Expanded Bans: Discussion and Statistics

Luke Morsa
December 09, 2019

Hello readers. Today I will be jumping ahead a bit and begin coverage on the new look Expanded Format which will be played at Dallas Regionals the weekend of January 17-19, 2020. There are two major factors that change up the Expanded Format since the last Expanded regional in Portland: nine cards have been added to the expanded banlist (the largest addition ever made to the banlist) and Cosmic Eclipse is now legal in expanded. So we have an entire new set to work with while losing some very powerful and degenerate cards… and a Flabebe… we’ll get to that. Because of these huge changes, this article will be focused on just one of them and that will be the banlist updates and how much I expect it to change the meta. Of course, I have prepared some statistical analysis as well so we won’t be relying solely on my opinion. 

What Was Banned and Why?


The nine cards that have been added to the ban list with the release of Cosmic Eclipse are Marshadow (Shining Legends), Lt. Surge's Strategy, Reset Stamp, Chip-Chip Ice Axe, Red Card, Flabebe (Forbidden Light 83/131), Unown (Lost Thunder 91/214), Mismagius (Unbroken Bonds), and Island Challenge Amulet.  



To quote directly from TPCI, the following are the reasons why these nine cards were banned

“These card bans were applied in Japan recently. In an effort to maintain a more global experience for the Expanded format, TPCi has also banned these cards.

Most of these card bans are an attempt to weaken strategies that involve disrupting or destroying an opponent's hand. These cards contribute to several combos that result in a player having to discard their entire hand before they get to take a turn.

The Expanded format currently has a reputation for being dominated by hand-disruption decks, which many players dislike. Hopefully these card bans will promote a more enjoyable environment and change that reputation.”

I will include that Flabebe was banned due to its ability that allows it to evolve immediately, and there is a Floette with a soft disruption ability. 

Before going on, I will say that I really like the direction TPCI took with these bans for several reasons. 

  1. This moves us closer to being uniformed with Pokemon Japan and their formats. I am hopeful we will soon have worldwide formats and releases, but that is a different topic. 
  2. Players are vocal about not enjoying cards that increase the amount of luck in an average game of Pokemon. Removing Marshadow with the Let Loose ability is very impactful and I think it is great that TPCI acted on taking a very popular yet unwanted card out of the format. It is great to know that TPCI is receptive to what the community is saying. 
  3. And my last reason... we might not have to worry about an absolute lock? This sounds great since standard and expanded have both had control decks with the Reset Stamp, Surge, Mars, Mars, Chip Chip combo. I think without this powerful control lock available, Control and Stall archetypes will still be viable but they will not have such absolute strategies and win conditions. Think back to the original Zoro Control or the classic Sablegarb which both used energy control, hand size reduction, active locking, and milling as control strategies as opposed to the newer control decks that literally controlled your opponents hand, board, and top deck and allowed most decks to do absolutely nothing once the lock was established. 


How Significant Are These Bans?

I will be looking at how used these banned cards were at our most recent expanded major events Richmond Regionals and Portland Regionals. Island Challenge Amulet was not yet released so that will not appear in this data.


The above chart represents how many decks (y-axis) included one or more copies of the specified card (x-axis) in Day 2 of Richmond Regionals. Other relevant information includes the number of masters at Richmond Regionals which was 405 and the number of masters in Day 2 which was 39. 

The table above shows the percentage of decks in Richmond Day 2 that included the specified banned card. According to this data, exactly one-third (⅓) of Day 2 decks included at least one Marshadow (Shining Legends). The archetypes that included Marshadow SHL were Egg Row, Trevenant, Buzzwole Garbodor Plant, Vespiquen, Night March, Pikarom, and Spiritomb. Of these archetypes, the ones that I believe are most affected by losing Marshadow SHL are Trevenant, Buzz Garb, and Night March. Buzz Garb Plant had an ideal turn 1 of playing Let Loose and Power Plant to hopefully disrupt the opponent enough to allow Buzzwole and friends to overwhelm an underdeveloped board. Similar to this, Night March decks were also built with the Let Loose + Plant combo in mind, but Night March can easily win games based on its damage output and prize trade, whereas Buzz Garb is less of a threat without the disruption. Trevenant also has the possibility of using the Let Loose + Plant combo, but is less hindered by the loss of Let Loose since the Trev player can wait until their first Pokemon is knocked out and then play Ace Trainer, Power Plant, and establish Item Lock. Looking only at these bans and not taking into account Cosmic Eclipse, I would say that Buzz Garb will struggle to survive the bans, but Trevenant and Night March will probably be ok. 

Above is the same measurements as the first chart, except this time for Day 2 of Portland Regionals. You’ll notice that the data is very similar but there was a significantly increased use of Lt. Surge’s Strategy in Portland compared to Richmond.

Since the cards remain in the same descending order ranked by percentage of Day 2 decks in which they were used, I do not consider the percentages’ differences to be too significant aside from the increased usage of Lt. Surge’s Strategy.

Here is the link for my complete spreadsheet of each archetype that included the specified banned cards, and then how many of that archetype included the banned card. It is a ton of info, so statheads dig in. 

Zoroark-GX variants and control variants in general are taking a huge hit from these bans. Chip Chip Ice Axe, Reset Stamp, Red Card, and Lt. Surge’s Strategy are essential to the strategy of control decks like Zoroark Control and Pidgeotto Control, while Lt. Surge’s Strategy was also used in Zoroark Garbodor decks in a non-disruptive manner. The Lt. Surge’s Strategy inclusions in Zoroark Garbodor decks was to enable using multiple Iris’ in one turn, or a draw supporter and then use Iris. Iris was a popular inclusion across successful Zoroark Garbodor decks to reach the higher HPs on newer Pokemon Tag Team like Mewtwo & Mew Tag Team GX

These banned cards were sometimes used in healthy strategies but taking them out of the game was to nerf the unhealthy strategies; there is a give and take here and I think we should happily take the bans we received since they remove very oppressive control strategies from the format. 


So why were Unown LOT 91, Flabebe FOL, and Mismagius UNB banned even though they have seen zero success? Mismagius UNB along with Island Challenge Amulet were banned preemptively because of a degenerate turn 1 combo that was used in Japan including Mismagius UNB, Jirachi-EX, Island Challenge Amulet, Giratina & Garchomp Tag Team, and Reset Stamp. Pokemon TCG Youtuber Trainer Chip published a video on the deck here. Because of TPCI’s aggressive monitoring of Expanded and their want for a healthy format, Unown LOT 91 was banned without substantial results because of its ability that ends the game in one turn and the aggressive draw that is available in Expanded. This aggressive draw paired with Unown LOT 91 has much more potential now since hand disruption cards Red Card and Reset Stamp have been banned. Flabebe FOL was another card preemptively banned as a precaution, since there is a Floette that takes a random card out of your opponent’s hand and shuffles it into their deck. TPCI and Pokemon Japan are both really buckling down on oppressive control strategies. 


How Does This Change Things?


I expect Control strategies to go from hand lock to energy denial and resource disruption, as well as locking Pokemon into the active while deploying milling strategies. I think that stall strategies can work again quite well with big Pokemon that you repeatedly heal like Wailord-EX and Magikarp Wailord Tag Team or with walls like Hoopa SHL or Pyroar FLF. Beyond control and stall strategies, I think the format is much more open to aggro decks and midrange attacking decks whereas previously every player had to evaluate if their deck had an out to reset stamp, surge, mars, mars, chip chip. I think Double Dragon Energy is a very strong energy card for ADP and Ultra Necrozma decks, as well as Double Colorless Energy for Zoroark-GX, Seismitoad, and single prizers like Night March. I definitely think we will have a diverse meta and see new control and stall strategies emerge, so I am very excited for Dallas Regionals. 

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