Richmond Recap, Portland Predictions: How the Expanded Meta Has Changed in the Last Week

✎ Tate Whitesell (@twhitesell42) / Luke Morsa (@Celios_Network)

Last weekend we saw the first major Expanded event of the 2019-20 season, and the first ever major Expanded event with Unbroken Bonds and Unified Minds as legal sets, in Richmond, Virginia. Just one week later, the same format returns to our attention in Portland, Oregon as the West Coast gets its first taste of Regional action this season.

JW Kriewall took down Richmond with the new Rowlet & Alolan Exeggutor-GX/Vileplume archetype, earning his second Regional win six years after his first. But he wasn't the only one to perform well with the deck. "RowlEgg" (as we'll call it to save space in this article) earned nine of the 39 Day 2 spots in Richmond, making it the most represented deck in Day 2. Two different testing groups actually developed their lists independently: Ian Robb (who made Top 8) and his testing partners played a Sceptile-GX line, while Kriewall's group (including Michael Zele, also in Top 8) did not play the Sceptile-GX but opted to play two Steven (or, exclusively for Kriewall, one Steven and a Shuckle-GX).* In PokéStats chat we've been a bit back-and-forth on whether RowlEgg will perform well again in Portland. Tate believes it might be a bit of a trap situation where players assume other players will tech for RowlEgg or play counter decks, but no one actually does, which clears the field for RowlEgg to do well again. Others of us aren't so sure and believe RowlEgg will see much less play and success in Portland.

For this short article, Luke has prepared a few words on each of the format's major archetypes, and we also got in touch with JW Kriewall himself to get his thoughts on RowlEgg for Portland. At the end of the article, Tate will share a counter-meta list he built after analyzing the Richmond metagame and theorizing decks that could beat the variety of strategies seen there.

* Note that Grant Manley, who made Top 4 in Richmond, has said that although the Sceptile-GX was intended as a Zoroark-GX counter, he actually thinks the two Steven are a better counter for that purpose. 

JW Kriewall on RowlEgg
Was it a one-time thing, or a new Expanded meta staple? 

"Rowlet & Alolan Exeggutor-GX/Vileplume was such a force in Richmond because nobody respected Vileplume or Power Plant. Many of the expected decks going into the tournament had heavy reliance on Items, Basic Pokémon, and Abilities. Thus, crafting a deck to shut down each of those types of cards helped my deck win the tournament. I expect Rowlet & Alolan Exeggutor / Vileplume to perform well again in Portland, but not be nearly as dominant as it was in Richmond. Since it is no longer an unknown quantity, attendees will not only know how to tech their decks to beat it, but will also develop gameplay strategies to maximize their chances of winning. Look for there to be a handful in Day 2 of Portland, but I expect it to succumb to counter decks such as Zoroark-GX Control with Reset Hole Marshadow, and Turbo Dark with Weavile-GX."

Deck profiles
Luke's thoughts on how the major Expanded archetypes performed in Richmond and how we think they'll hold up in Richmond

our pre-Richmond power ranking: #11 of 11
at Richmond: 1 in Day 2
Zoroark-GX/Garbodor is a good mid-range deck that has multiple routes of play depending on the matchup and the player's choice of techs. N plus Garbotoxin is a powerful combination that has the ability to control games that at first seem to swing out of favor.

Night March
our pre-Richmond power ranking: #2 of 11
at Richmond: 2 in Day 2
Even in today's game with all its high-HP attackers, Night March remains strong due to its massive damage output from single-Prize attackers. It can be countered (to varying degrees of effectiveness depending on the Night March player's skill) with one-card techs: Seismitoad-EX or Karen. 

Trevenant BREAK
our pre-Richmond power ranking: #4 of 11
at Richmond: 2 in Day 2
Trevenant is not objectively strong compared to many newer cards, but it is subjectively strong in the right meta. The combination of Item lock and spread damage, plus disruptive cards like Counter Catcher and Faba, can make it quite difficult to play against. 

our pre-Richmond power ranking: #3 of 11
at Richmond: 4 in Day 2
Evolving from the previous Shrine of Punishment-based build, Buzzwole/Garbodor now runs Power Plant and leans on the Let Loose plus Power Plant strategy of turn 1 disruption. Ability lock makes the Zoroark-GX and Mewtwo & Mew-GX matchups strong, and the deck's reliance on single-Prize attackers means it trades favorably in most matchups.

Archie's Ace in the Hole
our pre-Richmond power ranking: #9 of 11
at Richmond: 0 in Day 2
In my opinion, the only thing still keeping this deck afloat is Espeon & Deoxys-GX. The possibility of a turn 1 Cross Division GX against decks like Zoroark-GX or Sableye/Garbodor is a fearsome threat. Archie's is a high-risk, high-reward deck with strong potential but a very volatile setup and strategy.  

our pre-Richmond power ranking: #1 of 11
at Richmond: 0 in Day 2
Reset Stamp, Mars, Chip-Chip Ice Axe, repeat. This deck is potentially even stronger than Pidgeotto is in Standard because Expanded has a larger pool of disruptive Trainers to work with. We were surprised to see none in Day 2 in Richmond, but it would not likely have performed well in Day 2 against all the RowlEgg decks. 

our pre-Richmond power ranking: not ranked
at Richmond: 2 in Day 2
The two Vespiquen players in Day 2 in Richmond played Bronzong FCO to block damage and damage counters to their Benched Pokémon, helping against Espeon & Deoxys-GX as well as Trevenant BREAK. This deck does have some rough matchups, especially if Archie's adds Articuno back into the deck as we expect it might, but the presence of Flareon in the list is very good for the RowlEgg matchup. 

A case study in metagame prediction and building a counter deck
Tate's thoughts on Lucario-GX/Octillery for Portland

After analyzing the Richmond metagame I thought about what decks could counter the variety of strategies we saw in Day 2 there. I realized that a potential weakness of RowlEgg would be a deck that could trade two-shots (since RowlEgg does not have much OHKO potential) while surviving under Item lock and having an out to Vileplume BUS. To that end, I thought a deck with a heavy count of Acerola (to win two-shot wars without using Items) and non-Item-based search would be strong. Based on the success of Turbo Dark and Zoroark-GX variants, I also thought a Fighting-type deck would be strong. What Fighting-based archetype could survive in a two-shot war and function well under Item lock? It seemed like Lucario-GX, which I was first told about by Zachary Everest, would fit the bill.

Here's the list I would likely use if I was able to teleport to Portland in the next few hours. It's pretty rough, as I made it yesterday and tested about 10 games with it, and I'd probably be testing and refining it in my hotel room late into the morning hours, but the concept of this deck feels very strong to me. The matchup spread against the Richmond Day 2 meta feels great. Octillery is a great card and I think this deck even beats control decks because you only need one Energy to attack with Lucario-GX and they cannot lock your hand when Octillery is in play. Zygarde-EX is mostly in the deck to deal with Trevenant and to give you a non-Psychic-weak attacker. One Beast Ring has felt really strong to close out games with Buzzwole-GX or baby Buzzwole. I noticed that very few lists in Richmond played Field Blower so I think Focus Sash also has tremendous value right now.

Studying metagames and using them to predict future tournaments and craft decklists that counter the expected meta is one of the most fun parts of Pokémon for me, so I wanted to add this section on to the article to discuss it a little bit.

Don't miss our Portland Regionals coverage all weekend long right here on PokéStats. We'll have the same live match data, top-player and metagame updates, and round/day recaps as we did for Richmond, and you won't want to miss it.