The Zoroark Effect

Examining Zoroark-GX’s Inherent Strengths and their Impacts on the Expanded Format

I’ve been spending a good amount of time recently reminiscing over times past spent competing at a high level. I can remember my very first tournament very vividly and there is simply some allure or feel to these times that feels drastically different than competing now. Maybe it’s the prize money, the larger community or just everything else in between, but talking about Pokémon TCG now compared to Pokémon TCG in 2009 when I first started seems fundamentally impossible. I acknowledge that a large part of this sentiment is likely mired by nostalgia’s rose-tint, but it is something I’ve been thinking about recently. I do not think (despite many others voicing different opinions) that one is superior to the other.

I’m sure we’ve all heard many times how “the game just quite isn’t as good as it used to be” from players hailing from the glory days. Historically, I have always been a detractor of such a sentiment and do think that the game is moving closer and closer to the best its ever been. Despite the increased turnouts and prizing, I have noticed a troubling tendency wherein the members of the community consistently talk about how the community has gone toxic or is beyond saving while doing very little in attempts to say it.

I do not participate in any of the Facebook or Reddit groups out there for the game, and while I am sure there is a lot of poor ideas and poor attitudes echoed within these postings, I think it is foolish to think that the community of the game is any better or any worse than it was in the past.

I would argue that the increase in the size and scope of the community has only made it easier to see its flaws, instead of this growth being responsible for the attraction of more cheaters or what have you. These issues likely existed long before the inception of HeyFonte or Virbank City, and I think it does a disservice to the community by attempting to sequester the issues within the game to a mere individual or Facebook group and think that things would be better if they simply didn’t exist or if they were ignored entirely.

If we want to have a better game and a better community then I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to to tackle the issues head on. In a similar vein to what Kenny wrote last month, I do not think we can progress toward anything better if we do not admit our shortcomings when they are apparent and then promise to do better. Also like Kenny, I think being able to travel and compete playing this game is one of the greatest privileges available to us but the onus of making it better must be carried by each one of us for it to have any hope of getting better.

To conclude this opening section, I would briefly like to address something entirely bizarre that has been brought to my attention. If you’ll be willing to rewind a couple years ago, an anonymous article was published to highlight the ways top players not only cheat but also get away with it every time.

“Mens Rea” — An Inside Report on Cheating in the Pokémon TCG

In short, the good cheaters do not get caught because they do not cheat very often. Instead, they only cheat to win a small percentage more. Additionally, these cheaters (some of whom are alleged top players, though that list has likely changed since the article was published about two years ago) are charismatic and well-liked, which makes it easy to sweep any allegations under the rug over how they couldn’t possibly be cheaters. While somewhat over-dramatic in its presentation, it is a well-written article and certainly worth reading and even revisiting now that cheaters tend to being caught more frequently than ever.

The reason I am bring it up is that it has been brought to my attention that I am the presumed author of the article. I recall being asked if I wrote it several years ago when the article was first released, and denied it at the time, though somewhat seeing small similarities in my tone and the tone of Mens Rea. I think (and would like to think) that I have a strong reputation within the community and would certainly not be writing at SixPrizes still if I was an alleged and admitted cheater.

As mentioned above, it is bizarre that I have been accused of this authorship multiple times this past season. The fact of the matter is that only those involved in its editing and publishing know the truth of who wrote it, and both are more than able to clear my name in this issue. I do not know who wrote it and am not terribly interested in finding out and simply wanted to dispel the rumor once and for all. Thank you for indulging me here.

The Zoro Effect

I think that the big question heading into Dallas is whether Zoroark-GX will truly be as impactful as everyone is predicting. Is there room in the format for older decks to still scrape by or have we been reduced to Zoroark or counter Zoroark? The Standard format remains somewhat of a mystery to me but I think the answer to this question for this weekend is a resounding “YES!”. Unfortunate as that may be, I think that Zoroark-GX really is that impactful.

What it has done to the game in such a short amount of time is incredible and I cannot think of another card that could share such a feat. Garbodor comes close, but never did I really think that Garbodor or anything it was paired with was in dire and immediate need of a potential nerf—which cannot be said of Zoroark-GX or Puzzle of Time.

As I mentioned in my last article, I do think that something probably should be done about Puzzle of Time, but I am not surprised to see it untouched for now. I could easily be proven wrong in the coming weeks and maybe we will see Zoroark-GX as more of a fad than anything else but for the moment I am skeptical.

I think that to truly understand this phenomenon and prepare for Dallas appropriately, we must analyze this “Zoroark effect” through a variety of different lenses. It is my hope that with this analysis we may be able to unveil some truth in how to combat the deck or simply dedicate ourselves to joining our new overlords.

1. Consistency Boon

I think the biggest and most obvious positive of Zoroark-GX is that it single-handedly makes your deck more consistent without needing to sacrifice anything. Before the introduction of Shining Legends, most decks tended to rely on Octillery or Oranguru as that last bit of extra cushioning to their consistency, but Zoroark-GX is an easy and better replacement in almost every case.

Not only does it make it much easier to burn through your deck and create a defense against any later Ns, but it does this by sacrificing next to nothing and often becomes a backup or main attacker. Octillery could never attack and became a liability if it was ever stranded in the Active Spot. Oranguru could attack but that was rarely anything but a last resort. Zoroark-GX and Trade pair better with Puzzle of Time than any former utility Pokémon which drastically changes the way decks are built.

Puzzle of Time remained largely unplayed outside of things like Night March or Sableye/Garbodor because the card was difficult to fit or find at the right time. But, we all know that Zoroark’s Ability lets you add the card to your deck without sacrificing any of the usual space that would need to be devoted to consistency. Older decks like Turbo Darkrai-EX or Volcanion-EX suffer directly because they are unable to add this consistency and utility to their deck and thusly these and many older decks are squeezed out of the format.

2. Adaptability

Adding Zoroark-GX to your deck, even if it is the primary focus, takes up almost no space. As we can observe from the plethora of mainstream Zoroark-GX decks, the only real requisite is playing four Double Colorless. With so little space needed to give your deck a consistency engine and incredible attacker, you are free to fill the rest of the list with whatever you think has the best answers for your prospective metagame.

If you expect mostly Night March and other Zoroark-GX decks, the Seismitoad-EX variant seems to be the strongest, with its emphasis on Item lock and energy removal. If Seismitoad-EX is the most popular, play Golisopod-GX to counter this. This comparison can go on and on infinitely but hopefully this illustrates the sheer adaptability of the card.

If top players like John Kettler can be convinced that adding a 2-0-2 Magnezone Dual Brains to Zoroark-GX is a solid enough pairing than truly anything should be possible. I wouldn’y be surprised if even Exeggcutor could have the potential for a comeback in the right metagame! Finally, Zoroark BKT and BW are incredibly strong on their own and have their place in any Zoroark deck currently. Both cards solve various problems that could plague the GX and serve as efficient non-EX attackers on their own which further adds to the difficulty of defeating Zoroark-GX.

3. The Numbers Game

Before Zoroark-GX, most of Expanded’s main attackers (outside of the pesky little Night Marchers) usually capped at 180-190. Anything that can hit these numbers quickly and easily became the format’s top contenders. Darkrai-EX and Volcanion were top tier threats, and saw many top 8 and top 16 finishes at Fort Wayne and Daytona Regionals but both decks were mostly non-existent by San Jose.

Zoroark-GX can hit these same numbers more easily and more efficiently while increasing the consistency of the deck (see above), and has more tricks that continue to make any other deck obsolete. By chaining Hex Maniac or keeping Sudowoodo on your bench, you keep either of these older decks from completing their usual objectives while sacrificing next to nothing to do so while also having a large enough HP of its own to avoid easy retaliation but almost everything else.

4. Fighting Failure

The last point that I believe solidifies Zoroark-GX as the reigning and undisputed champion of the format is that Fighting Pokémon are incredibly lackluster. Even with way more options in Expanded, there are few Fighting Cards powerful enough to instill fear into the Zoroark-GX player. The “harder” counters like Donphan likely do a good job of beating down any Zoroark-GX deck, but are simply lackluster against everything else. Cards like Buzzwole-GX and Landorus-EX are too slow to be a huge threat.

Both cards do a lot for one energy but these attacks have diminishing returns after the early game and can be easily handled by Foul Play or a large enough Riotous Beating. Fighting cards have thrived historically in Expanded thanks to the power of Focus Sash but most of this success was seen in a time before the existence of Field Blower which is in every single deck. Tool Scrapper and Xerosic never saw anywhere close to this amount of play, and I think now more than ever, Field Blower comes with decks that play Puzzle of Time so it is much easier to use on multiple occasions even with only one copy in the deck.

I have seen handful of Fighting decks that players have posted or written articles on elsewhere in attempt to counter the hoards of Zoroark that will likely descend on Dallas and I think that most of these decks simply lose to everything else and will struggle against any good Zoroark-GX lists as well.

Perhaps the format is not as polarizing as I have made it out to be, but the way I see, there really is only the space for Zoroark-GX decks, Night March and hard counters.

Mikey Fouchet does a good job in his article of giving each type of archetype its proper label but I am mostly skeptical that anything outside of “BCIF”, “Little Dudes that Hit Hard” and “Slow Monsters” to have any sort of viability. Anything else, in my view, can no longer compete which is sad to say given the vastness of the Expanded card pool. I do not think that Zoroark-GX is unbeatable, but I think that outside of something like Night March, it takes some sort of cartoonish, control concept like Shock Lock to get the job done.

Given everything that I know and am expecting for Dallas Regionals, I think my call for the best play would be Seismitoad-EX/Zoroark-GX. This deck is so strong and reminiscent of the last Seismitoad-EX deck that caused something to get banned and I would not be surprised to see it dominate. I am not particularly eager to play it myself as Seismitoad-EX mirror have always been incredibly unenjoyable and highly dependent on who draws into the disruption or utility supporters before the opponent.

Years of playing primarily Seismitoad-EX decks have jaded me toward this as a possibility, but maybe Zoroark-GX makes things more skill-based and consequently more enjoyable. Like Mikey, I think I lean more toward playing Fighting Fury Belt over Choice Band and so for my list, I would play exactly what he has recommended but with one added tech which I will discuss below. Night March is likely my fallback choice for Dallas and once again, I think that the list Mikey provided earlier this week is perfect.

Rabbit in the Hat

If we operate under the assumption that Zoroark-GX and the appropriate partner can beat everything except the “Slow Monsters,” then logically, I think the best deck would have to be a Zoroark-GX list suited for Wailord-EX and Primal Groudon-EX. Grouping these decks together is somewhat of a disservice, as the objectives differ substantially for both decks, but I will leave them together simply because I think both of these decks do a good job in countering Zoroark-GX while remaining even to slightly unfavorable against everything else. Wailord-EX attempts to run you out of energy while staying alive indefinitely while Primal Groudon-EX tries to slow you down and prevent any Trades from occurring with Wobbuffet in the Active Spot. It may sound difficult but I think Zoroark-GX has to very easy solutions for both of these matchups!

The first card is fairly obvious and remains a popular choice in the Zoroark-GX/Golisopod-GX version of the deck, but I think there is an argument to include Tapu Koko PR in all of your Zoroark-GX lists should your be intent on beating Primal Groudon-GX. The free retreat and potential to use Flying Flip to make for easier KOs is a huge benefit with little downside, but the main bonus that this card adds to the deck is its ability to break Primal Groudon’s Focus Sash. It is hard for the Primal Groudon player to put on any amount of pressure early on. Therefore, it should be easy to get multiple Flying Flips in through the course of the game to make sure that Focus Sash is unable to properly setup, and also ensure that Riotous Beating hits 240 with ease.

Bunnelby is the final piece of the puzzle to giving any Zoroark-GX deck a favorable matchup against Wailord-EX. I initially thought that Golisopod-GX would give Zoroark-GX a favorable time against Wailord-EX but I found that often not to be the case. Bunnelby is an easy addition to the deck and should guarantee a win against Wailord-EX if their list is not prepared with a Bunnelby of their own.

I wrote almost an entire article in 2015 on the impact of Bunnelby both in and against Wailord-EX, so I will spare you all the details, but simply put, the Bunnelby creates a scenario where Wailord-EX is incapable of winning without some incredibly lucky flipping on Team Rocket’s Trickery or poor prizing. I think almost every single deck should be considering it for Dallas. Many of the fringe, counter decks to Zoroark-GX may indeed be favored in that matchup, but will have absolutely no chance against something like Wailord-EX.

Taking a simple Donphan list and adding Bunnelby seems like a no brainer, and may give your performance a needed extra win or two to advance as far as possible in the tournament. In the past, the best answers to an opposing Bunnelby was a Bunnelby of your own and a one energy answer in Mewtwo EX + Double Colorless Energy or Landorus-EX and F Energy. Given that most Wailord-EX lists tend to be focusing on Xuriktree-GX and L Energy, I think it would be highly unlikely for anyone to consider including a counter this card.

Closing Thoughts

I will be the first to acknowledge my own shortcomings recently in committing to, but not actually attending events, but I can confidently say (barring disaster) that I will be competing in Dallas this weekend! I am beyond excited to make be debut at a Regional this weekend and think that it is long overdue. Even if I do not perform well, I think will be happy to be once again engaged in heated competition and I hope to see everyone there this weekend.

Doing well at an event as large as Dallas is an incredibly daunting task and so I think it is important to do our best to make everything count. Get a good night’s sleep, stay energized and eat appropriately. Wear a watch and be wary of ties until the last round or two of Swiss. My biggest encouragement is to skip pile shuffling entirely and only riffle. Pile shuffling is questionably a means of randomization but more egregiously, it takes up far more time than necessary and is an easy fix to give yourself a few more minutes every round.

Until next time!

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