Recaps, Regionals, and Nationals oh my!

Expanded is nearly back again

So here's my recap on the format so far, and a look forward on things to come.
I'm going to end up name dropping a lot here - so don't be terribly surprised if you see your name here. It's not a bad thing, I promise.

The whole "recap of the season" idea came to me when Owen Robinson posted his Championship Point rundown on Facebook - just the playmats and League Challenge promos corresponding to his successes, along with the iconic cards from decks used.
Starting at square one I suppose - prior to this season, I had never had any championship points whatsoever. I was a much more casual player, and also judged occasionally.
This all changed back in September at the first League Challenge I won... with Tool Drop. I know, I know. League Challenges aren't huge achievements by any means, but it was my first taste of success, and I was hooked. With Giratina having just been printed though, I knew Tool Drop probably wasn't getting me anywhere in the long run, so I had to find something new to play. 4th round of the same LC that I had won, that deck hit me directly in the face- it was the Worlds '15 winner's deck, Blastoise/Keldeo, at the time piloted by Kevin Baxter.

+1 Dimension Valley

Blastoise/Keldeo seemed like my speed, and I figured I could pick it up relatively easily. Following this, I started toying around with it. I quickly dropped Mewtwo-EX for a second Articuno, due to the high amount of Night March in my area, and eventually picked up a Kyogre-EX DEX to help with combating Vespiquen as well. This was a good choice, as I've only lost to Vespiquen variants twice in the entirety of my B/K use, once with 2 Archie's, Blastoise, and Kyogre prized; the other to extremely good use of Wobb by Connor Finton at Collinsville Regionals. I believe my record is something like 11-2 against Bees.
Anyway, moving onto specific tournament use; my first major tournament with Stoise was Ft Wayne Regionals. I started out very strongly, sweeping through several Vespiquen decks (Sorry Charles Randall), including donking my round 1 opponent, who seemingly dropped the entire tournament following the donk. Looking back, it probably wasn't a great choice, as I ran into Toad variants literally the rest of the day, Luckily, those 2 Articuno pulled their weight, and I was able to stay in the game with repeated Chilling Sighs while setting up. My end record was 5-3-1; top 64. Not the greatest, not the worst, and certainly not enough to deter me from the deck just yet.

With very minimal changes going into Cities, I continued the Blastoise train into December. I hadn't yet found my way in Standard, so I predominately avoided Standard Cities tournaments and went to Expanded Cities out in St Louis and the Missouri area.

One thing I did change was Float Stone for Assault Vest. It probably helped in more games than in hurt, but the main time it did hurt was in Finals of STL Cities against Josh Marking - aka Squeaky. I got excessively overzealous with energy and stadiums, and ended up dumping my extra stadiums and using my excess energy wastefully. Squeaky noticed and took advantage of this, by dropping a well timed Silent Lab to shut off Rush In and using Lysandre to drag up my Blastoise. I ended up decking out from here, having exhausted any options available. Semi Finals of this same Cities ended in about 25 minutes, with me getting revenge on the Bees player who had demolished me a previous round when I prized all my Archie's. In game 2, after having won game 1, I used Kyogre-EX Dual Splash going second to take out his only two Pokemon.
MVP in so many games. 

At the Cities prior to the crushing defeat to Squeaky in Finals, at Yeti Gaming, I actually ended up going 'undefeated' in Swiss round play. Going into the last round, I got downpaired 4 points to a friend, and felt extremely comfortable simply scooping this game to get us both into cut. We started off in cut on the same side of the bracket, with me in first seed and Charles Randall in second or third, so my decision certainly paid off. I ended this streak by losing to another friend, Carington Huffman playing Sableye Garbodor, setting up very a riveting Sableye Garbodor mirror match in Finals.
My Cities runs with Blastoise ended with me having three 3rds and one 2nd, never winning, but coming quite closing and coming away satisfied.

I continued playing Stoise for a few more LCs, soft capping my LCs with Stoise with 4 total Jirachi cards - 2 EX, and 2 Stardust. This came in particularly clutch against a very Special Energy heavy Hippowdon/Garbodor, as I was able to 5 HKO his primary Hippowdon with a Muscle Banded Jirachi steadily running him out of energy, with the second Jirachi taking the last 10 damage and effectively getting rid of all his energy. I hit several Toad/Tina decks along the way as well, and Jirachi certainly pulled its weight every time in that matchup. I went through 3 LCs ending a 4-0-1 with this deck, pulling out 1st every time.

The Blastoise train was soon at its end - Collinsville Regionals was the final nail in the coffin for me using Stoise in larger tournaments. With Wobbuffet variants and M Rayquaza being in full attendance, along with the mandatory Toad Bats, I could no longer justify playing Blastoise after the tournament. I started off pretty strong, but that turned into a nose dive after pulling out a close game against Owen Robinson's Toad Bats. I think the only game I won after this was against a M Rayquaza player that scooped both games after I decimated his DCEs with my handy Jirachis. In a previous round against Zander Bennett's M Ray, I wasn't quite as lucky, but the look on his face when I dropped a second Jirachi after he went far out of his way to kill the first was certainly worth it.

Those pesky Ultra Balls

Okay, okay, enough of Blastoise. Not that the next deck is too much better - Vespiquen was certainly a solid contender in Expanded, and Andrew Wamboldt made sure it was in Standard as well.
When Andrew first mentioned the deck concept during the Cities Marathon, I laughed and called the concept terrible. I would soon eat my words when he got 2nd the following day, and I had a deck I actually liked for Standard now. I practiced a ton with this deck leading into States, and it certainly paid off. I ended my runs with 2 undefeated Swiss runs at Missouri and Nebraska and 3rd place at both after top cut, and a Top 16 for 30 more points at Iowa States (where the deck ended up winning anyway). This deck is a powerhouse on so many levels. Its damage cap is only limited by how many Pokemon you can ditch, and to add insult to damage, it can item lock you while it hits hard. I don't have terribly much more to say about this deck that I haven't said in other articles already which can be found linked above, but I certainly never thought I'd have success in Standard prior to this deck.

-1 Gloom, +1 Jirachi

The recap is over! But there's still more format analysis to be had. Regionals and Nationals are coming up, and my indecision about both of these are certainly at a peak as well.

Regionals Expanded format only gained two things from the previous Florida Regionals in my opinion - those are Revitalizer and Jolteon-EX. There are a few other niche cards in Generations that could have an impact, but I don't really see that happening just yet. So the powerhouses of the format either stay unchanged or get slightly better- Eels and M Manectric get a cool new toy, Virizion Genesect and Vespiquen get a cute recovery card that may or may not see play, and everything else is on about the same level.
This leaves Regionals power decks, with a few additions, to look something like this:
Yveltal Variants (Speed, Archeops)
Trevenant BREAK/Wobb
Sableye Garbodor
Vespiquen Flareon
M Rayquaza
M Manectric
Toad Variants (Bats, Giratina)

with "surprise" plays looking like Night March, Blastoise, and Accelgor variants. The surprise plays, in my opinion, aren't very strong right now for various reasons. Night March has hard matchups against several of the top decks, primarily Sableye, Trevenant, an iffy matchup against Bees, and a slightly tough matchup against anything that plays a multitude of Fury Belts. It will still certainly see play due to hype from Standard carrying over. Accelgor just has a tough time against Virgen, Keldeo in any deck, Giratina EX in any form, and Archeops in particular. It still has potential, but has to hit good matchups to make it. Blastoise, alas, is just not in a good place right now. Too much Wobbuffet, too much Item/Ability lock, and Fury Belt throws math way off in many cases as well. Ghetsis also decimates Blastoise in particular - it's powerful against every deck in the format, but Blastoise not being able to get a T1 Archie's due to having no cards going into their turn is kind of a problem.

Expanded's King, basically 
The rest of the lineup I'm having extreme difficulty picking between. It certainly doesn't help that I have all the cards I need to build any of them- for week 1, at least. They're all strong choices, and only a few of them have major flaws. The decks I'll avoid due to said flaws will end up being Eels due to the weakness to Hex and ability lock, Toad Variants due to a general preparedness to deal with them and reliance on Special Energy, M Manectric and Trevenant for it's inability to hit high numbers in one turn (I know that's a really odd reason, but without hitting weakness it can't take out something putting heavy pressure on it that has high HP, and that's kind of a concern) and Groudon and Vespiquen for the overtly slow nature in a fast format. No matter how much they tried, Tyler Turner and Charles Randall couldn't get me on the Groudon hype train.
This leaves me with Yveltal, Sableye, M Ray. I have very limited time to make the decision, but it's proving to be a tough one. It certainly doesn't help that a few new options open up for Kansas City Regionals with Fates Collide being legal, but I'm trying not to think about that just yet.

Nationals is a whole other beast entirely. Night March will still most certainly have the strength carrying over from States (along with the target on its head), and that severely limits viable options going back into Fates Collide legal Standard format.
N's return makes for an interesting twist as well- Night March will have a slightly tougher time having precisely what it needs at every point of the game after it reaches the 3 prize hump if their opponent times their N well.
Looking at Andrew Wamboldt's States results, the decks that carry over well tend to be:
Vespiquen Vileplume
Night March
Toad Hammers
Trevenant BREAK
and M Rayquaza/Jolteon

The main two variants we didn't see as much that will probably come up now are Fighting, Wailord, and Metal. Metal gained some nice new techs with FTC Bronzong, Bronzong BREAK, and Genesect-EX. All three of these are most certainly worth note, as Bronzong is a powerful counter to Trevenant, and the BREAK can manhandle Night March if they're not careful. Genesect is just a good card with an all around solid ability and attack.
Fighting gets two new Carbinks, Carbink BREAK, Zygarde-EX, and Regirock-EX. As if Fighting didn't have enough damage modifiers in Fighting Stadium and Strong Energy while having Focus Sash to prevent OHKOs, it gets a new Safeguard, energy acceleration in Carbink BREAK, another high HP (190HP!) attacker in Zygarde with Regirock to boost damage. Fighting is back with more options than ever.
What changes with Wailord, you say? The only thing it was missing in Standard from Expanded - a Safeguard Pokemon. It has Hugh in the form of Chip Off Durant, it often plays either Lugia-EX, Shaymin-EX, or Lucario-EX to take out opposing Bunnelby, Max Potion, Rough Seas, and now has Carbink to take the place of Suicune. Unfortunately Carbink can't utilize Rough Seas as Suicune could, but it still gives it the edge back it once had.
I really like all the perks Metal currently brings to the table, but testing stands to prove whether it will be enough or not. Aegislash isn't as strong in the format as one would expect, with Hex Maniac being quite popular in most decks that would normally have an issue with it, and I can certainly see Hex doing enough to Bronzong decks to stop it from getting too far in the game. That said, I have almost no reason just to default to Vespiquen, and that will always remain a contender in my choices for Standard right now as well.

Overall, Expanded definitely provides more choice and variety than Standard, which inevitably leads me to be more indecisive about it than Standard as well. For those who know me, know this is a VAST switch from a few months ago. I used to absolutely hate Standard and had absolutely no idea what to do. Now I only slightly despise it, and my extreme indecision has been flipped into Expanded, leaving me to muddle through the next week with not nearly as much testing as I'd like, and a difficult decision looming on the close horizon.
Nationals mat, Ala Brandon Smiley/Virbank City

Flower Power - a Top 4 Nebraska States Tournament Report

Hey, Brandon Flowers here with my top 4 report from Nebraska States!
Going into week 2 I didn't really have a specific need to change anything up too dramatically, so I stuck with my friend Charles Randall's solid meta calls and just played Vespiquen Vileplume again. Having published my list however, I felt a near requirement to change a few cards up, and did just that to get a bit of an edge should my opponent's know my list card for card. Thanks definitely go to Charles (Charks) Randall for keeping my meta calls on point and testing extensively with me (and Jake and Jerrick) to help me find my groove going into my first successful Standard tournaments.

Starting the long drive from Champaign, IL, we started by driving out to the MO border to meet up with Sarah Beckwith and begin the even longer trip to Lincoln, NE. The drive was a bit tedious, but combined with the power of an inverter and a Wii U, playing Smash 4 in the back on the way made it pass a bit quicker. It was also a well needed distraction to take away the nerves. Unfortunately we couldn't play Pokken at all, as the Wii U gamepad served as our screen for play, and that meant Pokken turned into a single player game for the purposes of the trip.

Once we finally got there it was around 11:30pm, and we all just crashed in anticipation of an early morning and a long day. Once we did wake up and make our trek across town, I discovered (in my unsurprising moment of lack of paying attention to venue info) that the States was taking place in a HobbytownUSA. Awesome! I would get to check out some model kits in my down time and scope out a well earned reward for myself if I did well. As a side hobby, I love model kits in general and even do papercraft (shameless plug, click here to visit my site pls) when I have the time. After some whirlwind trading with Kolton Day and Sina Zojaji, the day begins and I have to focus on what's to come.

Round 1 – Michael McChesney, Yveltal Gallade Zoroark
Starting the day off with a roughly even matchup if he can draw out of the lock, I knew this would be a bit more interesting and potentially more challenging than the barrage of Night March I hit in Missouri. He wins the flip, and starts off Game 1 going first, He opens a solid hand to use Maxie's to get Gallade into play, and does just that, knowing it will give him some edge to have both a way to stack his deck effectively and an attacker that can prize exchange well by killing anything in my deck (given he hits a supporter). He gets a Zorua in play as well, promotes either a Shaymin-EX or Yveltal XY as a sacrifice (I don't exactly recall which, but it's not super relevant really) and is forced to end his turn. I then go, do my thing and get Plume and Vespiquen up attacking. I start the prize exchange and hand it over to him. He attaches a DCE to Zorua, uses Sycamore hoping to hit the Zoroark, but misses. He drops another Zorua, promotes another sacrifice, and passes. I have my trusty Lysandre ready to go here, and actually Lysandre around the active Shaymin to hit a Zorua with energy. If these get up and attacking, it can run through my Vespiquens pretty handily. In his following turn, he tries to Sycamore into a Zoroark again after attaching another DCE, but misses. We go into Game 2.
Great card against VV, if you can get it out.

Game 2 he gets another Maxie's, and is able to Lysandre during his turn 2 to kill my Vileplume. Unfortunately for him, he would have been better off killing the active Vespiquen with energy, as I would have had a much harder time following up. I later find out Lysandre was his only Supporter, and he wouldn't have been able to KO anything without it due to Sensative Blade's stipulations. We begin the prize exchange a new, and he's actually able to get 2 Gallade into play during the game, but it isn't enough. He misses energy too often, and is forced to bench an Yveltal-EX just to have a heavy hitter to attach a Dark Energy to. This is his downfall, as it enables me to Lysandre it for my last two prizes.

WW 1-0

Round 2 – Treynor Wolfe, Night March
While considered a better matchup than YGZ generally, there's also more of a potential for him to outmaneuver and take games too. Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for him, he doesn't end up getting much room to do so.
I believe he starts game 1, but doesn't get much going for him throughout his first turn. He's forced to pass it over to me, and I get the lock into place and start prize exchanging on his Night Marchers. Due to his slow turn 1, he now has limited options and I'm able to simply out prize exchange to go to game 2.
In game 2 he also has a slow start, and this game goes similar to the first. He's unable to draw out of the item lock and come back, and ends up getting out exchanged again. 

WW 2-0

Round 3 – Carington Huffman, Night March
Night March once again wasn't a matchup I minded much, but unfortunately it was my friend Carington on the other side of the table this time. He starts out bragging about his 3 Hex Maniac, but if he can't get to them, they don't have the ability to help too much, haha. I really wish we were both in a position to ID here though, as I wanted him to go onto top 8 nearly as much as I wanted to.
He starts game 1 off with an okay start, and is able to get into a decent position for my turn. I believe he ends his turn by playing Hex and passing. I don't play too much, just enough to not get benched, and pass. He continues on his previous lead by playing out a bit more of his hand, and kills active. I'm then able to get the lock in place and start taking prizes in return. He draws poorly from here, and we go onto game 2.
In Game 2, he starts lone Shaymin-EX and has to Judge with the hopes of drawing into something useful (and me not). He Judge's himself into nothing, and me into a Shaymin, DCE, and Trainers' mail to start running through the deck to evolve my active Combee for the win. I discard 7 Pokemon and Sycamore into a Forest, Vespiquen, and Battle Compressor for the win.

WW 3-0

When you play against Night March 8 out of 13 rounds
Disclaimer: after 8 rounds against Night March over 2 weekends, the details of matches began to slur together a bit. Some of these games were too similar to keep distinct, so unfortunately they may not be as accurate as I'd like.

Round 4 – Dawson Michel, Entei/Charizard
This round was by far the most controversial of the day, if not the most interesting.
Dawson wins the flip and starts off strong. He gets two Entei on the board, both Assault Vest/Muscle Banded, hits a DCE and Blacksmith, VS Seekers a Sycamore back to his hand for next turn and ends his turn. I get a Vileplume but otherwise lackluster start against his imposing board, and opt to Sky Return a Shaymin off the field instead of doing subpar damage with Vespiquen in hopes to hit KO numbers. In the next couple turns he kills off a Shaymin and a Vespiquen, but after the Vespiquen KO I'm able to finally knock out his first tank of an Entei. After doing so, I turn it over to him and he starts his turn by attaching a Japanese VS Fire Energy. Wait, what? As many of you may know, Japanese cards of any sort, including energy, are not legal and I'm required to inform a judge. Apparently his friend's opponent behind me heard me say "that japanese energy isn't legal, I have to call a judge" and confirmed his own suspicions and also called a judge. Both Dawson and his friend got Game Losses for an illegal deck situation, even though I strongly suspect he would have taken the game and series from here, and we go to a game 2 after he replaces the energy.
In Game 2 he gets a very similar start as Game 1 despite being on tilt due to the events of said game, and handily edges me out of the game. To Game 3 we go.
In Game 3, I get a perfect set up against his lone Entei, and he scoops before even taking a full turn.

WLW 4-0

I do feel bad for him this round, as it is a rough mistake to find out about in the fourth round of States after being previously undefeated. For anyone who doesn't know still, please don't play Japanese or illegal cards! It puts your opponent in a weird situation where they either call a judge on you and get what some would consider an unfair advantage, or allow you to continue playing an illegal deck. It's awkward and unfortunate for everyone. The whole situation was a bit unsettling, but I don't have any particular regrets about how I handled it overall.

Round 5 – Steven Singer, Trevenant BREAK
While not 100% guaranteed, drawing here gives us both a very strong chance of topping, and neither of us particularly want to play this out. We opt for the ID, as there are only 58 people/6 rounds.

TTT 4-0-1

 Round 6 – Miguel Escutia, Night March
A tie gets me in for sure, and Miguel at 4-1 has a very strong chance of cutting too. I didn't know it at the time, but he was playing Night March, and definitely didn't want to play this one out just yet. We opt to ID and prep for cut.

TTT 4-0-2

Now knowing both myself, Steven, and Kaleb Higdon (Steven's round 6 opponent who was also 4-0-2 now) were all guaranteed, we waited on the remainder of cut to be decided by the final rounds. Seeing an unsurprising set of decks make top 8 after 6th round, we found the final top cut to be (in order):

Vespiquen Vileplume
Night March
Giratina/Uno Tyrantrum/Bronzong/Aegislash
Night March
Night March
Night March
Night March

Coming back around to more Night March! Surprise. Our top 8 was set for about half an hour after standings were posted, so I prepped for the fated game against Miguel. 

Top 8 vs Miguel Escutia, Night March
This feels oddly familiar... Coming back around to Night March in top 8 against an opponent I had crossed paths with in Swiss.
Also oddly familiar, I lose the flip. Surprise.
Miguel starts off game 1 with a decent start, and gets going. This goes similar to other games in that we have a pretty solid prize exchange back and forth until one of us runs out of energy. Pretty far into this game, Miguel is the first to hit a drought, as I utilize Sky Return to its fullest extent. On one occasion, I also Lysandre a bench Feebas to get a nice Sky Return KO and avoid him getting over 80 damage with Night March just yet. I'm able to take this game on prizes and we go into game 2.
In game 2, he does what my previous top 8 opponent Kyle had to do as well- he's cornered into having to chose his top 3 cards with Time Puzzle, and Hex to slow me down and give himself another turn. Literal deja vu, and definitely did not help with previous Night March matches running into each other in my mind. I set myself up just enough to avoid being benched, and pass it back. He gets a decent start, but doesn't get many Night March in the ditch. He hits an Unown for 40 and gives me a chance to get going. I get a decent setup and am able to Float the Unown off active, starting off killing a Joltik and locking him out. I start off the game by exchanging a bit until we both run low on energy, but then he gets a good Hex turn and puts me on the ropes. At this point in the game he starts ignoring my Bunnelby and getting tunnel vision on my Vileplume. He kills it to get items back, only for me to Revitilizer it back, Lysandre his Milotic, and start putting resources back in with Rototiller. His Vileplume blood lust hasn't ended though- he plays a Sycamore into what I presume to be the DCE and Lysandre that he holds for next turn to go after Plume again. At this point he has 4 cards in deck, I have a Bunnelby with a double, and not much else left. He opts to Lysandre and 2HKO Vileplume with a Fury Belted Joltik (70 each turn), which puts me in a position to Burrow for the game. Had he played a bit more conservatively he might have been able to squeak this one out, but his low damage output and even lower deck made it quite an uphill battle regardless.

WW to Top 4

Top 4 – Kaleb Higdon, Night March
The fear of donks
This game is a bit of a different match than my previous top 4, but my deck approaches it quite the same. I win the flip to go first, but my slight moment of triumph is thrown directly back into my face when I draw Unown, Toxicroak-EX, Gloom, Vileplume, Vespiquen, Vespiquen, and Revitalizer. Literal worst hand I have ever seen, and barely workable in any setting. I opt to start Unown, expecting to have to stall a turn at least and not wanting to get Toxicroak donked if I whiffed on Farewell Letter (a similar Top 4 experience of me donking my opponent in an Expanded Cities with Kyogre-EX DEX after he whiffed off an Unown came to mind). I draw into... Lysandre. Yay. I drop Croak and pass, expecting this one to be quick. Surprisingly I'm able to draw into something after a couple of turns into him starting to 3HKO Croak with Joltik+a Lysandre'd Shaymin, but it's too late. I'm essentially 3 prizes down and he handily takes the game from here.
Game 2 I start slightly better but still whiff the setup entirely. I'm not in a position to lose in less than 3 turns, but I'm definitely not in a good position. With his few turns of items and handy lead, he's able to keep the edge even throughout my item lock and take this one too. Near the end he got within about 7 cards of decking out, and I was hoping he would go a bit deeper and open up a Bunnelby Burrow win, but he seemed to be ready for this and never dug deeper than was safe.

LL – Out

While I obviously would have liked to have gotten a bit further than 3rd again, I couldn't complain at all. Kaleb ended up going into finals against Trevenant (which is at best on a coin flip for me) and pulled off a pretty quick win to take down the States tournament. Once again went undefeated in swiss, with my only eventual loss to the winner of it all. Starting to see a pattern here.
Kudos to Kaleb for taking down two lock decks in a row to take it all!
Overall, my opponents were generally more friendly out in Nebraska, which was also awesome. Always feels great to be welcomed in unknown territory.

Cut also only shifted around a little bit to end the day, being the closest I've seen to precut seeds resolving in a near perfect postcut distribution.
1. Kaleb Higdon
2. Steven Singer
3. Brandon Flowers
4. Kyle Haverland
5. Dustin Born
6. Treynor Wolfe
7.  Miguel Escutia
8. Brandon Smiley 

Nothing super new here, as I only took Andrew Wamboldt/Tyler Holt's adaptations from week 1 and stuck them into my list, and ended up at the following list:

Here is the list I played for the tournament:
Pokemon – 28
Combee AOR
Vespiquen AOR
Oddish AOR
Gloom AOR
Vileplume AOR
Unown AOR
Shaymin EX
Bunnelby PRC
Toxicroak EX
Trainers – 28
Professor Sycamore
1 Lysandre
1 AZ
Ultra Ball
Acro Bike
Trainers’ Mail
Battle Compressor
Town Map
Float Stone
Forest of Giant Plants
Energy – 4
Double Colorless

Don't mess (too much) with a good thing really. As States go on, I'm starting to see some dicier matchups popping up a bit more, which isn't entirely surprising. Trevenant and Giratina are strong in this format, and the fact that they didn't show up any sooner in larger numbers was either due to mass indecision (welcome to Standard) or a fear of Greninja and other strong sleepers, which have options to take down both of these decks. And of course, Night March, which has outs to beat anything. Andrew Wamboldt's article from last week on the overpowering strength of Night March was only reinforced this week, as Night March once again topped in swarms and took down both Nebraska, New York and Tennessee (and possibly more).

Given my own fears and the general trend of the format, I could certainly see Toad/Giratina with a tech Latios/Muscle Band taking a few placements next week, as it hits some key weaknesses in the format (Energy and Item lock with a soft Mega lockout) and opens up possibilities to donk Trevenant, Night March, Vespiquen, and Greninja. Were I going to States this weekend this would be the deck I'd be optimizing and have my eye on, but I'll likely sit this one out to conserve money for Regionals/Nationals.
Good luck to all going to more States, and see you around at Regionals and Nationals!

Buzzing Around a Forest of Giant Plants – A Top 4 Report from Missouri States

The gang's all here
Hey, Brandon Flowers here with my top 4 report from Missouri States!
I’ve been anticipating States in general since tripping up at St Louis Regionals not all too long ago; which is saying something, as I’m not the biggest fan of the Standard format overall, and this weekend didn’t really alter my outlook greatly on that either. Both formats, Expanded and Standard, definitely have things people consider issues or annoyances, and the biggest is the sheer prevalence of lock decks and their ability to warp the meta.

 It should then come as no surprise that this tournament report revolves around such a deck – Vespiquen Vileplume. Since Andrew Wamboldt’s (and Michael Hopkins) inception of it during the Chicago Cities marathon, this deck has been buzzing around without fail. Luckily I was around to pick up on the concept and make it my own a little, however slight, and get my own success with it this past weekend. Driving up Friday afternoon to save ourselves some drive time, our little Champaign crew began our trip to Sarah Beckwith’s soon to be crowded household, excited for the weekend to come. I still hadn’t decided between Plume and Night March, but a few test games with my friend Cookie decided that pretty quickly – while Night March was by no means a bad play, Vespiplume forces people into tough situations with little room for outs just as much, if not more than Night March, and can take nearly, if not all options away from Night March itself at times.

Round 1 – Random Bye
Riveting, I know! I started the day with the random bye, lucky me- it gave me a chance to chill out, play a few games of Pokken, and get in the zone. And of course, scope out the competition. It was at this point that I found out Andrew Wamboldt of Charizard Lounge fame appeared to be the only other running Vespiplume, and the field was saturated with Greninja and Night March. While there were a few Trevenant running rampant, but I was in hopes I could avoid them (or go first). Flareon-EX saw much more play than I expected, but I wasn’t terribly worried about that either.

???  1-0

Round 2 – Rick Neiheiser, Greninja
After scoping out the field previously, this wasn’t terribly surprising. Much to my opponent’s chagrin, I won the flip and went first. I got the optimal setup, passed, and gave him a turn. He played Sycamore and immediately scooped, having no other Pokemon and knowing he would be knocked out next turn.
Game 2 was slightly more eventful – he went second, got a few Pokes out, and then passed. I got my setup, knocked out the active, and turned it over to him allowing him to Water Duplicates to get 2 Frogadier out – he frantically searched multiple times in hopes he missed the third somewhere, but alas, it was prized. I knocked out the next Frog and turned it back over to him – he attached, and played Judge in hopes to get a Greninja. When he missed it, he scooped this game as well.

WW 2-0

Round 3 – Dema Boatman, Night March/Puzzle/Milotic
This was the matchup I was ready for, and most anticipating. These games were much longer (and more intense) but I’ll just hit the high points to keep with the flow.
Dema wins the flip, and goes first of course. He gets a fairly optimal setup, prepared for what to come,  and passes. Much prize and energy trading ensues – when I can, I Sky Return for knockouts to preserve my few energy and keep up with the constant barrage of Night March. He is able to outpace the attacks, and with a final clutch Milotic play, gets the last energy he needs to take game 1.
Simply Maniacally good.
Game 2 I go first, but have an awful decision laid out in front of me immediately- I start Sycamore, Double Colorless (DCE), DCE, Oddish, and Toxicroak EX. I’m forced to drop the Croak and attach the DCE to it, hoping it isn’t immediately killed if I miss the Vileplume or just go unused. Off the Sycamore I get the setup, but find in my initial search my remaining DCEs are prized. This is definitely an uphill battle. Luckily I’m able to use Triple Poison to take 4 prizes before Dema can get setup, and take the energy I need to finish off the game.
Game 3 was a great end to a great series – it went very similarly to game 1, but I was able to pull ahead a bit more with better draws and good Town Map utilization to play off prizes. The game ended in time on turn 3- turn 0, I get a Judge played on me and knocked out. Turn 1, I lay down a clutch Shaymin, drop a Combee, and Sky Return the active Joltik to take Vespiquen off my prizes. At this point, he only has a Milotic left, and Vespiquen wins me the game. He passes, I use the Float Stone on my active Vileplume to retreat into Combee, evolve, attach, and end the game. Luck was definitely on my side here, even without winning the opening flip. Hex Maniac certainly made a difference in this series too, and allowed for some interesting plays here and there. 

LWW 3-0

Round 4 – Kyle Haverland, Night March/Puzzle/Gallade
This round was the beginning of a trend that won’t stop til top 4 – even seeing some repeats along the way.
I lose the flip again, and he goes first. I don’t recall anything especially different about this game, as it went very similarly to my game 1 against Dema – including losing game 1 of the round. The main thing that went different was Kyle using Maxie’s for Gallade turn 1, allowing him to control his top 5 cards for the rest of the game and use this advantage to his favor.

Maybe not MVP, but definitely clutch
Game 2 went a bit more in my favor. I went first, got my set up, and passed. Not having anything, he immediately scooped to settle things in game 3.
Game 3 was… Interesting. He went first, used Puzzle of Time to see the top 3 cards of his deck and arrange them, but not play much else. He played Hex Maniac, knowing this would give him at least a turn, and passed. I was able to get about a third of the setup with just items, getting out a few Combees and a Gloom, but had to turn it back over to him without doing anything too spectacular. He got a decent turn, and we began the prize and energy exchange anew. Once I had whittled him down to 6-7 cards in deck, 1 Dimension Valley left, 1 Double Colorless left, a seemingly stranded Pumpkaboo on active and an inkling he didn’t have either in hand, I took a different route. I turned to Bunnelby to pull the rest of the weight and he took the mantle well. My first Burrow hit the last Dimension Valley, and I knew I was in safe territory. I used Burrow for the remainder of the game to deck him and take the series.

LWW 4-0

Round 5 – Dalton Fowler, Night March/Vespiquen
Seeing Vespiquen made me a little leery. I knew immediately I would have to rely on my own Vespiquen a bit more, and as such would need to get to my energy in a timely manner.
Game 1 of this series is very similar to the previous two series – I lose the flip, he goes first, and takes the first game. This had a bit less Sky Return and a bit more Bee Revenge, but he was able to edge me out of game 1 to start the series off in his favor.
Game 2, I went first, and believe I got decently set up immediately – one of these games I didn’t and it got interesting, but I believe this one went relatively quickly and we went onto game 3.
One of few non-reprints in Generations
Game 3 was rocky – he went first and started off well, and I went second and hit all the bad luck I had coming to me. I had a very unremarkable first turn, and had to pass without doing much. He started the prize exchange quickly after, forcing my top deck to be usable – luckily it was an out to get going. Getting an out to a Shaymin and getting back in the game, I quickly got the lock into place and started attacking myself. After a couple of turns of back and forth, I’ve killed off two of his energy, with two left in a sizable (approximately 25 card) deck, but I’m on my last energy. In this moment I know I have to go hyper aggressive and use Vespiquen  to try and take my last 4 prizes before he gets to an energy or I don’t stand  much of a chance. While Bunnelby was waiting on the bench patiently, this wasn’t his time, as I didn’t have a reliable out to get any energy put back into the deck. Vespiquen starts the exchange, taking 2 prizes before Dalton begins an Unown chain – Farewell Letter into Farewell Letter into… nothing usable. He then gives me my second to last prize, draws his next card, and concedes finding it isn’t an energy. I take my last prize and the game. The best part – his very next card was the DCE he needed to edge me out of the game. Had I even slightly hesitated I would not have lasted.
This game was certainly the most riveting, and one of the friendliest opponent’s I had all day. Most people get a little disgruntled upon finding out my deck choice, but he was intrigued by the concept and really liked my utilization of Revitalizer for a fallback in setting up your grass lines. After talking a bit after the game, I even find out he had played Sarah earlier in the day and she had offered him a place to crash as well. Good wrap up to one of the closest games all day.

LWW 5-0

 Round 6 – Conner Lavelle, Manectric Toolbox
Being the only 5-0 so far, we take a mutually advantageous tie, and then banter a bit about what we expect to see in our now guaranteed top 8 placements.

TTT 5-0-1

Round 7 – Andrew Wamboldt,  Vespiquen Vileplume
Neither of us wanting to play this one out just yet, we once again take a mutually advantageous tie. This match would come back around to me again, but for now, we’re both guaranteed cut.

TTT 5-0-2

Now knowing both myself, Andrew, and Conner were all guaranteed, we waited on the remainder of cut to be decided by the final rounds. Seeing an interesting set of decks make top 8 after 7th round, we found the final top cut to be (in order):
Credit to Kolton Day for the solid picture

Vespiquen Vileplume
Manectric Toolbox
Night March/Milotic/Puzzle
Vespiquen Vileplume
Night March/Gallade/Puzzle
Night March/Gallade/Puzzle

Coming back around to more Night March! Our top 8 was played the following day, so I had a chance to rest up and return bright and early through our dreary, Midwestern snow flurries the following morning.

Top Eight  vs Kyle Haverland, Night March/Gallade/Puzzle
Knowing exactly what he’s playing due to Swiss play, I feel fairly confident in my matchup here. I psyched myself up quite a bit the night before, just so I kept myself in check and didn’t get cocky, but I know how to play the matchup and didn’t get too overeager.
Actually winning the flip for the first time in 4 rounds, I choose to go first. This goes exactly like our second game in Swiss- he watches me get the setup, waits for me to pass, and immediately scoops to go to game 2.
Game 2 here goes remarkably close to our previously game 3 as well, with a little twist. He was able to chain Hex Maniac for a couple turns, keeping me at bay for a bit. I made a remarkably dumb misplay here that could have easily cost me the game – I started Unown, had a benched Vespiquen by turn 2, and 2 DCE in hand. I’m so used to getting Shaymin and such Lysandre’d, or the Unown killed, that I didn’t even think to attach to Vespiquen and pass and have game the following turn by killing his active Pumpkaboo with Bee Revenge. Instead, I hold both DCE in anticipation of getting a turn of abilities. He used Hex Maniac again to bide a bit more time for himself, and it’s at this point I realize my dire mistake. I start attaching to Vespiquen now, attempting to rectify the mistake, but Kyle is in the game at this point as well- going back to him, he is able to net an Ultra Ball to start using Shaymins and his trainer draw engine to get set up. He kills the active Unown now and actually gives me a turn of abilities, allowing me to set up my own field, kill his energy, stadium, and item lock him. In the process of getting the Float Stone on my Vileplume however, I had filled my bench with Shaymin-EX and put myself down to 2 cards in deck. Luckily Kyle is only able to Sky Return me, and puts out another Pumpkaboo in anticipation of sacrificing something. I take the opening, assuming without Kyle having a Dimension Valley on the field, I should be safe to Sky Return and open a space for Bunnelby on the bench. He passes, and I see my chance – I draw my last card in deck, drop the Bunnelby and DCE on the Bunnelby, and begin a Rototiller chain. I used 6-7 turns to safely pad my deck with stadiums, Vespiquen lines, and lost energy, and a Sycamore just in case. During this time Kyle isn’t drawing anything useful and is only biding his time to attach a DCE to something that can attack and Judge me. Once I break the Rototiller and knock out the active Pumpkaboo, he does just that, padding my deck even more with my approximately 16 card hand going back to my deck after the Judge was played. Having recovered any useful resources, I’m able to outpace him for the rest of the game and take the game on prizes.

WW – to Top 4! 
The misplay that I caught a turn too late is something I (hope) to learn from and not make the same mistake again. Previous confirmation bias led me to make a bit of a stretched conclusion and play suboptimally. I didn’t let it get to me however, and the game still came back around to me.

At this point I got a bit more at ease, as I started the tournament at 230 championship points, and top 4 was my primary goal. Just having made top 4 nets me 70 championship points, putting me at 300 and my invite! Not even entirely sure it’s fully sunk in just yet.

Top 4 – Andrew Wamboldt, Vespiquen Vileplume
So this is what all the buzz is about.
Anyone who knows the tournament results knows how this one goes – Andrew did not in fact lose to his own deck at this Missouri States, and ended up taking this one home.
Games 1 and 2 are nearly identical – I go first, whiff the setup entirely, and am forced to pass. Game 1 Andrew just entirely edged me out and handily took the game. Game 2 went a bit differently from here though – he also had a terrible first turn, and was forced to pass it back to me. I go deep and start to go agro to see if I can make a come back. Unfortunately, I went 1 card too deep, and took my second to last prize in the same turn I took the last card from my deck. Thus ends my run.

LL – Out

Only giving a full round to the eventual winner and creator of the deck, I’m pretty happy with my run here. I ended up walking away with a box of Breakpoint, a T4 M Scizor mat, a Mewtwo hat (sorry Finals for leaving you guys with Hoopa), just enough points to make it to Worlds and a peace of mind that I can have a bit more fun with the rest of the season without being on edge, and even making a few more friends along the way.

Kudos to you if you made it this far too! I know I’m long winded, and I’m definitely a sucker for the details.

A few new things that I toyed around with in this deck that I liked were:
Revitalizer – all around great card.  Allowed for super aggressive games against mega decks without going for Plume, giving easy access to more Vespiquen lines when needed. Not that I played any though, but it was good to be prepared. Was also the way I got the Vileplume about half the time – early discarding a 1-1-1 line gives you access to a Gloom/Vileplume it as soon as you hit one of these.

Toxicroak-EX – This was in fact great. I was mostly forced to use it against Night March, but its ability to kill Pumpkaboos going back into your turn was clutch. And if they didn’t have Valley or 9 Night March in the discard for Joltik, it can also take a bit of a beating. The Aegislash-EX tech turned utility attacker did its job well.

Mapping your turns ahead.
Town Map – Too good. I dropped Red Card for it when I realized a lot of games have to be played off of prizes when your ability to get outs to get cards gets limited by your own lock. Especially when you have Vespiquen lines or DCE prized (or both, which happens often) this card allows you to literally play off prizes as you take the necessary cards for your future turns.

Other considerations:
Judge or Lysandre. I considered Judge for the exact reason it saved me in Top 4 – when you dig too deep for the set up, you average about 10-16 cards left in deck, and have limited time to win the game. Not drawing your energy timely means this may not be enough time, and being able to Judge your large hand back in when close to deck out gives you more time.
Lysandre is just a good card to have the option of, especially when your opponent isn’t expecting such a deck to play it. 
If I could have played 63 cards, I would have certainly added Judge, Lysandre, and a third Float Stone.

Here is the list I played for the tournament:
Pokemon – 28
Combee AOR
Vespiquen AOR
Oddish AOR
Gloom AOR
Vileplume AOR
Unown AOR
Shaymin EX
Bunnelby PRC
Toxicroak EX
Trainers – 28
Professor Sycamore
Ultra Ball
Acro Bike
Trainers’ Mail
Battle Compressor
Town Map
Float Stone
Forest of Giant Plants
Energy – 4
Double Colorless

While States meta varied widely state to state, I feel I definitely made the right meta call for this one. More importantly, I was well versed with the deck, having tried it out at a few Cities during the Chicago Marathon, winning a moderately sized League Challenge with it, and constantly playing test games with it to find any pitfalls that may occur and how to work around them. In my opinion, knowing your deck inside out and trusting your gut will get you a lot farther than simply playing the most popular deck around. It just happens to help if said deck is one of the stronger ones in the format, haha. Congrats to fellow TT Jay Young for making Top 4 as well, and Andrew Wamboldt for taking it all and also rounding out his invite to Worlds.

Anyway, this past weekend was a great one overall, and I hope to see some of you around at the next few weekends of States (and Worlds!).

Gotta Play Big to Win... Small? - TPCI New Prize Structure for Regionals 2016

Gotta play big to win big?

Isn't that the phrase? Not in Pokemon it isn't. Under Pokemon's new prize structuring found here: CLICK HERE

Under the new system Pokemon will now payout (with packs most likely from their newest set Break Point) to lower than usual finishers. Packs will now uncharacteristically be paid out to top 128. Graph A breaks down the payouts for each finishing group (specifically the masters division). Line 1 is what you will recieve if you placed in a specific tier (ex. Players finishing in T8 would recieve 54 Booster Packs). Line 2 is the total pack payout for that specific tier (ex. those finishing 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th, will split a total of 216 packs). Lines 3-4 are specifically what the payout percentage (based on the 2016 packs being given out in total to each person's placing and the placings all together). Example: Players finishing in T8 will split 10.71% of the total prize pool amoung its 4 other competitors or each will recieve 2.68% of the overall total prize pool.

According to the link above (and with simple addition), 2016 booster packs will be given out to masters in total at each regionals (regardless of total attendance).

Graph A
So by my calculations (not shown, and based on prior event knowledge), an estimated 400 person regionals, a record of 5W-4L-0T  (15points) will net you a top 128 seeding. A 5-4 record, you know, slightly better than a .500 season will net you payout. I personally feel that taking winnings from the top 8 and allocating it to the bottom T64 & T128 isn't good for the competitive nature. It indirectly discouages and de-incentivizes good players from doing their best. Why put in long hours of play testing and meticulous deck construction/meta gaming when I can coast and get a decent enough payout?

The only last incentive left (after the prize restructuring and cutting t4 trophies) is championship points and round 2 byes at nationals. I argue that even with championship points being untouched, and that the day 1 invite bar is so low I could not care less between 20-30 points. If I'm not winning/finishing top 8 at multiple regionals/nationals, I only need my 300 points and then I'm done for the season. I no longer have the incentive to attend, try hard, buy more product, or push the (meta) game to the limits without being properly rewarded for my efforts. I have already won my chance to play the best. I can push the game to the limits when it actually matters ... in August. 

Another issue with the new structure is that regionals attedance can range from 150 to 500 masters division players. Example: Ontario Canada regionals versus St. Louis Regionals. Ontario Canada regionals has an expected turnout of less than 200 (based on last years attendance and current regional trends). Last year top 64 extended to records who were 4W-3L (12points). With the extension of prizes, Ontario Master players have a chance even with a negitive record to recieve payout support. Now take into consideration St. Louis regionals, last year who had an attedance of 360+ Master players (double the player base on Ontario). Top 128 there would roughly estimate a record of 5W-3L-1T (16points) [an above winning record there]. I'm not sure if I agree TPCI static (regardless of attedance) payouts now...

Now lets reflect: take a look at last years regionals payout. This was from's Fall regionals information page: CLICK HERE

Graph B

By compairing the two regionals payouts, serious cuts were made to those finishing in the Top 4 and minor cuts to Top 8. The champion now (under new structure) wins the same amount as second place. What is this even? If you compare the payouts in any other tournament 2nd should never pays out to a 1:1. It would be like if you were on Jeopardy and you won $15,000 in final Jeopardy and the 2nd place opponent (regardless of his/her score) would also get $15,000 even though he/she was outplayed? But you won and you get the trophy right? You could completely 6-0 your opponent twice in the finals at Regionals this year. However, you're both going home with the same amount of prizes (minus 2nd place does not recieve a trophy). Where did your prize support go originally? It got spread to players in the lower Top 8, mostly into those with slightly above average records.

So what can Pokemon do to encourage players to play the best (like no one ever was)?
In theory you could follow in the footsteps of the largest collectable card game, Magic: The Gathering. They must be doing something right if they can draw in thousands of people for (what I feel and other players feel the Pokemon Regional equivalent) Grand Prix(s) (GP for short). 

I located the payout structure for the upcoming 2016 GP(s). I then calculated it's percentage payouts per person versus its payout pool. Example: First place recieves $10,000 of its $21,200 (min. 3000+ players) static (independent of its attendance) total cash prize pool. I then proceeded to replicate the percentage payouts to emulate that of MTG into Pokemon's booster pack payouts. A full breakdown on MTG GP payouts can be found here:

Graph C

From Graph C above, you can see that the payouts between each placing is exponentially higher. 1st Place would (in pokemon packs) recieve 972 packs (slightly adjusted higher to get a number divisiable by 36, which is 27 boxes!) based on the MTG percentage payout. From there, payouts get much smaller where anyone finishing outside the top 8 not even recieving a full box. The MTG structure robs alot of the lower placings players of packs and puts a much higher weight (and pressure) on finishing 1st.

A loss in the finals means your winnings are cut by nearly 55% and even futher as you place lower. Records in day 2 top cut are so close (mainly lower T8 vs upper T16 as well as lower T16 vs upper T32) that something as close as 1 point (or even tie breakers) could cut your winnings in half.  I don't necessarly agree with this drastic variance in winnings but is still to be considering when structuring.

Other competitive games have huge variances such as Super Smash Bros Melee / Super Smash 4 structure being a 60%/30%/10% payout. I did not include this since payout is based on TO entry fee, venue fees and overall attedance. Smash Bros and other competitive E-sports games have little luck to factor as skill is the main driver. Consistent players can continue to recieve these payouts over and over again. There are too many factors (when calculating payouts) to consider this scheme but I digress.

I continued to search for a more balanced payout structure... Then I came across professional poker...

I took the payout scheme from professional poker found here & implemented there structure for a 351-475 player tournament (similiar to a large Pokemon regionals attedance):

Again, I used the percentages to emulate a Pokemon payout structure. I had to restructure payouts as some of Top 8 was not divisable by 36 (as it has been in the past). I attempted to get as close to 2016 packs (total given for master division). It took a considerable amount of time to adjust percentages as Professional Poker is played on tables of 9's versus Pokemon standard tradition of 8's (So the numbers do not quite match the ones on the website).

Graph D

Call me a gambling addict or a guy who loves making spreadsheets or someone who has too much time on their hands(or all 3), but I feel professional poker structure is the way to go. 

I feel that there is a balance in doing well. A loss in the finals doesn't cut your winnings in half (they are cut enough to feel it but you aren't burned by it). Payouts still get a decent amount (T64 receiving 10 packs is still a good day especially a typical T64 record is 6-3; an above average winning record). Missing cut isn't devistating when you only recieve 5 less packs behind your counterparts in 17-32nd places. Its not fun but you definitely do feel like you are at least going home with something.

When I finished top 64 at Ft Wayne and I went home with 15 packs and a T-Tar regionals mat, I was satisfied that my time, effort and hours testing was for something. It was not by any means easy where I could coast on skill alone to a 6-3 record. If didn't test or put hours into testing, I know I could coast into Top 128 seed with a mindless autopilot deck and get a disappointing 6 packs for 9 hours. I know my heart wouldn't have been in it to win it because of the lower payout (montetary and other reasons stated above).

I don't agree with your "everyone should get something" attitude but TPCI is going to do what it wants regardless of the competitive scene. I will most likely be trying at a bare minimum. No longer will I stress over deck picks and metagaming for hours on end to obtain a small pool of packs. The only drive I have left is to get 300 and finish.

Andrew Wamboldt of Charizard Lounge once told me "Once you have 300 points, its really going to come down to how well you do at [US] Nationals anyways whether you get a day 2 or not [or degree level of stipend(s)]."

Until then...