2016 Pokémon TCG Winter Regionals Wrap-Up

Another round of Regional Championships in the exciting 2016 Championship Series season is over. It's time to analyze the results and trends that emerged in the Expanded format coming out of these events. All of the Top 8 decks and teams are available to view, so let's dig into their strategies and why they were so successful.

Dark Times

Without a doubt, the big winner at the Winter Regional Championships was the familiar Darkness-type duo of Yveltal-EX and Darkrai-EX. With wins in Virginia and Illinois, this combination showcased its power and versatility in multiple weekends of play, carrying over its momentum from the Autumn Regional Championships. As long as Dark Patch is around in the Expanded format to provide some extra Energy for these powerhouse Pokémon, it seems like Darkness will always be a type to be feared.

During the Autumn Regional Championships, there was some debate over which version of this deck was superior. Some players, including Frank Diaz, preferred a more traditional and straightforward approach, while others such as Israel Sosa championed a more versatile version using Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick. For the Winter Regional Championships, there was a clear-cut winner: the option to use Archeops or Gallade is too good to pass up. Both Daniel Altavilla and Brad Curcio used the Maxie's version to win a Regional Championship, and their Fighting-type Pokémon were instrumental in their successful runs. With Archeops to shut down evolved Pokémon and Gallade to cover Yveltal-EX's Weakness to Lightning-type Pokémon, this mix of Pokémon is well-rounded enough to have a chance against any strategy.

Looking forward, it's important to see how the addition of XY—BREAKpoint affects the top strategies. Judging by the results of the Oregon and Florida Regional Championships, where this expansion was legal, Darkness-type decks will continue to be a dominant force in the Expanded format. Some players adjusted their decks to focus on the newest Darkrai-EX, using Dark Patch and Max Elixir for extra Energy to pump up its Dark Pulse attack. The addition of Fighting Fury Belt for additional HP and Reverse Valley for extra damage provided even more options for a deck that already had the firepower to contend with anything. Expect to see more Darkness when the Spring Regional Championships roll around.

Vespiquen and Vengeance

One of the major contenders in the Expanded format continues to be the combination of Vespiquen and Flareon. Both of these non-EX Pokémon use the same strategy to build up big attacks with Pokémon in the discard pile: Vespiquen with its Bee Revenge attack, and Flareon with Vengeance. With two second-place finishes and several other great results, there was no doubt about the potency of Vespiquen and Flareon.

This strategy needs a lot of Pokémon to put into the discard pile, so there's a lot of flexibility in choosing which Pokémon to use (besides the core of Vespiquen, Flareon, Unown, and Shaymin-EX). In an attempt to counter Archeops and its Ancient Power Ability, players started using multiple copies of Wobbuffet, whose Bide Barricade Ability can shut Ancient Power down long enough to evolve the important Pokémon. Kevin Baxter went a step further by also using Gallade with Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick, giving the deck an additional attacker with a bulky 150 HP. Another interesting change is the shift of the chosen ACE SPEC card from Computer Search to Life Dew. Computer Search offers consistency, but forcing the opponent to Knock Out an extra Pokémon strengthens the strategy of using non-EX Pokémon to win a long game.

Recent poor results for this deck indicate that the XY—BREAKpoint expansion has brought this strategy back down to earth. The extra 40 HP granted by Fighting Fury Belt to Pokémon such as Darkrai-EX makes it much more difficult to take down big Pokémon-EX in one attack. The popularity of Archeops also makes it tough to use a deck that relies on evolved Pokémon—even with Wobbuffet to help, the effect of Ancient Power is extremely disruptive. On top of that, an increased number of decks that shut down Item cards interfered with the Battle Compressor and Ultra Ball that this strategy needs to get going. After showing such dominance early on in the Expanded format, not a single Vespiquen deck finished in the Top 8 of the Masters Division in Week 3.

Just Keep Punching

At this point, the success of Seismitoad-EX is well documented. The Quaking Punch attack is still giving players nightmares, and locking down Item cards is a proven way to disrupt just about any strategy. A win at the Regional Championships in Anaheim, CA, proves that it's still a force to be reckoned with, and other strong showings will back that up.

The Quaking Punch attack requires only two Colorless Energy, making it very easy to use Seismitoad-EX in a wide variety of strategies. Some players will include one in any deck that uses Double Colorless Energy so they can take advantage of a situation where stopping an opponent's Item cards can change a game completely. But other decks, such as the one Kian Amini used to win in California, focus on using Quaking Punch repeatedly to shut down Item cards for the entire game. Crobat is a common sidekick, using its Surprise Bite Ability to add some extra damage without needing to attack. Applying pressure quickly tends to be a powerful strategy, and locking down Item cards tends to be a powerful strategy as well, so it's no surprise that combining the two is successful.

As long as Seismitoad-EX and Hypnotoxic Laser exist together in the Expanded format, it's hard to envision a scenario where this combination isn't a contender. Even with XY—BREAKpoint in the mix, two decks focusing on Seismitoad-EX finished in the Top 8 of the Masters Division. Players have new options to try out, including the high-impact Puzzle of Time that can recover valuable resources from the discard pile. History suggests that players will adapt and continue to find successful ways to use Seismitoad-EX.

A New Wave

Now that XY—BREAKpoint is legal for tournament play, let's go over some of the decks that thrived in the new environment and look at one that didn't quite live up to the hype.

With a win in Florida and a runner-up finish in Oregon, Trevenant BREAK certainly made a big impact on the Expanded format. Pokémon BREAK are strongest when their previous Evolution is already powerful, and that was certainly the case here with Trevenant. The Forest's Curse Ability can devastate opponents by shutting down their Item cards, and it's possible to have Trevenant in play on the first turn using Wally. Trevenant was very close to being a top choice in the Expanded format, and the 160 HP and Silent Fear attack from Trevenant BREAK was just what it needed to get to the top. Add in Bursting Balloon for defensive damage or Weakness Policy to fend off Darkness-type decks, and the result is a very difficult deck to deal with.

Perhaps the most surprising result was the resurgence of Primal Groudon-EX. Longtime veteran Sebastian Crema piloted this deck to a victory at the Oregon Regional Championships, and several others had high finishes with it as well. It's tough to pinpoint exactly why this Pokémon came back with such force, but its Ω Barrier Ancient Trait is a great asset in an environment full of disruptive Trainer cards. The deck also uses an unusual method of setting up its strategy. Instead of trying to draw cards quickly with Shaymin-EX, it aims to slow down the opponent with Wobbuffet's Bide Barricade Ability and draw extra cards with the Stadium card Tropical Beach. The end result is a strategy that can take away some of the opponent's options, combined with a massive 240 HP Pokémon that can deal over 200 damage with Gaia Volcano.

Eelektrik's Dynamotor Ability has been used in many successful strategies, but it's been years since we've seen it in a truly competitive deck. That all changed during the Winter Regional Championships, where several players used it alongside Raikou to great success. The idea is straightforward yet powerful: charge Raikou's Thunder Lance attack with Eelektrik's Dynamotor to build up a swarm of high-HP, non-EX Pokémon to attack and overwhelm the opponent. Raikou's Lightning type provides a major advantage against Yveltal-EX, and its Shining Body Ability makes it resilient against low-damage attacks such as Seismitoad-EX's Quaking Punch. Fighting Fury Belt makes this deck even more fearsome, boosting Raikou's already respectable HP to 160.

The combination of Virizion-EX and Genesect-EX was good enough to win at the 2014 World Championships, but it seemed a step too slow to be a contender this season. The addition of Max Elixir has breathed new life into this deck, with two Masters Division players using it to finish in the Top 8. With the extra Energy from Max Elixir, it's possible to use Virizion­-EX's Emerald Slash on a player's first turn, getting a Genesect-EX ready to go for the second turn. A massive type advantage against Seismitoad-EX, great Abilities, and the sheer power of G Booster keep this deck relevant. The only question is whether it's fast enough to keep up with the pace of the Expanded format.

Disruptive decks with Sableye and Garbodor were feared by many players heading into the third week of Winter Regional Championships. With the addition of Puzzle of Time and Delinquent, this already powerful strategy gained some new tricks to shut down opposing strategies even further…yet not a single one made it to the second day of competition in Florida or Oregon. Maybe this deck wasn't as strong as players thought, or maybe players changed their decks to counter it. Whatever the reason, it appears that this strategy isn't unbeatable, but it will be one to keep an eye on as the Expanded format progresses. As we've seen in the past, it has the potential to shut down strategies with Crushing Hammer and slowly run the opponent out of cards with Trick Shovel.

The Winter Regional Championships featured great competition and innovative ideas to keep players on their toes. The next major events to use the Expanded format will be the Spring Regional Championships, so players will have plenty of time to prepare new strategies for those events. Until then, bring out your Standard format decks for the upcoming State Championship tournaments! Good luck, Trainers!

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