To the surprise of everyone (myself included), I have somehow managed to attend back-to-back Regional Championships. It’s been a long time coming, but being back in the competitive sector is as rewarding as it is challenging. I believe the last time I truly felt on the pulse of the competitive scene would have been during the 2015-2016 season where I was able to barely cling on to a spot in the top 16. This was in a time where the race was much easier; actually restricted by best finish limits rather than being mostly defined by the sheer attendance of events. I recall having to drive three hours out of my way to attend a League Challenge just to be able to pick up any amount of points in order to stay afloat in the race that year, and while that certainly was very time consuming, it is something I have longed for in my absence.
In the days leading up to Collinsville, I was very certain that I wanted to play something with Zoroark-GX. The card is simply too powerful not to play in my opinion and even in a field filled with counter decks, Fighting decks, Parallel Cities and so on, I still think that it is the optimal play. As I (and many others) have discussed ad nauseum, the card has no downsides and only makes your deck better in every single way. I joked around with friends about that you would have to be a fool to not want to include it in your deck and despite a few rough matchups, I still think this card might see some sort of errata or limiting by the end of the season.
Collinsville Caper: Brit’s Recap
I toyed around quite a bit with a CounterBox list very close to what I had provided last time but never quite felt like it was in the right place. The deck functions differently in Expanded, as you have a better means to your Counter Energy + Attacker through Teammates, but also the versatility to 1HKO nearly everything with Riotous Beating in conjunction with Skyfield. Mallow is a poor replacement for Teammates and always feels a little awkward unless your hand is already massive from multiple turns of using Trade. Non-EX attackers are also noticeably more useful in Expanded, and some of the Standard replacements lack the same “oomph” as AOR Virizion or Entei.
I abandoned the idea of dedicating a whole deck to the concept fairly early on in testing, but became enamored with a Zoroark-GX/Golispod-GX deck featuring one Counter Energy and one Sudowoodo. Beyond the obvious response KO to Zoroark-GX, Watch and Learn is great against so many other big attackers in the format that it felt like a no brainer for the list. You had to cut a few corners in order to make all of these cards fit (and presumably two Mallow), but ultimately none of these sacrifices seemed to ruin the deck at all, and so I was very eager to try it out.
I headed to Collinsville Friday afternoon with this deck and Espeon-GX/Garbodor sleeved up and ready to go. I would eventually scrap my new Counter Deck, but Igor Costa would go on to barely miss Top 8 with a list exactly two cards off what I had cooked up, so I happy to have seen the concept work despite losing my own confidence in it.
Espeon-GX had been at the back of my mind and after reading Xander’s article, I briefly jumped on its bandwagon. Garbotoxin is in an incredible place in the format, but more notably had more of an allure to it as jumping into a new, unknown format had a higher possibility of players trying new cards that were more Ability-reliant than others. Garbodor’s struggle in Standard for the entirety of the year has been an issue of consistency since it lacks the ability to fall back on Octillery or Oranguru to draw out of later hands, and without VS Seeker or a bigger supporter pool, I often found the deck incredibly lacking. Cynthia (and maybe Pal Pad) ought to have been the solution to this problem and while I was incredibly optimistic at first, I still had the same consistency struggles to deal with.
Espeon-GX tested poorly, and my Golispod-GX/Zoroark-GX deck struggled to make the timing between Mallow and Sudowoodo work properly, and so heading into the evening before Collinsville Regionals, I was at a loss at what to play and was willing to jump on any new concept that had intelligent theory around it in addition to no gaping weaknesses. My long-time friend Anthony Eason had been beating me pretty handily with his unique Zoroark-GX/Garbodor deck, and believing it to be better than Empoleon and Zoroark-GX/Greninja (the other wackier decks floating around me that evening), it was where I decided to place my faith for the weekend.
For those unaware, Anthony is an old school veteran of the game with many high placements from 2004-2009, and while he does not play Pokémon much anymore, he is a savant at every other game I have seen him play, and so I tend to trust his judgement and opinions despite them usually being unorthodox. He beat both my Espeon-GX/Garbodor and Golispod-GX/Zoroark in multiple sets and after examining his list, I made two slight adjustments and turn in this list, feeling confident:
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 32
Energy – 8
I was skeptical about this build of the deck before seeing them in action. Relying on Bursting Balloon may strike one as odd, or highly dependent on whether or not your opponent can play their Field Blower at the appropriate time, but the fact of the matter is that you never mind if you miss the effect of the card. The threat of taking 60 damages or leaving Garbotoxin on for the turn is far more impactful than lasting the turn without it getting removed, and sometimes just one use out of the card is enough to shift the tide of the game.
In a perfect scenario, the 60 damage from a Bursting Balloon can translate into a responding 1HKO from Riotous Beating (full bench + Choice Band) on an opposing Zoroark-GX, which is an option your opponent will always lack. The name of the game in Zoroark-GX mirrors is trying to survive a lengthy war of attrition and get more mileage out of your attackers than your opponent’s. As such, cards like Max Potion and Acerola are of the utmost importance, but having the option to swing that with Bursting Balloon gives the deck an advantage against most mirror scenarios.
I do believe that this build is far superior (albeit weaker in a head-to-head scenario) than the build of the deck that simply aim to shut down their own Trade with Garbotoxin. I believe this deck will only increase in popularity moving forward and strongly believe it to be one of the best decks in the format.
The Espeon-GX is a very interesting inclusion, but an optional one. The power of the card is an attempt to curb an early aggression from Buzzwole-GX. In that matchup, it works like a charm and I believe Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX and Buzzwole-GX/Garbodor to both be very favorable. I did end up using the card, and Divide-GX, much more than I had initially anticipated, but it could certainly be swapped out for other cards depending on the metagame. The main cards that I thought I was missing throughout the event: Espeon-EX, a second Field Blower, or additional copies of Enhanced Hammer or Acerola.
Like Espeon-GX, I believe these options to be highly dependent on your metagame. Your matchups against many of the decks revolving around Rare Candy are somewhat shaky, and while you do not have any “spread” options at your disposal, I think that Miraculous Shine on its own may be enough to swing those matchups. Cards like Solgaleo-GX and Gardevoir-GX are difficult for Riotous Beating to even 2HKO, and so a lot of the time, many of these larger Stage 2s sit on the bench with 100+ damage waiting to be Knocked Out. I think the option to devolve the board would greatly help in these scenarios. As mentioned previously, I think that Acerola, Enhanced Hammer, or even Max Potion could be vital in playing against other Zoroark-GX decks.
While I think the current list is favored against every Zoroark-GX deck sans Lycanroc-GX, I see no issue adding any of these cards to make the matchup further in our favor. Outside of the Espeon-GX, I think that you could potentially lose a Cynthia or Mallow in favor of any of these cards, but I am unsure if any of these swaps can be universally recommend. Instead, I urge you to try to have a proper understanding of your metagame before deviating from the above list.
Briefly, here is my synopsis of Collinsville:
Round 1: Zoroark-GX/Gardevoir-GX WW
Round 2: Solgaleo-GX/Zoroark-GX LL
Round 3: ? W
Round 4: Buzzwole-GX/Carbink/Garbodor LWW
Round 5: Zoroark-GX/Counter Energy (Zach Bohkari) LWT
Round 6: Metagross-GX (Michael Slutsky) WW
Round 7: Golisopod-GX/Zoroark-GX LWW
Round 8: Espeon-GX/Garbodor WW
Round 9: Tapu Bulu-GX/Vikavolt LWW
Round 10: Zoroark-GX/Garbodor LL
Round 11: Golispod-GX/Zoroark-GX (Jimmy Pendarvis) LWW
Round 12: Raichu-GX/Pachirisu/Xurkitree-GX WW
Round 13: Zoroark-GX/Gardevoir-GX LWT
Round 14: Espeon-GX/Garbodor WLL
Round 15: ID
While I ended up falling a bit short at the very end, I am very happy with this performance. It was a huge improvement on my Dallas run where I was rusty and ended up playing too slowly in several matches where I easily would’ve won with better pacing, but making Day 2 at such a large event is nothing to scoff at. Scouting the field for Day 2, I felt incredibly confident in all of my matchups except for a lone “mirror” (that seemed to be an exact netdeck of Marc Lutz’s list from Australia) and Kyle Sablehaus’s Zoroark-GX/Gardevoir-GX. Unfortunately, it took no time at all for me to play both of the decks while missing many other stronger matchups, but that’s just how it goes. Every tournament winner is made or broken on a fair amount of luck, and Sunday just was not my day.
The New Fire in Standard
My initial hope for the Ultra Prism format was that Cynthia would bring a much-needed balance and consistency to many of the decks that could make use of Brooklet Hill and Octillery. While it was not as powerful as I had expected, I do think that the Standard format is in a better place now and should only continue to get better with the last set we will get this season. Zoroark-GX, however, remains as dominant as ever, and continues to prove that any deck with 4-4 Zoroark and any other semblance of an alternate attacker is probably pretty good. I still hesitate to use the word “oppressive” when describing the card, but I fear that it will only continue to become more dominant as time goes on. I’d hate to envision a game years down the line where the card is still the star of almost every deck.
At any rate, I do have some faith in one deck right now in Standard that does not play Zoroark-GX and I think it is greatly poised to make a comeback. The unfortunate part of having more and more Regionals (and Internationals) is that we inevitably get stuck playing some formats much longer others. Excluding Costa Mesa, the Collinsville format will be mostly unchanged for Portland, Brazil and Charlotte. I have been doing my best to ignore Zoroark-GX as a option, as we can always fallback on it if nothing proves fit to combat its rein, and so for one more Standard deck today, I want to take a moment to reexamine Ho-Oh-GX/Salazzle-GX.
Pokémon – 12
Trainers – 34
Energy – 14
We saw this deck rise and fall very quickly after Worlds this year. The deck was inspired by what many Japanese players piloted at Worlds in Anaheim, but despite its novelty, it greatly fell short to the current BDIF in Gardevoir-GX. Now that the pink menace has largely fallen off (and probably just paired with Zoroark-GX at this point), I think this deck is incredibly strong.
Ho-Oh-GX as a card has always threatened the ability to end games within a matter of turns, and such a strategy remains a focus for this deck. Ideally, you want to use Kiawe on your first turn and take 4 Prizes within the next 2-3 turns, while slowly powering up one final attacker. Kiawe is usually sufficient to fuel the first Ho-oh-GX, and hopefully manual attachments and Max Elixir can get the job done with the second. You will usually lose if your first two attackers are Knocked Out too quickly, but you always have Nitro Tank-GX as a last resort to threaten one final attacker, as well as a game ending Salazzle-GX. In a perfect world, you will overrun any Zoroark-GX deck with ease and should have enough fire (heh) power against most other decks.
Ho-oh-GX saw some success in Collinsville and Malmö, but most of their lists were much different in focus. Many of the had optimized the deck for the first turn Kiawe, but did not have Max Elixir to try to speed up any additional attackers. I think that this is incorrect and makes the deck much weaker against an early Flying Flip + Choice Band or turn two Riotous Beating. Gustavo Wada’s deck played Ho-Oh-GX, but clearly was much more interested in the older Volcanion-EX strategy. This is strong in its own right, but certainly much weaker against Garbodor decks, which is what eventually knocked him out of the tournament.
By focusing on Ho-Oh-GX, we are not so inherently Weak to Glaceon-GX or Greninja. Either deck may prove difficult even still, but I am confident that it is far superior to using an older looking Volcanion-EX list.
Coasting to Costa Mesa
I will be unable to attend Costa Mesa Regionals this year, and so I must be honest and admit that my mind is not entirely focused on Expanded. Outside of a League Cup, I likely will only play Standard for the rest of the year, and so I do not want to waste much of your time by theorizing decks for the format. However, I do want to conclude today with another idea I have had. Glaceon-GX (somewhat expectedly, in my view) has proven to mostly underwhelm.
Whether this is an artifact of bad or poorly focused lists, I am uncertain but I do think the card has considerable more promise in Expanded. I think that Zoroark-GX decks (likely “Lonzo” focused) will only continue to dominate and become more optimized as times goes on. It may be the case that nothing is truly capable of curbing that deck entirely, but I think Glaceon-GX may be a possibility.
Expanded decks play far less supporters than Standard, and are much more reliant on Wonder Tag within the first few turns. Being able to shut that off seems incredibly key to victory. Expanded also gives Glaceon-GX access to Wally to further increase the probability of the first turn evolution. It may not be enough to make the deck viable but I am certain the idea is worth exploring. Here is a sample list that I have come up with:
Pokémon – 8
Trainers – 39
Energy – 13
I think this deck would play like a much more aggressive Wailord-EX. You have the potential just to run your opponent out of Energy, or hopefully bench them out of the game. The deck looks and will play similarly to Trevenant BREAK decks, but perhaps denying Items is much stronger than simply denying certain Abilities. I will admit that I think Glaceon-GX does have a handful of weaknesses, but none of them seem too defeating if you can just expect to play against Zoroark-GX over and over again. I played against nine different Zoroark-GX decks in Dallas, and frankly I do not think I would expect anything too different were I to be playing in California this weekend.
I wish everyone good luck if you are competing this weekend, and though I am enjoying this brief interlude between events, I cannot wait until I am competing again. Nothing is set in stone for me yet outside of Madison Regionals much later this year, but I do hope to be in Portland and Toronto. Hopefully these three Regionals will be enough (when combined with League Cups) to finish the rest of my invite, but I’m sure I will try to squeeze more events in if I am still starving for points.
Until next time!
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