Fighting with Fire

Combatting Zoroark with Forgotten Expanded Concepts (Donphan, Buzzwole, and Turtonator)

Hey everyone! We’re in the middle of a (well deserved) Pokémon break right now and I’m really enjoying the time off. I really missed the phenomenon of waking up without an alarm, as well as just having some time to relax at home.

However, a break from Pokémon is also the perfect time to—you guessed it—play more Pokémon! And we have probably the best format to explore during this time off, Expanded. The results from San Jose insinuate that Zoroark is the undisputed king of the format, and the Top 8 there didn’t even include other Zoroark builds like Golisopod/Zoroark or the Toad/Zoroark build that Jimmy discussed last week.

I refuse to believe that a format as large and wide as Expanded can be solved simply by the formula of:

Zoroark-GX + Puzzle of Time + Strong Attacker(s) = Win

The problem is, that “Strong Attacker” can be Golisopod-GX, Seismitoad-EX, Night Marchers, Garbodor GRI, Lycanroc-GX, or countless others. Thus, the best way to counter all of these decks is to go after the common denominators. Pokémon isn’t really a game where “graveyard hate” of any sort exists, and Item lock decks are either banned/hard to set up (Vileplume AOR) or weak to Dark (Trevenant XY), so countering Zoroark is almost assuredly the best way to get an edge.

So, what beat Zoroark? I’ve been playing with all kinds of Fighting concepts, from Christopher’s Groudon list to Pablo’s Buzzwole/Garb, and seeing some success against Zoroark variants. But there are still more Fighting decks to be explored in Expanded! For today’s article, I’ll be looking at some of these other decks that aren’t being discussed much, as well as the other Expanded ideas that I want to explore. Let’s jump in.


I find myself coming back to explore Donphan many times when we switch back from Standard to Expanded, but I usually don’t get too far along that train of thought. Donphan has a pretty low damage output, is very weak to Trevenant, and has problems with anything that sports Fighting resistance. The metagame really just has to be perfect for this deck to get it done.

Will Dallas have a favorable metagame for Donphan? This, I’m not sure of, not quite yet. Zoroark-GX can technically be 1HKO’d by Spinning Turn (with the help of Strong Energy, Choice Band, and a Buzzwole snipe) so the typing alone might pick up a few wins. I’m more nervous about Zoroark’s partners, namely Golisopod and Seismitoad. The latter hits Donphan for weakness, but luckily is not commonly played with both Muscle Band and Laserbank, so it’ll fall short of a 1HKO. Hawlucha FFI deals with Seismitoad really well so I’ll include a few in my list, as well as a higher count of Supporters to get around Quaking Punch.

Golisopod (as it’s own deck or with Zoroark) is a different issue, and scary in the way that it usually brings along near-unlimited heal through Acerola. Donphan often only deals 40-90 damage with a single attack, so a single Acerola can erase 2-5 turns of attacking, or more when you consider Armor Press! I’m not particularly sure that Donphan will be able to consistently beat Golisopod, but you have to pick your battles in Expanded. I’ll throw a Turtonator-GX in my list as a last ditch effort for the matchup.

Speaking of taking losses, Wailord is probably unwinnable. The combination of Plumeria, Team Skull Grunt, and Lusamine might actually do it on it’s own, especially combined with a few Acerola. When you also pile on some Enhanced Hammer and a Rough Seas, you just lose. Almost every card in Wailord preys on low damage output decks like Donphan. But, I’m not sure I care that much about Wailord going into Dallas. The optimal list plays 3+ Tropical Beach, so most players won’t be able to pilot it, even if they wanted to. I personally dislike playing the deck, it’s just unexciting and definitely not something I could see piloting for 9-14+ rounds. Plus, Groudon seems like the better Tropical Beach deck overall with better Zoroark and Night March matchups.

So, you need a few things to go right for Donphan to be the best play. Maybe it’s more of a League Cup deck, but there’s definitely the potential to rattle off 7 wins in Dallas. Let’s look at the list I’m working on:

Pokémon – 14

4 Phanpy PLS

4 Donphan PLS

3 Wobbuffet PHF

2 Hawlucha FFI

1 Buzzwole-GX

Trainers – 36

4 Professor Sycamore

4 Korrina

4 N

2 Guzma

1 Colress

1 Professor Kukui


3 VS Seeker

4 Robo Substitute

3 Focus Sash

2 Choice Band

2 Float Stone

1 Professor’s Letter

1 Super Rod

1 Nest Ball

1 Computer Search


2 Brooklet Hill

Energy – 10

4 F

4 Strong

2 Double Colorless

For those of you unfamiliar with Donphan, I’ve written about it before so I’ll direct you there for a primer. If you want to read more, Dylan Bryan’s original article about Donphan is incredibly detailed and the main ideas still stand. Instead, I’ll just talk about some of my decisions with the list.

This card is also absolutely beautiful.

There are a lot of one or two card changes that could have a huge impact on how this deck functions game to game. One of those is whether to play Ultra Ball or Nest Ball. The only real difference is whether or not the option to grab 2 Donphan off of a Korrina more important that not having to discard other cards to grab Wobbuffet. Typically, you’re using all of your cards in hand in the first few turns, so I have Nest Ball as a way to grab Wobbuffet for free. The play of grabbing 2 Donphan is something I remember doing with my Donphan decks back in the day, but it appears that Ultra Ball started leaving those lists when Robo Substitute came out anyway. Maybe I should just listen to my past self.

Choice Band is my damage boosting tool of choice as the +30 really helps your math on a Zoroark, but only when you snipe a Zorua with Buzzwole in the early game. Swapping (some of) those or other cards over to Muscle Band would improve your Night March matchup as you can more easily KO Pumpkaboo. This would also be appealing if you choose to drop the Buzzwole from the deck, something I often consider to remove all 2 Prize Pokémon from this list.

The most interesting option I’ve considered is adding 1-2 Tropical Beach to the list. Unlike other Beach decks, I wouldn’t ever expect to naturally draw into it, even though I need it early. Instead, my plan would be to Korrina for Computer Search for Tropical Beach on my first turn almost every time. While this does burn your ACE SPEC (and make the rest of your Korrina considerably worse for the rest of the game), the guarantee of a full hand on T2 and more options for your supporter choice might be worth it. Plus, Brooklet Hill doesn’t do a lot in this deck, mostly giving you a counter stadium unless you’re running low on Phanpy. I’ll probably be trying this switch out in the coming weeks.


Admittedly, I haven’t worked much with Buzzwole at all, in either format. In Standard, I was pretty sure that Gardevoir and Zoroark/Lycanroc just beat it until Pablo and I played the night before Memphis. Those matchups are still close, but the ability of Buzzwole to punish any slow starts makes it a potent threat in the Standard meta.

After realizing that Buzzwole had a bit more merit than I thought, and seeing Azul play an Expanded list on his stream, I came up with a similar idea that might be a viable play for Dallas:

Pokémon – 13

3 Buzzwole-GX

1 Landorus-EX

2 Rockruff SM06

2 Lycanroc-GX GRI

2 Tapu Lele-GX

1 Shaymin-EX ROS

1 Remoraid BKT 31

1 Octillery BKT

Trainers – 35

3 Korrina

2 Professor Sycamore

2 N

2 Guzma


4 VS Seeker

4 Max Elixir

3 Ultra Ball

2 Focus Sash

2 Choice Band
1 Float Stone

1 Wide Lens

1 Field Blower

1 Nest Ball

1 Enhanced Hammer

1 Switch

1 Rescue Stretcher

1 Computer Search


3 Brooklet Hill

Energy – 12

8 F

4 Strong

This list is pretty rough but you can see the idea behind it. I’ve learned from testing Groudon that Korrina is such a powerful engine, and I like the idea of a Buzzwole deck that takes full advantage of it. To do so, you need to play a lot of different utility items to make it worth choosing as your Supporter for turn. As long as you can combine the 2 cards off of Korrina with the cards in your hand to get a meaningful attack off for turn, it’s usually better to use it to guarantee that you draw what you want than using a draw Supporter which could whiff.

The good news is, there is plenty of room in this list to fit in item cards, and you could fit more/others if you so choose. My list has multiple ways to search out Pokémon, switch your Pokémon, grab Energy, or even just set up for next turn. I want to fit in more disruption options if possible (past the Enhanced Hammer), and am even considering something like a Red Card or Captivating Poképuff as a good T1-2 play when your hand is otherwise great. I could even see Scramble Switch and/or Max Potion to give you more options in the late game.

My main interest in using Korrina in this deck is that it could basically always get you anything that the other Supporters could, plus something else. It can mimic either or both ends of a Guzma by getting Lycanroc-GX and/or Switch. It can get draw support with Ultra Ball for Shaymin. It can pretend to be a Brigette early by grabbing a Fighting Pokémon and a Nest Ball for another or a Remoraid. The flexibility and options it provides are very appealing.

I’m not too sure about how useful the Brooklet Hill is in this list, and I really only have it there to find Remoraid and Rockruff in the first 2-3 turns of the game. My original idea was a heavier count of Fighting, a few Super Rod, and a few Scorched Earth to smooth out your draws. You could take this a step further with a higher Shaymin count, Acro Bike and/or Trainers’ Mail, or any of the other Item based draw cards in the format. In this case, I’d likely drop the Octillery line and potentially one of the Tapu Lele to make some room for these additions.

This list is lacking a real answer to Night March, and I’m not sure if it’s worth trying to fit one. None of the attackers in this deck can really stand up to a strong Night March attack, especially when they have easy access to a Field Blower for your Focus Sash. Karen + sniping pressure could be a decent response, but a smart Night March player will be able to conserve their Battle Compressor to close out the game. Similarly, a smart Night March player will play around an Oricorio, especially in the latter games of a 2/3 set. Luckily, I don’t think it’s 100% necessary to beat Night March in the current meta, and would rather make sure I can beat other Zoroark variants.

Turbo Turtles, New and Improved

As you may recall, I was very interested in Turbo Turtles leading up to Daytona. Unfortunately, I found myself on the wrong side of three 50/50s and at 6-3 to miss cut there, even though I thought the deck was incredibly well positioned for the tournament. My list featured an Entei AOR in addition to 2 Volcanion STS, so you had some great non-EX/GX options against the popular Necrozma/Garbodor list.

In today’s metagame, I think the potential is there for a strong Fire archetype to make a splash. Unlike the Fighting concepts I talked about earlier, Fire should have a much easier time beating Wailord decks, something that is increasingly important for Dallas as the deck is being played frequently on PTCGO. Troublesome matchups like Gyarados and Gardevoir aren’t particularly popular, and I’m told that the Golisopod version of Zoroark may be favored in the Zoroark mirror. If all of these things are true, and Fire has a strong Zoroark matchup, the metagame in Dallas could be very kind to Fire decks.

2.0 – Heavy Compressor

After Daytona, I started thinking about different ways that Turtles could improve. My main idea was to focus on getting Turtonator’s Nitro Tank online ASAP, giving you ways to win games where you can’t find an early Kiawe or Blacksmith. It would also be more flexible in games where you go 2nd, giving you the option to put all of the energy on the bench when your opponent is threatening a 1HKO on the active. Here’s the list I put together:

Pokémon – 14

4 Turtonator-GX

3 Volcanion-EX

2 Ho-Oh-GX

1 Volcanion STS

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

2 Tapu Lele-GX

Trainers – 30

3 Professor Sycamore

1 N

2 Blacksmith

2 Kiawe

2 Guzma


4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

4 Battle Compressor

3 Float Stone

1 Computer Search


4 Scorched Earth

Energy – 16

16 R

Unfortunately, this idea probably loses pretty hard to the Seismitoad/Zoroark decks. Not only is Quaking Punch incredibly detrimental to your early setup, but they also 2HKO you with a Choice Band due to your Water weakness. If that’s not enough, Turtonator doesn’t even trade very well with Zoroark, especially if they get an Alolan Muk down to shut off your Steam Up. And if you do find a way out of the first few turns with a shot at winning, the way you have to use your energy each turn through attaching and Steam Up likely means you won’t have enough on the board to muster a single attack without some help. The Zoroark player can N you to 1-2 and use their draw advantage to easily close out the game.

Now that I’ve given you essentially no reason to play this deck, I’m happy to report that many other matchups are fairly strong. Turbo Turtonator already paired up pretty well against a lot of the format, and now you set up more consistently to reinforce the positive matchups. This version is unfortunately a bit worse against Item locking options, but they’re still beatable with fast starts.

There’s not a lot of interest to say about this deck really. It’s just a version of Turbo Turtles that focuses on finding a Turtonator and getting it into the Active Spot, using extra copies of Scorched Earth, Battle Compressor, and Float Stone to more easily achieve that.

3.0 – Ho-Oh Focus

As I outlined above, the Turtonator version is fairly poor against Zoroark so I’ve largely tabled that in my testing. Instead, this version makes use of a much better attacker in that matchup: Ho-Oh-GX.

Pokémon – 14

3 Ho-Oh-GX

3 Volcanion-EX

2 Volcanion STS

2 Shaymin-EX ROS

2 Tapu Lele-GX

1 Turtonator-GX

1 Sudowoodo GRI


Trainers – 31

4 Professor Sycamore

3 Blacksmith

2 Kiawe

2 Guzma

1 N


4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

3 Choice Band

2 Float Stone

2 Field Blower

1 Computer Search


3 Scorched Earth

Energy – 15

15 R

This version is very similar to my Daytona list but features Ho-Oh as the main attacker in place of Turtonator. The main reason for this is switching from Water weakness to Fire, but the damage output buff helps a lot also. Ho-Oh also doesn’t have to rely on Steam Up to 1HKO Zoroark, important to consider when they use Alolan Muk to shut your Volcanion off.

I have Sudowoodo in here to at least attempt to slow a Zoroark deck down, but again, Muk is exactly what they need to stifle your plans. My hope is that the speed and 1HKO potential of Ho-Oh plus the disruption of Sudowoodo will be able to end the game before any Zoroark deck can get their footing.

The most interesting choice I’ve made in these two lists is once again the absence of a Night March counter. I used Karen in the past which would buy enough time to mount a comeback, especially when combined with 1 Prize attackers or Turtonator’s Shell Trap attack. However, the addition of Zoroark to that deck stops that game plan from being too effective. Your HP isn’t high enough to deal with the amount of Night Marchers they can easily discard now, so it’s better to try to race them or just take the loss.

In fact, I think jamming a Night March counter into every deck is one of the biggest mistakes being made by players in the current Expanded format. I haven’t seen the deck being played too much online so I wouldn’t expect to see it too much in Dallas. Plus, the deck is fairly hard to play with all of the options and micro decisions you have to make now. Why else would we only see some of the best players in the world doing well with it? The important thing to remember here is that not every deck can beat Night March, even with a counter. It’s typically not worth the deck space to improve a 35/65 matchup that you might play once to a 45/55 one.


Expanded is a wide open format, and one that has been known as a proving ground for many players’ pet decks. Some of these have even gone on to be very successful! Decks like Rainbow Road, Seismitoad-EX/Roller Skates/Lugia-EX PLS, and Empoleon have all surprised players to take Top 8+ placements home throughout the format’s lifetime. The proof is there; don’t be afraid to try out your favorite deck if you think it has a shot to win!

Best of luck to everyone playing in Dallas! I’ll be there and I’m excited to get back into playing some Expanded.


…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.

After 45 days, we unlock each Underground (UG/★) article for public viewing. New articles are reserved for Underground members.

Underground Members: Thank you for making this article possible!

Other Readers: Check out the FAQ if you are interested in joining Underground and gaining full access to our latest content.

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

You are logged out. Register. Log in. Legacy discussion: 6