Expanded’s Sunset

In less than a month, the first Scarlet & Violet set will be releasing in English. Two weeks later, on April 14th, it will become tournament-legal, on the same day that the annual rotation will take place. Just as importantly, this will also mark the end of TCGO (the Pokémon Trading Card Game Online), which […]

Stéphane Ivanoff12 Mar 2023

In less than a month, the first Scarlet & Violet set will be releasing in English. Two weeks later, on April 14th, it will become tournament-legal, on the same day that the annual rotation will take place. Just as importantly, this will also mark the end of TCGO (the Pokémon Trading Card Game Online), which will stop supporting new releases, forcing players to migrate to TCG Live, the new online platform.
There’s a lot to be said about TCG Live: many players have pointed out that it is full of bugs and UI issues that make it, at best, a worse experience, and at worst, literally unplayable. I haven’t tried out TCG Live myself, though, so I won’t comment on it. There’s another aspect of TCG Live that saddens me deeply, though: the fact that the Expanded format is unplayable on it.

The Expanded format is Pokémon’s second official format, allowing all cards released since Black & White. Unlike Standard, there’s no rotation, but there’s a ban list (currently comprised of 23 cards). This means that unless it’s banned (which usually happens only when a card can be used lock the opponent out of the game, or even win, on the very first turn), any card released in Expanded stays in the format indefinitely.
While TCG Live is supposed to support the Expanded format (all the cards are in the database), currently, only cards released since Lost Thunder are actually playable in-game. This means that what passes for Expanded on TCG Live is nowhere close to what Expanded actually is.

If you’ve followed me on social media for any amount of time, you may have noticed that I’m a big fan of Expanded. I’ve played the format a lot, especially in online tournaments during the covid era. Sometimes, people are surprised by that. Expanded has a reputation as being broken, probably because there have been times where the game was indeed dominated by degenerate decks. However, when a proper banlist is in place (as I believe is the case now), the format is actually very enjoyable.

Since this is a topic I’m regularly asked about, today, I’d like to give my thoughts on the Expanded format. I’ll discuss what the point of it is, why you should care, and what the format is actually like. Given how little is written about Expanded, this article should also serve as an entry point for anyone wanting to know more about which decks are played!

Is Expanded dead?

Before I can do any of this, though, I need to answer one question: is Expanded dead?

Quick answer: no. In Japan, for example, some Champions Leagues (their equivalent to Regionals) have a Standard event, as well as an Expanded event. In the most recent such tournament, the Aichi Champions League, the Expanded event had about 700 players, including some of the country’s best players. (Remember, that’s 700 players who were allowed to compete; there are far more players who couldn’t get a spot in the tournament.) In December and January, there were also many smaller Expanded events held all over Japan where players could earn some stamped versions of Expanded staples. Expanded might not be as popular or common as Standard, but it’s far from a dead format there.

What about the rest of the world? This is where things are much less clear. There are many reasons to believe that Expanded is being phased out. Regional Championships, which used to be split about 60-40 between Standard and Expanded in North America, are for this season at least only in Standard. There has been, as far as I know, no Expanded side events at Regionals or Internationals. Expanded is planned to be playable on TCG Live one day, but it doesn’t seem to be a priority, which suggests that Expanded is not going to be played at major events any time soon.

Yet I’m not sure the format will disappear. Expanded’s status has always been unclear, from my perspective. Even before the covid break, it wasn’t played at major events outside of NA (apart from two isolated events in Europe a few years back), but it could be used for local events. This discrepancy always seemed weird, and I felt like TPCI weren’t sure what they wanted to do with the format. Maybe they still don’t know.
There has been a push in recent years to bring the Japanese and Western sides of the Pokémon TCG closer: having the same rotations (thanks to the introduction of regulation marks on cards), unifying the banlists, and so on. As long as Expanded keeps being a significant part of the Japanese competitive scene, I think there’s a chance for it to come back to the rest of the world as well.
To be clear, I’m not exactly optimistic. There’s a reason why I named this article after the term used for the intentional discontinuation of a service or feature. I expect that we won’t see Expanded for some time at official tournaments (but I’d love to be wrong about this), and when it comes back, there will need to be some way for players to easily access old Expanded staple cards. Still, the thing about sunsets is that the sun rises again at some point. And in the meantime, there are always community-ran events, if enough people care about the format! So even though Expanded is probably going to be a niche thing for a while, I’ll keep using the present tense for this article.

Why I like Expanded

Dialga VSTAR


Garchomp & Giratina-GX

The main reason why I advocate for Expanded to be ran at events has nothing to do with any of this, though, and it’s actually much simpler: Expanded is fun! I really enjoy playing it, especially when the Standard format is frustrating, as has been the case a couple of times these past years.

From a deckbuilder’s point of view, Expanded is fantastic. You get access to an enormous card pool. You can build an Expanded version of a current Standard deck, or an old Standard deck, or even a deck based on a combination of cards that were never in Standard together. You can search for old cards to tech against new archetypes. I believe that the format is far from having been completely explored, and would strongly benefit from regular high-stakes events to incentivize players to search for the best versions of the best decks.

Because the card pool is so wide, there are many viable decks in the format, and they cover a wide variety of styles. I don’t just mean that attackers can be one-, two-, or three-Prizers. There are powerful control archetypes that aim to simply counter what the opponent does, and decks can try to lock the opponent out of Abilities, Items, or some other part of their strategy in order to slow them down, and all of these decks interact with each other in various subtle ways. (To be fair, Standard currently has a powerful Control archetype and a powerful Item lock archetype (Vikavolt) too, but this has rarely been the case!)

If you never play the format, there’s a chance that when you hear about it, it’s because someone found a broken deck that wins on turn 2 — or at least, that they think they found one. Expanded does have some turbo decks that are all in on winning as soon as possible. A famous example combines Dialga VSTAR with Electrode-GX and Cyrus Prism Star in order to reduce the opponent’s board to three Pokémon, then takes a KO on one of them with Dialga VSTAR’s Star Chronos, and on the extra turn, moves all the Energy to Garchomp & Giratina-GX and uses GG End GX to discard the last two Pokémon.
However, it would be an incredible mischaracterisation of Expanded to assume that this is what the format boils down to. The thing that makes Expanded worthwhile (or even playable) is that it has a lot of disruption cards: Silent Lab, Wobbuffet PHF, Garbodor BKP, etc. Decks that are all in on a single combo have to devote all their cards to it, and they tend to not have any answers for any disruption thrown their way. The actual best decks in the format are usually slower and have a wider range of strategies at their diposal. Let me explain why and how that works.

Shadow Rider, and understanding your role

In order to understand Expanded, I find it useful to picture the decks as being on a spectrum. Imagine a line. On one end are the most aggressive decks, those that aim to take Prizes as fast as possible, with little concern for the long term: Mad Party, Volcarona V, etc. (The Turbo Dialga deck I described above would also fit here, even though it doesn’t take Prizes, strictly speaking.) On the other end are the least aggressive decks: decks like Stall, or Orbeetle VIV, that aim to win by controlling the board and preventing the opponent from playing, rather than taking Prizes. Generally speaking, if you take any two decks on that spectrum, the one closer to the aggro end will usually win the Prize race absent any disruption, so the one closer to the control end will use disruption cards to win.
(It’s not a perfect model, as there are decks like Zoroark Checkmate that are hard to fit somewhere on that spectrum, but it’s good enough to explain a lot of the format.)

There are great decks at both end of the aggro-control spectrum. In fact, the last two Expanded Champions League in Japan (before Aichi this past February) were won by Mad Party (a very aggressive deck) and Stall (all the way on the other side of the spectrum). However, historically, most of Expanded’s best decks have been closer to the middle of the spectrum. That’s where, in my opinion, the most interesting things happen.

Let’s take Shadow Rider as an example. Do you remember that Shadow Rider was the best deck in Standard when Chilling Reign released? In Expanded, it never really stopped being tier 1. I used to collect data from Expanded online tournaments, and Shadow Rider was the best deck every month for more than a year. It’s also a pet deck of mine, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to perfect it. Here’s what the deck looks like:

Pokémon – 15

4 Shadow Rider Calyrex V CRE 074
4 Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX CRE 075
1 Gengar & Mimikyu-GX TEU 053
1 Tapu Lele-GX GRI 060
1 Alolan Grimer SUM 057
1 Alolan Muk SUM 058
1 Girafarig LOT 094
1 Radiant Eternatus CRZ 105
1 Espeon VMAX EVS 065

Trainer Cards – 32

2 Professor Juniper DEX 098
1 N DEX 096
1 Cynthia UPR 119
1 Guzma BUS 115
1 Acerola BUS 112
1 Faba LOT 173
3 VS Seeker PHF 109
4 Fog Crystal CRE 140
4 Mysterious Treasure FLI 113
2 Quick Ball SSH 179
2 Trainers’ Mail ROS 092
1 Super Rod NVI 095
1 Field Blower GRI 125
1 Scoop Up Cyclone PLB 095
1 Adventure Bag LOT 167
3 Float Stone PLF 099
1 Forest Seal Stone SIT 156
2 Temple of Sinnoh ASR 155

Energy – 13

13 Psychic Energy

Against the average deck, Shadow Rider is a monster. It can ramp up very fast thanks to Gengar & Mimikyu-GX’s Horror House GX buying a turn. One turn means two or three Underworld Door Abilities, which means two or three extra Energy in play, which means four to six cards drawn and 60 to 90 extra damage. Since its main attacker has 320 HP, it’s hard to KO in one hit, and if you don’t OHKO it, Acerola can heal a damaged Shadow Rider VMAX. Shadow Rider will win the Prize trade all the time.


Yes, Regidrago VSTAR is a dominant deck in Expanded. Another cool factor of this format is how some cards that have never shined in Standard can find success thanks to their interactions with older cards.) Upon its release in Silver Tempest, Regidrago VSTAR became an instant tier 1 deck, as good as, or even better than, Shadow Rider. Thanks to Double Dragon Energy, Regidrago VSTAR is easy to power up, and the pool of attacks it can copy is huge.

Pokémon – 20

3 Regidrago V SIT 135
3 Regidrago VSTAR SIT 136
2 Trubbish GRI 50
2 Garbodor BKP 57
1 Crobat V SHF 44
1 Dialga-GX UPR 100
1 M Rayquaza-EX ROS 61
1 Noivern-GX BUS 99
1 Hisuian Goodra VSTAR LOR 136
1 Dedenne-GX UNB 57
1 Girafarig LOT 94
1 Oricorio GRI 55
1 Tapu Lele-GX GRI 60
1 Wobbuffet PHF 36

Trainer Cards – 33

1 Professor Sycamore BKP 107
1 Marnie CPA 56
1 Guzma BUS 115
1 Raihan EVS 152
1 N FCO 105
1 Pokémon Ranger STS 104
1 Faba LOT 173
4 Mysterious Treasure FLI 113
4 Quick Ball FST 237
4 VS Seeker PHF 109
3 Battle Compressor PHF 92
2 Pokémon Communication TEU 152
1 Rescue Stretcher GRI 130
1 Scoop Up Cyclone PLB 95
4 Float Stone BKT 137
2 Muscle Band XY 121
1 Chaotic Swell CEC 187

Energy – 7

4 Double Dragon Energy ROS 97
2 Grass Energy
1 Fire Energy

If Shadow Rider tries to Prize race against Regidrago VSTAR, it will lose. Regidrago wins the game easily: copy Dialga-GX’s Timeless GX for 150 damage on a Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX, follow that up with Hisuian Goodra VSTAR’s Rolling Iron for a KO for three Prizes; then, KO a second Shadow Rider with M Rayquaza-EX’s Dragon Ascent with a Muscle Band equipped. Even if Shadow Rider gets enough Energy in play to OHKO Regidrago VSTAR, it will only take two Prizes per KO, so the Prize race is not in its favor. And I haven’t even mentioned Garbodor shutting down Shadow Rider’s Ability!

So how does Shadow Rider win? With subtility. Instead of trying to get big KOs, it goes for disruption. Multiple angles of disruption: Shadow Mist can prevent the opponent from attaching Double Dragon Energy (unless they play Pokémon Ranger on the same turn), Faba will remove a Double Dragon Energy in play, and Temple of Sinnoh makes Double Dragon Energy useless. These cards are not enough to win the game by themselves (unless you manage to run the opponent out of Energy, and even then, Regidrago plays Basic Energy), but they buy a lot of time to build a board.
And then there’s Girafarig. If you can send a discarded M Rayquaza-EX or Dialga-GX to the Lost Zone before it’s used, you get a huge lead in the matchup. Even removing Supporters such as Guzma and Pokémon Ranger, so they can’t be used again via VS Seeker, can remove options from your opponent’s arsenal and give you some security. Of course, good Regidrago will be careful: they’ll never use Battle Compressor to throw their best cards away on the first turn! And because of that, the game becomes a careful back-and-forth where players need to think ahead and manage their resources carefully.


I won’t lie: I think there’s something absolutely beautiful in the fact that a deck that routinely hits for 220 damage with a 320-HP behemoth that can be healed multiple times per game has to rely on a 90-HP uncommon from Lost Thunder to win against its main rival. (Girafarig was not that obscure a card before Regidrago was released, but it was usually only played in Stall decks; when Regidrago appeared, it became a staple in many decks.) Shadow Rider is the aggressor in many matchups, but against Regidrago, it will often go down three or four Prizes… and it can still expect to mount a comeback from that position.
I lost the finals of an Expanded tournament back in December against the Regidrago list above, playing Shadow Rider, and it was one of the best games I’ve played. I actually maneuvered very effectively around Garbodor and the various threats of the Regidrago deck, and managed to claw my way back despite being four Prizes behind by using Girafarig multiple times. I would most likely have won the game, except I forgot to use a VS Seeker to grab N back from the discard towards the end of the game. My opponent saw their opportunity and used Noivern-GX’s Distort to Item lock me. Because I couldn’t play N, I ended up losing by deckout.

I understand that this kind of gameplay isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine, because there are a lot of decks in Expanded and most matchups don’t play out this way at all anyway. However, if you’re getting bored with the dullness of Lugia mirror matches in Standard, maybe Expanded has what you’re looking for!

Consistency and creativity

One other thing that Expanded has for it is that decks can be as consistent as they want. Expanded has all the consistency options of Standard, and more: Quick Ball, Ultra Ball, Tapu Lele-GX to search for Supporters, VS Seeker to re-use them, Battle Compressor to send Supporters (and other cards) directly to the discard, Rescue Stretcher to get cards back, the same draw Supporters as Standard and more like N and Colress, Pokémon-based draw power in Dedenne-GX, etc. If you have an idea for a deck, you can probably make it work: you can add enough consistency cards to make your deck do what it wants to do consistently. Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that you’ll actually win against other good decks (is what your deck does strong enough? can it deal with disruption cards? That’s the kind of questions you’ll need to consider), but it means that if you’re a creative deckbuilder, you can be rewarded for it.

You know who’s a creative deckbuilder? 2016 World Champion Shintaro Ito. The Japanese mastermind was already known for innovating with new archetypes in Standard (such as his Meganium stage 2 deck in the Lost Thunder format, or making top 8 at a Champions League with Hoopa / Umbreon in the Unbroken Bonds format). At the Expanded Aichi Champions League, he came up with this new take on Tsareena V, another card that saw some success in Expanded but none in Standard.

Pokémon – 17

3 Tsareena V FST 021
3 Giratina LOT 097
1 Tapu Koko {*} TEU 051
1 Oranguru BRS 198
1 Mr. Mime DET 011
1 Jirachi {*} CES 097
2 Dedenne-GX UNB 057
1 Crobat V DAA 104
1 Tapu Lele-GX GRI 060
1 Eldegoss V RCL 019
1 Dragonite-EX EVO 072
1 Exeggcute PLF 004

Trainer Cards – 37

1 Professor Juniper DEX 098
1 Marnie SSH 169
1 Guzma BUS 115
1 Raihan EVS 152
1 Pokémon Ranger STS 104
2 VS Seeker PHF 109
4 Ultra Ball DEX 102
4 Quick Ball SSH 179
4 Battle Compressor Team Flare Gear PHF 092
4 Trainers’ Mail ROS 092
2 Rescue Stretcher GRI 130
2 Field Blower GRI 125
1 Hisuian Heavy Ball ASR 146
1 Scoop Up Net RCL 165
1 Adventure Bag LOT 167
1 Dowsing Machine PLS 128
2 Float Stone PLF 099
1 Sky Seal Stone CRZ 143
3 Sky Field ROS 089

Energy – 6

4 Grass Energy
2 Lightning Energy


I’m incredibly excited about this list because it feels like the future of aggro decks. How to win the Prize race against decks with disruption? Take extra Prize cards with your attacks! We’ve had similar effects in the past, but it’s rare that a deck has multiple ways to take extra Prizes. In this case, it uses Sky Seal Stone as well as the Oranguru / Mr. Mime / Jirachi Prism Star combination, which fits very well in a deck with Sky Field that frees up space by discarding its Benched Pokémon.

(Are you worried about this deck? Do you feel it’s unfair that a deck can take two extra Prize cards this way? Play Sudowoodo GRI! Everything has counters in Expanded.)

The Sun Sets

There’s so much more I could mention about Expanded. I could write a whole guide on Shadow Rider, for the third time. I could discuss some of the coolest concepts around, like Zoroark Checkmate and the Ho-Oh-EX / Battle Compressor combination. I could discuss how to build a deck around Miraidon ex or Gardevoir ex, or my efforts to make a defensive Dialga-GX / Bronzong deck work. I could spend a long time writing about how cards that never had a home in Standard found one in Expanded (did you know that at some point, around the time when Standard was a battle between PikaRom with Crushing Hammer and ADP with Crushing Hammer, Togekiss VMAX / Green’s Exploration was a candidate for best deck in Expanded?). But one article would not be enough for this, and this one is long enough as it is.

I don’t know what the future holds in store. Maybe in September, Expanded Regionals will be announced and I’ll be attending regular Expanded League Cups! Maybe the format will be removed from official events. In any case, I hope I made my case for why Expanded is an interesting, useful, and above all fun format.

Thanks for reading,

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