Out of the Dark in Expanded
Dallas Regionals is 20 days away making Expanded Format the most relevant topic to discuss. I do not want to focus an entire article on one archetype, because this meta is so volatile and can invalidate a deck between now and Dallas. I will discuss Turbo Dark or Expanded Dark Box, as I think it is a Tier 1 deck that has a good chance of staying where it is until the tournament in three weeks. In addition to this archetype, I will also talk about how I see this unique meta and some of the shifts I have already observed and expect to see in the coming weeks.
Dallas 2020 Metagame
Since the new expanded bans and Cosmic Eclipse, there has not been a major expanded event. There also won’t be another one in this format after Dallas, so Dallas is a very unique one-of major tournament. You might ask, “how is the meta shifting already if there haven’t been any events?”. The internet is very powerful in shaping opinions and those opinions turn into deck choices and those deck choices create the metagame.
I don’t want to spend too much time reiterating old topics, but remember that every part of the player population matters in creating the Day 1 metagame, while only the players that eventually go on to Day 2 matter for the Day 2 metagame. The entire metagame matters if your goal is to make Day 2, but the Day 2 metagame matters much more if your goal is to win the tournament.
Combining data from ptcgstats.com and from partially reported League Cups, I’ve put together a list of decks that have made top cut at Expanded League Cups in the past week of Dec 26-30. I will list all archetypes that were reported to have more than 1 top cut appearance at a North American League Cup as of the time I am writing this. Turbo Dark / Dark Box (11), Mewtwo & Mew Box (5), Zoroark Garbodor (5), Gardeon Aromatisse (3), Shock Lock (3), Ultra Necrozma CEC (3), Lillie’s Poke Doll Variants (2), Pyroar FLF Variants (2). I don’t think any of the attacking archetypes are surprising to see on this list of successful decks from a small sample size of league cup top cuts. Turbo Dark is both hyped and very good, Mewtwo & Mew while not having too much hype is still a very good archetype, Zoro Garb will never die, and Ultra Necrozma has been insanely hyped up online and has some results to show for that hype. Gardeon has been a sleeper pick and has just started getting the recognition it deserves. Unfortunately I am going to bother you all with a pun here, and say that I am legitimately shocked to see Shock Lock performing well at league cups. I imagine nobody is going out of their way to tech for it at league cups, but if Shock Lock shows a moderate amount of potential prior to Dallas I think players will consider teching against it.
Two weeks ago, there were two expanded league cups won by Egg Row, the archetype that won Richmond Regionals. This deck looked like a frontrunner of the format 2-3 weeks ago, but now it seems fairly week with most Turbo Dark decks running 2-2 Weavile-GX and Stealthy Hood being teched into decks like Gardeon. I’ve been talking about this in articles, videos, and discussion on forums: this meta is very volatile and decks that are good this week may be heavily countered next week and then forgotten about the next. Ultra Necrozma CEC gained so much hype and thus was being countered by techs like Faba and Jirachi (Stardust) and decks with good Ultra Necrozma matchups like Egg Row were better meta calls because of that hype. If everyone turns to focus on Turbo Dark and Zoro Garb, then Ultra Necrozma CEC can just become an unchecked power house. The same goes for ADP being countered by Pokemon Ranger: ADP is good and popular which causes players to tech Pokemon Ranger, which causes players to switch off of ADP, which causes players to stop teching Pokemon Ranger, which allows ADP to be good again. There are cycles to this and its up to you to decide where in the cycle you think we are.
I naturally started calling this dark box again, since there are several attackers and routes of play. Below is my current list which I have tried to build as conservatively as possible while including cards that I think are necessary for the deck to have the best matchup spread it reasonably can.
2 Weavile-GX became a somewhat popular inclusion due to it being an evolution Pokemon that can attack Vileplume BUS. Weavile-GX actually turns out to be very solid for Dark in general since it’s ability that moves energy around allows you to play attackers with higher energy costs. I am expecting upwards of 75% of Dark lists to be playing a Weavile-GX line as of now, where as two weeks ago I probably would have said 50% at most.
Our 2 Darkrai-GX serve two purposes in this deck: 1) it can recur itself onto the board while accelerating an energy and 2) its GX attack instantly knocks out the defending Pokemon if the defending Pokemon is affected by a special condition. Both of these purposes served by Darkrai-GX combine with other Pokemon in the deck for their full potential. Accelerating energy onto the board is good because it increases the damage of Zoroninja’s Dark Pulse, and because the energy can be moved with Weavile-GX’s ability to other Pokemon that are situationally better attackers than Darkrai-GX. Malamar-EX is my preferred mode of applying a special condition in this list, but other options include Koga and Hypnotoxic Laser.
Greedy Crush is kinda insane versus Zoroark-GX and frankly any deck that has Shaymins, Leles, or Dedennes on the bench waiting to be gusted up. Gigafall GX puts out a solid 250 damage which can knock out a Zoro Ninja in the mirror, and for 10 energy it mills the top 15 cards of your opponents deck which wins more games than you might think in the expanded format. In addition to having two really good attacks, Mega Sableye Tyranitar has 280 HP or 320 HP with a Fighting Fury Belt which can survive a hit from a lot of popular attackers in the meta. Because of Sabletar’s high HP and Greedy Crush taking an extra prize when knocking out a GX or EX, it is completely possible to win the game by getting 5 energy to Sabletar and attacking twice.
What's nice about Guzzlord’s Red Banquet attack that is different than Sabletar’s Greedy Crush is that Red Banquet takes an extra prize card when knocking out any Pokemon, not only a GX or EX. This can be powerful versus Ultra Necrozma CEC which is a 110 HP single prize attacker that outputs 170 damage before modifiers. If a Guzzlord CEC with Fighting Fury Belt knocks out an Ultra Necrozma, the Ultra Necrozma player needs to remove the Fighting Fury Belt or the Guzzlord lives another turn which would effectively seal the match in the Dark player’s favor.
If we are trying to accelerate the rate at which we take prize cards, N scares me and I want to N-proof the deck more. This slot was between a Mew FCO, a 4th Sycamore, or the Oranguru and I think the Oranguru makes a lot of sense since we can empty out our hands full of item cards for a little extra draw, or search out oranguru before taking multiple prize cards so that maybe an N won’t hurt as much next turn.
Turbo Dark, Dark Box, whatever you would like to call it, looks like it should be weak to item lock strategies since its engine heavily relies on items. The main item lock strategies in Expanded are Trevenant and Seismitoad-EX, both of which Dark has naturally favored matchups against due to type advantage (versus trev) and outclassed damage output (versus toad). Egg Row countered unsuspecting Dark decks in expanded last time with Vileplume BUS, but now Weavile-GX is a common inclusion in Dark and takes care of Vileplume. The other weakness Dark encountered previously was single prize decks, namely single prize decks with fighting type attackers. Buzz Garb has been nerfed with the ban of Marshadow SHL and Dark gained Guzzlord CEC which is huge for that matchup. Guzzlord CEC is actually a huge deal versus all single prize matchups, and while it does not completely swing the matchup it makes matchups like Night March, Vespiquen, Buzz Garb, and Hitmonwobb much closer than they have been in the past.
I don’t see many glaring weaknesses for Dark Box right now like I did going into Richmond. I think this deck may just be a very good Tier 1 deck that does not falter to shifts in the meta. Only time will tell, but as of now I think it is a safe deck to secure the cards for and begin practicing with.
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