knockout on so I just lost when my Primal Groudon only ended up being able to go up to only 220 damage, 10 short of a knockout.

The primary things that made this matchup difficult were:

  • Field Blower removing Stadium Cards without replacing them, making it more difficult to hit for 200 damage on Gaia Volcano.
  • Gallade BKT being able to effectively OHKO Wobbuffet PHF, speeding up the game, leaving me with less time to thin my deck. As it gave up only a single prize, it forced me to play a 4 knockout game to win.
  • Gardevoir GX for putting out massive damage output leaving me with a small window of turns that had to go absolutely right to be able tow in the game.

While I think Gardevoir GX is close to 50/50, probably a little bit unfavorable against a good opponent, I think this deck illustrates some of the ways that Sun and Moon era decks can put more pressure on a deck like Primal Groudon EX than some of the old archetypes.

Decks like Espeon GX/Garbodor GRI (which has a strong one prize attacker and can spread to break Focus Sash) and Golisopod GX (which can spread, and OHKO with Golisopod GX) are even more problematic than Gardevoir GX.

Ultimately, I think as Expanded moves forward into the future, there will probably be meta games where Primal Groudon EX can do well again, but for the time being with lots of spread, good one prize attackers, and big attacks from GX Pokemon, it’s not a good time to be playing Primal Groudon EX.

The New Expanded Meta

At the beginning of August, I posted an Expanded overview that mostly looked at the existing decks of the Expanded format from last season. After playing in a tournament in the format as well as lots of games on PTCGO since that article, it has become clear that there will be a lot of new decks being added to Expanded…as if there weren’t already enough decks for people to worry about.

I think a lot of veterans of the game are going to have a skewed idea of what the meta game will be headed into Fort Wayne. During the early hype periods, the “Big 3” decks that were constantly listed over and over again were Trevenant BREAK/Necrozma GX, Darkrai EX/GX, and Night March/Marshadow GX. With as much hype as these three decks have gotten, many seem to be thinking that you will be playing around 6-7 rounds against some assortment of these decks, but I doubt this will be the case, and most players will play against 1 of each of these during the initial 9 Swiss rounds.

I don’t think these decks are as popular as people think. Turbo Darkrai probably has the best opportunity of being well represented, but many players will be hesitant to give it a run because of the release of Marshadow GX, causing it to be less popular than many would initially think.

Trevenant is a deck that is actively despised by large portions of the community and most of the community refuses to play decks that they consider to win through “cheap” means, defending some false moral code of play that they’ve created, causing a deck like Trevenant, which is probably the BDIF from seeing levels of play representative of its strength.

Lastly, there is Night March. I think lots of veterans to the game give too much respect to this deck  based on the 2015-2016 season where it dominated an entire year of Pokemon. It wasn’t a very successful deck in the 2016-2017 Expanded format, and while the deck has received Marshadow GX, I don’t think this improves the deck very much from what it was. With its counters expected to see play in massive numbers, as well as Trevenant BREAK being the prospective BDIF, I think this is the one of the “Big 3” that is least likely to show up in significant numbers.

I think a lot of the newer players to the game who joined last season or are getting into this season don’t really care about Night March or what it did two years ago. Their Night March is Garbodor variants, which have dominated everything since Guardians Rising was released, and which they watched be used to great success at tournaments they’ve watched and/or attended.

With Garbodor variants being popular among both new and old players, I wouldn’t be surprised if Garbodor variants as a whole ended up being the most popular decks at Fort Wayne, as players try to translate its Standard success into the Item heavy Expanded format. I would even take it a step further and think that this is the likely logical outcome to take place as a large amount of players think they’re pulling one over on everyone else by exploiting the heavy reliance on Items for decks in the Expanded format.

For this reason, when building decks for Fort Wayne, I think it’s highly important that players greatly take into consideration how their deck interacts with Trashalanche before heading into this weekend.

Another interesting note about Garbodor GRI entering Expanded is that it will drag Garbodor BKP with it. This has been missing from Expanded for the most part, only really popping up in that bad M Manectric EX/Garbodor deck, and then in Sableye/Garbodor of course, which is rarely played. As Garbodor variants will be far more popular than either of these decks ever were, players need to think about how their deck interacts with Garbotoxin, as they will likely play a few rounds against that, unlike past Expanded formats where Hex Maniac was pretty much the only form of Ability lock that players had to worry about.

Anyhow, here are some of the new decks that you should not be surprised to see at Fort Wayne this weekend.

Gardevoir GX – The World Championship winning deck has already popped up in the League Cup results, and it’s been a popular play in PTCGO’s Expanded format for the past few weeks as well. The majority of lists for the deck are being played very similar to the Standard lists for the decks, just with some different emphasis on their tech choices (for example, Giratina promo is almost always included in Expanded lists). Some players may try to re-invent the engine for this deck with Tropical Beach, but as Tropical Beach access is very limited you should probably expect your opponent not to have that in their deck.

Espeon GX/Garbodor GRI-BKP – Another top performing deck from the World Championship that has already made its way to the Expanded format at League Cups. Like Gardevoir GX, it has mostly been being played similar to its Standard variant, but there are some neat Expanded things that players can do with the deck. For players trying to keep things closer to the Standard formula for the deck, they may only choose to splash in Leafeon PLF, which gives the deck a Grass attacker that can be used to type counter Seismitoad EX, Primal Groudon EX, Waterbox, and Archies’ Blastoise decks. The card also has the potential to punish bad play from Turbo Darkrai players who put too much Energy on their field.

The other thing players may do with this deck is fit in some Dimension Valley along with Tool Drop Trubbish. This isn’t super effective, and most likely is just a waste of space, but it does have the potential to take out Night March Pokemon for a single Energy without having to evolve into Garbodor. This utility that almost only impacts one matchup probably isn’t worth it. From my testing, in most other matchups the Tool Drop Trubbish does very little, so fitting Dimension Valley into this deck is most likely a waste of space.

The Tool Drop Trubbish may still be the right call, as Night March may put down Dimension Valley for you, but I don’t think I’d play the Dimension Valley myself if I were playing this deck.

Drampa GX/Garbodor GRI-BKP – Once again, another top performing Standard deck that people will try to bring over. Drampa GX  has some solid utility in the Expanded format with its Righteous Edge attack, which is especially strong against Seismitoad EX decks that rely on Double Colorless Energy to attack. I would expect most variants to be similar to the Standard variants of the deck. At the League Cup I was at this past weekend, a Drampa GX/Garbodor with no Ace Spec that was literally a Standard deck being played in an Expanded tournament was able to make it into the Top 4.

As mentioned earlier, Expanded is very Item heavy, so Trashalanche is strong, so that’s how things like a Standard list for this deck performing well in an Expanded tournament can happen.

Golisopod GX Variants – There are two primary variants of this being played. The first one is basically the 2nd place deck from the World Championship, Golisopod GX/Garbodor GRI. Like the other Garbodor variants, there isn’t much that changes when moving from Standard to Expanded.

The other variant is a more streamlined deck built around Golisopod GX, and that is Golispod GX/Keldeo EX. The deck uses Keldeo EX to Rush In and retreat to trigger the boosted First Impression damage, and then it uses the Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym combination to hit for 180 damage when Choice Band is attached. I think the Garbodor variant is probably a little stronger. The Keldeo EX engine can be easily disrupted by Hex Maniac, and Garbodor gives the deck a one prize attacker to trade with instead of being entirely GX based.

Water Box – This is one of my under the radar picks for this weekend. I think most lists will look similar to Israel Sosa’s Lapras GX deck from Standard, of course adding in Dowsing Machine to give it an Ace Spec, and then probably swapping out the Energy Switches for Battle Compressors. The deck also gains Keldeo EX in Expanded, which can serve as a backup attacker, but more importantly Keldeo EX can reset a Lapras GX to attack with Blizzard Burn in consecutive turns.

Lapras GX’s Collect attack gives the deck consistency for setting up under Item Lock and also a means to gather resources while not dumping a ton of Items into the discard pile against Garbodor variants (although the Leafeon in Espeon variants may spell trouble). As everything except Support Pokemon in the deck are Water type, you also are able to use Rough Seas to heal your Pokemon, making this one of the decks with the best Trevenant matchups.

Vikavolt/Tapu Bulu GX – I’ve seen this deck being played both online and at the League Cup I went to. At the League Cup I went to it actually did quite well, with two players making Top 8 with the deck, although neither player made it further than that. The lists are very similar to the Standard lists for the decks. I think the reason why the deck was able to perform well at the League Cup is because doing 210 damage with a Choice Band is a OHKO against most Pokemon, making Tapu Bulu GX’s attack universally strong, regardless of which format it’s being played in. Having Grass and Lightning typing is also an asset to have as there are lots of strong cards weak to these types.

Ho-Oh GX/Kiawe – I am not sure how people are finding this to be a superior player compared to Blacksmith to Volcanion EX, and then hitting for OHKO numbers on the first turn of the game, but this has been a popular pairing on PTCGO so far. There are a few situations where this line of play can be good, but for the most part, these situations are very limited, and even in the situations where it’s good, it’s only marginally better than just using Blacksmith and passing on your turn 1. I think for players looking to play Fire variants it’s best to stick with a more standard Volcanion EX Expanded list and then find a way to fit Turtonator GX into the list (who is strong), but skip out on the Kiawe and Ho-Oh GX in Expanded.

There may be a few more new decks that make their way to Expanded from Standard, but I think these are the big concepts that players should expect to show up. I think Gardevoir GX and Garbodor variants will be the most popular, but I wouldn’t be too surprised to see stuff like Vikavolt/Tapu Bulu GX or Golisopod being played by 15-20 players in the tournament. Small numbers, but still a presence.

I think Fort Wayne is going to be a very diverse format, as many of our past Regional formats have been the past couple of years. This will result in there being lots of variance in the types of matchups players play against. Some players will spend 7/9 rounds playing against a combination of Turbo Darkrai and Trevenant, while other players won’t play against them a single time Day 1, while most players will probably play against these decks in only 2-3 of their matches, and then play against 6-7 other decks in their other rounds.

Until Expanded format concentrates on just a few decks, I think most tournaments will be like this where it’s difficult to get a good approximation of what you are likely to play against. When there are 20+ decks that are at least semi-viable, it is unlikely for players to line up behind any deck in large numbers. Something like Turbo Darkrai EX, for example, could be the most popular deck, but also only be 10% of the field, which means on average players would be only playing against 0.9 players playing the deck in the 9 Swiss rounds.

For this reason, it’s hard to fully meta game for Expanded. I think for such a diverse format, it’s best to pick a deck you like out of the viable options, practice with it until you’re competent with the deck, and then just hope you get the right set of matchups to do well. At some of the smaller Expanded Regionals it may be easier to meta game, but in the Fort Wayne field that will likely be in excess of 800 players I think it will be difficult for any player to accurately meta game the tournament.

1 thought on “Primal Problems and the New Expanded Meta

  1. Wonderfully written as always. A lot of things to consider for sure for this upcoming regional and the format of expanded in general. I think there will be a top few decks that’s have higher representation but with such a diverse pool of decks it would be hard to see more than 2-3 of a single deck for any given player. Even at smaller events I see that being hard to see. You have to consider every player and every situation for these types of things. Like will new players flock to the new deck? Will they see what’s done well in and past and jump on those wagons? Will seasoned veterans be able to counter play both sides of this coin? With the banning of some key cards. It really comes down to who can be the most consistent and have the most adaptable deck/playstyle for each match? Darkrai looking to be really powerful but if you load up your discard with items turn 1 a potential new meta pick in double garb could really put that plan on the waist-side and down the deck. I do love that you did hit some key out of game factors like people just not wanting to play trevenant because it feels cheap. It definitely is a factor for a lot of players to play what is fun to them and if it’s not trev. Than that can’t become the meta.

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