With the Expanded bans of Archeops and Forest of Giant Plants, the Expanded format has become much more fun and interesting. With players no longer being punished so heavily for trying to play Evolution decks, it’s much easier for players to dig into the Expanded card pool to create more innovative decks.
In previous seasons, players were heavily disincentivized from playing Evolution decks because of Archeops NVI, but with the no-evo avian out of the format, players are allotted much more freedom to play Evolutions, which means that the list of viable and semi-viable decks for Expanded has surely grown, even if players have yet to realize which of these old Evolution cards are once again viable.
We already saw at the first two Regional Championships of the season Ross Cawthon have some semi-successful runs with Stoutland from Boundaries Crossed. It’s only a matter of time before more innovative ideas pop up into the meta.
With that said, I want to revive an old, shortlived series – Expanded Explorations. I’m not sure why this only had 3 articles to its name, but with Expanded becoming so interesting this season I think it’s definitely right to bring back to life. In this series I take a look at deck ideas in the Expanded format that may be getting overlooked.
These articles aren’t meant to be in depth strategy of a well tested concept, but rather a starting point for bringing to life an archetype in the Expanded format. That isn’t to say that no testing has gone into developing the list or understanding the deck, just that the testing of the deck is still a work in progress.
To kick things back off, the first article will be looking at a super hot deck – Ninetales/Salazzle.
The Origin Story
The origins of Ninetales from Dragons Exalted being used as part of an archetype actually goes all the way back to its release in 2012….pre-dating its current partner in the deck profiled below by nearly 5 years. Salazzle from Guardians Rising was obviously only released this year, which of course means that Salazzle couldn’t have been paired with Ninetales before that set came out.
Ninetales came out in August 2012 as part of the Dragons Exalted expansion. Upon release, I think Ninetales received much more hype for its Bright Look Ability than it did for its Hexed Flame attack, but as that season went on, I think the card began to get more attention for Hexed Flame than it did for Bright Look.
At the time of release, there was an immediate pairing for Ninetales with Amoonguss from Next Destinies. Amoonguss’ Sporprise Ability let you confuse and poison your opponent’s Active Pokemon when you evolved into Amoonguss. This gave you the Special Conditions to inflict upon your opponent’s Active Pokemon to boost the damage output of Hexed Flame, which does 20 damage plus 50 more for each Special Condition on the opponent’s Active Pokemon.
With the poison damage in between turns, Ninetales effectively did 130 damage which knocked out most non-EX Basic Pokemon, Stage 1’s, and Stage 2’s. However, it fell short of OHKO’s on EX Pokemon, which is problematic. Additionally, as you had to use Sporprise because you were reliant on attacking with Hexed Flame potentially up to six times to win a game, the deck played Super Scoop Up to re-use Amoonguss’ Sporprise Ability which also added the inconsistency of coin flips to the deck.
Needless to say, the deck wasn’t terribly popular upon release.
It’s also important to remember the context of the format that it was being played in. During this period of the game, players could attack on the first turn, so that meant that any games in which a player started the 40 HP Foongus they were in constant fear of getting donked by a Mewtwo EX.
Plasma Sets Adds Support
Hypnotoxic Laser gave the deck an additional option for inflicting Special Conditions upon the opponent’s Active Pokemon to boost Hexed Flame’s damage output. This card is very inconsistent in the deck as only half the time would you get the second Special Condition of Sleep to get up to 130 effective damage. However, combined with Sporprise’s Confusion, the deck now had an effective max damage output of 180 damage.
Virbank City Gym boosted the deck’s effective damage output, by boosting the damage Poison does in between turns from 10 to 30. This raised the effective damage output of Hexed Flame after a Sporprise from 130 to 150, and it raised a three condition Hexed Flame’s damage output to 200.
The final card that the deck gained was Silver Bangle, which boosted the damage of non-EX Pokemon against EX Pokemon by +30. This meant that with Virbank City Gym in play and a Silver Bangle attached, Ninetales has an effective damage output of 180 damage on Hexed Flame after a Sporprise, which was strong enough to OHKO any Pokemon in the game.
Silver Bangle, the final piece of the combo to get Hexed Flame up to 180 effective damage output didn’t come out until Plasma Blast and by then players had pretty much given up on trying to make Ninetales/Amoonguss work, and the deck was left behind in the waste bin of history.
Changes to the Deck and Format
The deck detailed in this article is actually more of a spiritual successor than exactly the same deck as it now plays Salazzle instead of Amoonguss. I think it’s fair to say that the deck is still the same Ninetales DRX archetype, just that the support for the card has changed. In this section I will detail the relevant changes to the archetype.
Amoonguss became Salazzle
Salazzle’s Hot Poison Ability poisons and burns the opponent’s Active Pokemon when you play Salazzle from your hand to evolve one of your Salandit. This is better than Amoonguss as the burn does pro-active damage while confusion doesn’t, raising the effective damage output of Hexed Flame.
The Burn Special Condition Changed
Previously when a Pokemon was burned, the opponent would flip a coin in between turns and if tails, they would place 20 damage on that Pokemon. With the release of Sun and Moon, Pokemon changed what the Burned Special Condition did.
Now, instead of being on a coin flip, burn automatically does 20 damage. After taking the 20 damage, the opponent then flips a coin to see whether the burn goes away or not.
With this change to burn, the effective damage output of Hexed Flame now becomes 150 damage when boosted by a Hot Poison, which is then 170 damage with Virbank City Gym in play and 200 damage with a Choice Band attached to Ninetales.
Choice Band in place of Silver Bangle
This is a change made for any deck that previously played Silver Bangle, as Silver Bangle is now an obsolete card, as Choice Band does everything that Silver Bangle does, but it can be used with EX and GX Pokemon, which Silver Bangle cannot be, and it does +30 damage to both EX and GX Pokemon, while Silver Bangle only does +30 damage to EX Pokemon.
Being able to use Choice Band with EX and GX Pokemon is actually relevant in the deck because…
As we’re already playing Salandit to evolve into Salazzle, we are able to seamlessly fit Salazzle GX into the deck. Salazzle GX gives the deck a powerful late game attacker that can easily finish off a game with its Diabolical Claws attack, which does 50 damage times the number of prize cards you have taken. With Blacksmith in the deck, you can power up Salazzle GX in a single turn.
Salazzle GX greatly reduces your need for having to pull off a the Ninetales / Special Condition combo for every attack. Instead, the deck now more so uses that for an early game burst and then you can finish off the game with Salazzle GX after you take a few knockouts.
As an attacker, Salazzle GX is actually at its strongest in this deck compared to other decks it was played in as its damage output is higher in here than it was in decks such as Ho-Oh GX/Salazzle GX and Vespiquen/Flareon. With the aide of Salazzle’s Hot Poison or Hypnotoxic Laser you can actually hit up to its 190 damage at any point in the game with its Heat Blast if you have the full combo of Choice Band, Poison, Burn, and Virbank City Gym in play.
Pokemon – 18
Trainers – 35
Energy – 7
The strategy of this deck is very straight forward. You want use either Salazzle and its Hot Poison Ability or Hypnotoxic Laser to inflict Special Conditions upon your opponent’s Active Pokemon boosting the damage output of Ninetales’ Hexed Flame attack, hopefully allowing you to OHKO the opponent’s Active Pokemon when you further boost the damage output with cards such as Choice Band and Virbank City Gym.
In the later stages of the game, Salazzle GX can act as a late game finisher, and it can be powered up to use its Diabolical Claws attack in one turn by using Blacksmith to accelerate two Fire Energy from the discard pile to it.
As the deck plays Level Ball, Marshadow is a great supplement to Tapu Lele GX for searchable consistency. Marshadow allows you to convert any Level Ball in hand into draw, increasing the consistency outs of the deck and gives you an opportunity to draw more cards if you whiff some piece of the combo to allow you to try to find it again.
The deck is able to get by with only a single copy of Guzma as it also has Ninetales’ Bright Look Ability to gust up the opponent’s Pokemon to take desirable knockouts.
I’ve included three copies of Hypnotoxic Laser for a few reasons. First, Hex Maniac is pretty prevalent in Expanded format and Hypnotoxic Laser can be used to let you do significant damage, even when your opponent plays Hex Maniac to Ability lock you. If you flip heads on the sleep flip, you can do 180 damage with Choice Band and Virbank City Gym in play, which could get you a OHKO. If you whiff the sleep flip, you can still hit for 110 damage with a Choice Band, which sets up a 2HKO on most Pokemon that see play.
Additionally, Hypnotoxic Laser allows you to potentially boost your damage output even further by opening up the possibility of having three Special Conditions on the opponent’s Active Pokemon at one time. With three Special Conditions, you’re hitting for a base of 170 damage (200 with the Poison and Burn), which can become 230 damage with a Choice Band and then 250 damage with Virbank City Gym, allowing you to hit up and OHKO the more bulky EX and GX Pokemon in print.
The deck plays two copies of Virbank City Gym. While more copies would be great, the deck is too tight to fit in a third or even fourth copy, but the two should be just enough. Even without Virbank City Gym you can hit for 180 damage with a Choice Band which will score you a OHKO on most EX and Basic GX Pokemon at the least.
I did have Oricorio in my original list for the deck, but cut it out in favor of the Marshadow as Night March isn’t seeing a ton of play right now because of its rough matchup against the Necrozma GX/Garbodor deck. If you expect lots of Night March, the deck functions fine without Marshadow too, it will just be a little bit less consistent, so you can cut that for an Oricorio to shore up that matchup.
There are some Pokemon being played in Expanded that shutoff Special Conditions. These Pokemon include stuff like Virizion EX in a deck such as Golisopod GX or Vikabulu, or Comfey in Gardevoir GX. The best way to deal with a Pokemon like this is to use Bright Look or Guzma to bring it active and knock it out. Alternatively, you can try to use Bright Look to work around the Pokemon with Energy on them that lets them get rif of the Special Condition. Then once you’ve taken a few prizes you can switch into Salazzle GX as an attacker to finish out the game.
The release of Salazzle and Salazzle GX in the Sun and Moon set block and the change of the rules in regards to the Burned Special Condition have made Ninetales from Dragons Exalted a much more powerful archetype in the Expanded format.
The deck can have some problems against Ability lock, as the deck is very reliant on Abilities in the turns before you transition to attacking with Salazzle GX, but it does have some soft counter play to Ability lock with Hypnotoxic Laser, and then Field Blower for dealing with Garbotoxin. In games where your opponent is able to string Hex Maniac for a few turns in a row, whether you win or lose will be entirely decided on the luck of your Hypnotoxic Laser flips.
The deck can also have trouble against the Item lock decks of the format. Seismitoad EX hits it for Weakness and then Trevenant is fairly effective in spreading Evolution dcks out of a game.
Against anything that isn’t built around Ability Lock or Item Lock, the deck is a very strong threat as it hits hard very early in the game all while trading non-EX Pokemon to create a prize advantage.