For the first time in a long time, I finally made it to a Regional Championship! I had begun to feel somewhat inauthentic as a player, given that I’ve kept writing for SixPrizes without actually competing at anything beyond the local level of events. I knew that I wanted to compete, but actually making it to events was starting to feel more difficult every day. At times, it felt like I should just throw in the towel and stop chasing the invite since my motivation was seemingly in another place, but I persisted hoping that my time away from competition would merely be conflicts and not voluntary avoidance.
Memphis was a tournament I planned on attending, but a work conflict came up at the last moment and every other tournament was simply too far or also conflicted with work. I knew that Dallas would be my last chance to start my chase of 400 Championship Points, and if it didn’t go well then maybe it would be time to throw in the towel.
I began my search for the right Expanded deck with Night March, which seemed to everyone’s favorite—or, at least, it was perceived to be the most popular. I’ve never had much experience with the deck, so I took most players’ opinions on how it played and what it beat on faith alone. I’ve had plenty of experience losing to the deck since its inception several years ago, so I felt like I would still be at a decent starting position. Despite that, I quickly found that there was something about the deck that did not click with me.
It was not necessarily that I was making simple errors or not manipulating Battle Compressor in the most economical way. Rather, it was dealing with the “counters” to the deck that I struggled with. I had always been somewhat of a skeptic in this regard, but to me, the counters did seem good enough to keep Night March out of the top tables. Dealing with Oricorio and Karen every single round seemed like a daunting task, but any time I would voice this weariness to a more seasoned Night March player, I would simply get responses like “a good Night March player will always beat Oricorio” and so on.
Perhaps this is still the case, and I am indeed NOT a good Night March player. I dropped my Night March testing after a day or two, but still felt like it was something I could fallback on. From there, I tightened my focus onto a Zoroark deck, knowing that it would have the extra consistency I would need to survive in a field as large as Dallas.
The Golisopod-GX was the most appealing variant for me, as I believed Grass typing would be incredibly strong for the metagame and thought it had the tools to survive the Zoroark-GX mirrors as well. While that last claim I now believe to be incorrect, I felt very confident in playing a simple but consistent list very similar to what Jose Marrero had had success with in weeks prior at some tough Florida League Cups. It was not until Tuesday before the event that Travis Nunlist turned me onto the new Zoroark deck that he and others had been quietly working on.
Dustin Zimmerman, a former SixPrizes writer was the main architect of the list but I believe that he received his own inspiration to build the deck from one of Christopher’s reports of a Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX deck that played a few copies of Counter Energy.
The idea was to use the simple, but strong, core to any Zoroark-GX to carry the initial weight of the deck. Instead of using a backup Stage 1 attacker to hedge against other matchups or try to counter a certain archetype, we would rely on some choice colorful basic Pokémon and Counter Energy to steal games from unsuspecting or unaware players. The idea seemed brilliant to me, and I began testing feverishly in my last few days leading up to Dallas. While I did not come up with the deck, I do think that my input on several key inclusions to the deck were invaluable to the final build that many of us played. Not to toot my own horn too strongly, but while I believe my ability as a player has weakened over the years, I think my prowess and intuition as a deck builder has never waned.
For those who have not seen it yet, here is the list that Travis, Dustin, Xander and a few others ended up playing for the Dallas Regional Championship:
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 34
1 Red Card
Energy – 6
I believe that Xander himself ended up playing a third Sky Field over the Teammates, but everyone else play settled on the above 60 cards. I think the list is next to perfect and realistically was even to favored against every other deck in the Expanded format. The Drampa-GX/Garbodor deck was likely very difficult, and probably the deck that I wanted to avoid most throughout the day but it does not seem like an auto-loss if you find your Field Blower early enough.
The Counter Energy attackers were incredible and carried more weight than I could’ve possibly imagined, but I think that after the tournament, we agreed that Entei could likely be cut for another card. Entei is a good non-EX attacker but the idea as that we were beating Golisopod-GX/Zoroark-GX without it and there are other options that would’ve been more beneficial. Cobalion STS is another great attacker with Counter Energy that is not terribly matchup-dependent, but could’ve greatly helped against any of the Gardevoir-GX that did well that the tournament. The other card we all wanted to try was a Counter Catcher to help finish the game, as playing from behind was an inherent strategy to the deck. Having a “Gust of Wind” effect to search for off Teammates easily could have changed the outcome of some of my own games.
I ended the tournament a “close, but not close enough” record of 5-1-3, while Dustin and Xander made top 16 and top 32 respectively and Travis finished at 6-1-2. I was disappointed, but not dissatisfied, in my own performance. I started out at 1-0-2, and both of the early ties were entirely my fault—I would have won both game 3s with a mere 1-2 more turns. I’m sure my time management skills were a bit rusty from not competing at a serious event in close to a year, so I shoulder most of the blame for this performance.
My loss was unfortunate, as the whole match was effectively a non-game as I drew next to nothing both times and suffered the only dead-draw I was would see all day. The deck itself has all the tools to thrive in Expanded, and I would not be surprised to see many of us stick to it even with the release of Ultra Prism. For those curious, here is the brief synopsis of my tournament:
Round 1: Zoroark-GX/Alolan Muk SUM WLT
Round 2: Lycanroc-GX GRI/Zoroark-GX WW
Round 3: Zoroark-GX/Gallade BKT WLT
Round 4: Zoroark-GX/Alolan Muk SUM WLW
Round 5: Lycanroc-GX GRI/Zoroark-GX LWT
Round 6: Zoroark-GX/Alolan Muk SUM WW
Round 7: Night March/Maxie’s LWW
Round 8: Flareon PLF/Zoroark-GX/Gallade BKT WW
Round 9: Lycanroc-GX GRI/Zoroark-GX LL
I think that shifting the deck to the Standard format is relatively easy, and has kept my eyes on the deck even after Dallas. The loss of Teammates and a more consistent supporter lineup is really the biggest blow, but it is a difference that every deck is forced to make between the two formats, so it does not seem terribly defeating. Losing Skyfield and Alolan Muk will require us to play the deck differently, but something I love about the concept is that it can answer everything if you are able to predict the metagame correctly! Here is a post-Ultra Prism list I currently have sleeved up:
Pokémon – 19
Trainers – 34
Energy – 7
Four Brigette might be overkill, but it is the direction I am taking most of my decks to deal without a first turn Wonder Tag to fetch the card against Glaceon-GX. I think, to some degree, Glaceon-GX is going to underwhelm in the coming format, but the hype for it is still there and I would like to be prepared more than anything else. Four copies of anything with Zoroark-GX is never terrible since it makes your Trade targets easier to choose but I could see a single Brigette being copied for a number of things.
To conclude this section, I would like to take a moment to say that I think the Expanded format is in a great spot! I had an absolute blast playing and even though I played against 8 (9, if you count Night March) different Zoroark-GX decks, every game I played felt like it had difficult and meaningful decisions to be made, and various lines of thought and strategies that one needed to navigate correctly in order to succeed. Zoroark-GX and Puzzle of Time are perhaps problematic cards in their own rights, but they are not oppressively so. Neither card functions in such a way that is inhibitive of your opponent’s strategy, compared to something like Vileplume AOR with Forest of Time, Trevenant or Archeops.
Maybe what Zoroark-GX inhibits is the ability to play anything else with a different combination of your choice, but as we saw with the Drampa-GX/Garbodor and Shock Lock, creativity still seems alive and well in the format. I have somewhat come around to the strength of Ghetsis in the format as well, and find that it can be quite unfair but inconstantly so.
It does not feel good to lose any game before you can take a turn, but the card is significantly better than it was before with Puzzle of Time being in almost every deck but I could see it maybe getting axed moving forward. Standard is novel but ultimately inconsistent and I would much rather play Expanded than struggle to find the right supporters at the right time in Standard. I am optimistic that Cynthia and Pal Pad can both do a lot to improve the consistency of Standard, but I will say that I am glad that I did not have to prepare for something like the Oceania International Championships in this somewhat dismal state of Standard.
The Rulers of Standard
Now to shift our focus to more immediate times, I was able to close out the rest of this quarter by returning to the Standard format at a final two League Cups. It is somewhat unfortunate that this format has been largely the same since late November or early December, but again I am hopeful that Ultra Prism can make things interesting once again.
Two whole articles ago, I spent a considerable amount of time becoming enamored with Buzzwole-GX/Garbodor as a quasi-answer to the new Lycanroc-GX/Zoroark-GX overlords while remaining somewhat well-positioned against older threats like Gardevoir-GX and Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX. This deck has caught on quite a bit in popularity since my article in December and while I do not claim credit for its rise, I am happy that I was not wrong about it being a competitive threat.
Two methodologies seem to exist for building Buzzwole-GX/Garbodor in Standard, and you must simply answer a question in order to find your initial skeleton: Do I want to play Trashalanche or do I want to play Max Elixir? I cannot imagine there is a middling way to get both Trashalanche and Max Elixir to fit into this already-tight deck, so answering this deciding question is likely just an assessment of metagame priority. Trashalanche is incredibly strong, but requires some sacrifice of speed and consistency in order to add more Trubbish, Garbodor and Rainbow Energy.
At the loss of an incredible non-EX attacker, the Max Elixir version makes you more competitive against other speedy decks, and I am unsure of one of the builds is strictly better. For my first League Cup this month, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to play Trashalanche over Max Elixir, if for no other reason than that I believe my tournament to be a weaker one, with players I could catch unfamiliar or off guard. Thankfully, both of these ended up being true, and I dodged any matchup where the Max Elixir version would have likely been superior.
Pokémon – 14
Trainers – 35
Energy – 11
Though not rocket science, the list I went with is effectively only one card of the “core” list pioneered by Frank Percic and Zach Lesage. I talked to Frank the day before my League Cup because I knew he had a great opinion on the deck, and he effectively talked me out of doing anything clever. The only difference between my list and the one that Frank played in Memphis is playing a second Field Blower over the fourth Guzma (I think my change is preferable).
Minutes before I had to turn in my decklist, I had a 1-1 Carbink in my list over the 4th Guzma and Espeon-EX, but decided not to mess with the card. Carbink is good and a great counter-measure against any of the mill decks that attempt to run you out of energy. With Trashalanche in the list already, you are not in need of another non-EX attacker and so I removed it here, but I think I would still include it in the Max Elixir build of the deck. Espeon-EX was as underwhelming as I expected, and while I did use it a few times to take a prize or two, I do not think it won me any games that I would not have won had it not been included in my list.
I cannot remember the last time I have had such a free tournament. It has been over a year since I have won a League Cu,p so it felt great to pick up the W and replace one of my less successful Top 8 exits, but many of my matchups felt preordained as long as I could avoid dead-drawing. The deck itself felt a little weak in its linearity. You have very few options outside of just using Jet Punch over and over again, and hoping it is enough to carry you to a point where Trashalanche can hopefully close out the game. This is undoubtedly a problem that Max Elixirs would fix, but I am still hesitant to play them over this current list.
My gut feeling is that Gardevoir-GX was completely fine in the metagame, and while inconsistent at times, its diminishing number of results were not indicative of its competitive viability. It is clear that “Brokenvoir” no longer has the answers that it was once assumed to, and so perhaps by simply building Gardevoir-GX like we used, it has continued to fall off everyone’s radar. Gardevoir-GX is inherently a powerful card, but we must look forward and try to innovate something new with the deck in order to make it viable once again.
Tapu Bulu-GX/Vikavolt has only soared in popularity since Memphis, and most of that is likely because Gardevoir-GX is nowhere to be seen. I was not surprised to see it fair poorly in Memphis, but a large part of that is not necessarily because it loses to any Zoroark-GX variant—but because it is a slower deck with a tendency to tie if it cannot win Game 1 or prevent Game 2 from finishing. In a nine round tournament with so little room for error, one tie can immediately put you on the ropes from missing day two, but at a five or six round League Cup, you have more room for error, and an unintentional draw is far less impactful.
I am writing this on Thursday in the calm before the storm of Oceania International Championships, but my bold prediction for the weekend is that Gardevoir-GX will shine one more time before Ultra Prism and perhaps reclaim its title as the queen of the format.
I had a lot of fun watching the Oceania stream over the past weekend but I think seeing Tord Reklev win yet another International Championship was the biggest joy. Seeing a player who puts in the work and plays at an entirely higher level than the rest of the field be reward time and time again is every thing that the game should be. It proves that, despite luck and odds, the best player should win consistently. I could not be happier for the player, and I am rooting for him to take down the Lain American International in coming weeks.
The deck itself is a work of genius and really something that we should have figured out a long time ago. People had messed with essentially replacing Octillery with Zoroark-GX in Gardevoir early on, but that clearly was not very good and usually just made it easier for your opponents to beat you by manipulating that Fighting weakness. This combination seems like the perfect and natural progression for the format, and I think it will be the most resilient Fairy deck with the onslaught of new Metal support in Ultra Prism.
Puzzle of Time + Twilight-GX is broken in a way that “Brokenvoir” could have only dreamed of and the heavy Zoroark-GX focus solves older Gardevoir-GX issues in one fell swoop. No longer are there concerns of early game inconsistency or a lack of aggression! Giratina is obviously the most optional card in the list, and while I think there are a bunch of easy swaps to be made in its place if you expect minimal amounts of Greninja, the most obvious one would be Kirlia. With two Evosoda, it seems like a logical addition to make and one I would certainly recommend trying. I’m not sure how to pin down the Supporter count to include Cynthia, but I am sure it is very doable and now that the cat (or fox?) is out of the bag, I highly expect this deck to see a lot of play in Collinsville this weekend.
I think I speak for many when I say that I am thankful that BKT–CIN has finally come to an end. At times, this format was enjoyable to play, but I think that it has overstayed its welcome. Perhaps this is the case for any format that features 3+ large tournaments alongside the plethora of League Cups and Challenges, but I am greatly looking forward to the next few weeks with Ultra Prism.
I am at a total loss for what to play for Collinsville this weekend, but I am happily looking forward to competing once again. I had a blast in Dallas and know that Collinsville will be equally enjoyable if not more so and so I hope to see many of you there! My past three nine round events have ended in me losing my final round to miss Day 2, and while that is much better than dropping early, I would love to be able to make Day 2 this time and am confident I have the abilities to do so. I hope to make our site proud with my performance, and look forward to writing once again in the coming weeks.
Until next time!
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