Portland Pregame: The Early 2018-19 Expanded Meta and Stats & Stories For This Weekend

✏ Tate Whitesell | @twhitesell42

This weekend's Portland Regionals marks not only the first major Expanded tournament of the 2018-19 season, but the first major Expanded event since...May 26th, when Xander Pero won Roanoke Regionals with Buzzwole/Lycanroc-GX.

Much has changed since then. Two new sets--Celestial Storm and Dragon Majesty--have been released, and perhaps more importantly, four cards have been banned from the Expanded format: Ghetsis, Hex Maniac, Puzzle of Time, and Wally. Suddenly, Trevenant XY can no longer hit the field on turn 1 (Wally), DCE decks like Zoroark-GX and Night March lose an important resource recovery card (Puzzle), Ability-centered decks can play the game again (Hex), and Item-heavy combo decks can't have their hand stripped to zero on turn 1 (Ghetsis). Needless to say, this has opened up Expanded and a huge amount of decks both old and new are expected to be viable for Portland.

2018-19 Expanded League Cups
In an effort to make some sense out of this unknown metagame, I turned to the League Cup data here on PokéStats (pretty neat how that works out). For the Standard format, Cup data has historically been a decent predictor of what the meta will look like at upcoming events. For Expanded, however, Cup data is less useful, for two reasons: 1) stores run far fewer Expanded Cups than Standard Cups, and 2) attendance at Expanded Cups is generally significantly lower than at Standard Cups. But it certainly can't hurt to at least attempt to find some patterns in this season's Expanded Cup results. The table below shows all decks that have made Top Cut of an Expanded League Cup in PokéStats's database since the start of the 2018-19 season. (While this covers two different formats, SUM-CES and SUM-DRM, Dragon Majesty did very little to affect Expanded; the biggest change seems to be the addition of Kingdra-GX to Archie's Blastoise.)

A contender or just convenient?
While I generally dislike tier lists as a method of analysis, if these decks were to be placed into tiers based on CP earnings, Buzzwole/Garbodor/Shrine probably stands alone in tier 1, with Trevenant, Buzzwole/Lycanroc-GX, and Garbodor Toolbox making up tier 2. Those tier 2 decks have been, in my view, three of the five most-hyped decks for Portland, with the other two being Zoroark-GX/Garbodor and Archie's Blastoise. I have seen much less hype for Shrine decks; the explanation for that archetype's success at Cups is probably just that the deck is built very similarly in both formats, so players without many Expanded cards could simply port over their Standard list with a few changes and still do well.

Zoroark-GX decks are probably underrepresented here. Players likely struggled with building an optimal Zoroark-GX list after losing Ghetsis, Hex, and Puzzle. This lack of Zoroark-GX is probably part of what opened the door for Trevenant to perform so well.

Buzzwole/Lycanroc-GX was the last deck to win a major Expanded event and is a pretty strong deck in a vacuum due to its sheer power and flexibility. The Dimension Valley-focused toolbox-style build of Garbodor, with Necrozma-GX, Mimikyu, Tapu Lele SM45, and more, is another strong deck in an open meta.

Although Eelektrik has had a fairly decent showing (with a new partner in Rayquaza-GX), I was somewhat surprised to see the other two big Ability-based Energy-acceleration decks, Bronzong and Malamar, completely (the former) or almost (the latter) absent from these data. While Hex Maniac was in the meta, these decks could be completely shut down, but intuition suggests they should be strong in the post-Hex meta. That hasn't apparently been the case so far this season, and these types of decks are one of the things I'm most curious to look for in Portland.

The last deck I want to touch on here is Donphan. Last season, this deck saw only two Day 2 placements during the whole season: Toby Woolner's 9th at Stuttgart Regionals, and Daniel Altavilla's 29th at Salt Lake City Regionals. Yesterday, however, Azul Garcia Griego tweeted a picture of Donphan with no caption. The 👀 emoji was probably implied.

Maybe Azul is trolling or giving some fake hype to Donphan, but maybe he's not. It's definitely a deck that fits the trend of a once-strong, now-forgotten archetype (the card is six years old!) that could find success again through a combination of the banlist updates and newly released cards. Jimmy Pendarvis responded to Azul's tweet with "this doesn't look like the thing we agreed to submit," but another player who finished Top 16 in North America last season and is chasing it again this season has told me
that Donphan "has been testing extremely well" for him.

PokéStats Quick Question: Zoroark-GX
I'd like to implement a "Quick Question" feature here or on our Twitter, in which I ask some top players a reader-submitted question that might be beyond the scope of PokéStats's data (or my personal knowledge of the game), and this is as good a place to start as any. A member of our Discord server asks, "What is the best Zoroark-GX variant for Portland?"
Responses edited slightly for clarity. 

Russell LaParre says: "It's by far Zoroark-GX/Garbodor."

Zach Lesage says: "Zoroark-GX/Garbodor, because it is the most flexible."

Travis Nunlist says: "Probably Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX, because it can do the most damage and most broken things in a single turn."

Halloween Grab Bag
Here are a few more stats, storylines, and trivia to chew on for this weekend's tournament. (None of them taste quite as good as banana Laffy Taffy.)
  • Registration for Portland has surpassed 500 Masters as of my last count. The 2018 Portland Regionals featured only 469 Masters; it was played in the Standard format. 
  • Last year's 13th-ranked CP earner in North America, Christopher Schemanske, will be playing in his first tournament since the 2018 World Championships. Schemanske is focusing this season on judging and running SixPrizes and has said he's not sure if he's chasing a 2019 Worlds invite. 
  • Here's your roundup of rogue decks that you probably won't see in Day 2 in Portland, but can't rule out entirely, because hey, some article site wrote about 'em. 
  • If the Worlds invite requirement is unchanged from last year--400 CP--Daniel Altavilla, Caleb Gedemer, and James Taylor can clinch their invite by earning any amount of CP (i.e., placing Top 128 or better) in Portland, Alex Schemanske can clinch it with a Top 32, and if they were going, Rukan Shao and JW Kriewall could secure it with a Top 8. If the invite requirement increases to 500 CP, Altavilla, Gedemer, and Taylor could still clinch by making Top 4 or better, and Kriewall, Schemanske, and Shao could nab their invites by winning the tournament.