Though Zoroark-GX seems to have been finally defeated after Costa Mesa, I am still somewhat skeptical that the format is in a good place. As I’ve noted recently, I really do like the Expanded format, and think that it has more to offer than Standard. Decks are more consistent while simultaneously having more options. This may sound impossible, or like two propositions in opposition with each other, but undoubtedly the two are intertwined.
When your deck becomes more consistent, you have a more consistent means to rely on your tech options. When your deck is inconsistent and teched out, then you are rarely able to meet your own goals, which is why it is it is very rare to see a surprising rogue deck in Day 2 of a Regional or International Championship. Admittedly, a lot of the “tech” options in Expanded amount to various Supporter cards, as it is VS Seeker that makes them accessible for multiple uses, which cannot be done in Standard format.
Supporter counts in the Standard format almost never deviate, and we do not have access to cards like Teammates, Xerosic or Hex Maniac—even if we did, I am not sure they would do a ton to shakeup the way the game is currently played. Puzzle of Time does open up a few additional possibilities, but its usage is generally limited to Zoroark-GX decks, which again only continues to compound the dominance of this card. Though not the best analogy, Puzzle of Time often acts as a poor player’s VS Seeker in its ability to get extra mileage out of small, but impactful, Supporters like Acerola or Professor Kukui.
The consistency of decks may be an initial litmus test one can use to gauge the validity of a format or deck, but Zoroark-GX is perhaps the first card to really make examination a null point. Unlike Claydol GE or Uxie LA from years ago, this card acts as the primary consistency engine of any deck, but in most cases, it also serves as the main attacker and provides an amount of support incomparable to anything before it.
I am not quite certain if we can clearly say that Zoroark-GX is “better” than Claydol, Uxie, Shaymin-EX, etc., but I do believe that is offers something unique in comparison to these other cards. At the cost of taking up the most space, with Zoroark-GX, you are given the utility of one of the best and most efficient main attackers and the freedom to pair whatever you want with it.
Initially the joke was that any deck can be competitive if you had the Zoroark-GX, shell but I now believe this to be less of a joke and more of an accurate assessment of both the Standard and Expanded formats. As we’ll see a bit later in this article, some more outlandish and crazier pairings are starting to pick up as competitive options for Zoroark-GX, and I am really enamored with the Solgaleo-GX pairing that has slowly begun to shine at League Cups this quarter.
I suppose that it is probably worth noting that this freedom for choosing a partner for Zoroark-GX is mostly reserved for Standard, where the best Zoroark-GX deck tends to change after every tournament, but Expanded Zoroark-GX have clearly proven that the Sky Field focus is the most successful building route. You do still have some freedom in choosing whether you want to play Alolan Muk, a heavy Exeggcute count, or a very small Lycanroc-GX or Ninetales DRX line.
Decks are more consistent in Expanded, but Zoroark-GX decks are even more consistent, and to me, the format really seems to have devolved into an absolute “if you cannot beat them, join them” mentality. Igor Costa is the first successful player to finally stop Zoroark-GX from winning a Regionals-sized tournament, which I think clearly demonstrates the magnitude of the problem. One of the best players in the world (and in this case, of all-time) playing a deck built specifically to counter Zoroark-GX with even more specific cards included in the list to make that matchup even more difficult, and he barely defeats a (mostly) standard “Lonzo” deck in finals.
This is not a knock on Phinn Lynch or anyone who saw success with Lonzo over the weekend, but rather an attempt to illuminate the problem even further. It takes the brains and skills of the very best playing a counter deck to thwart the Zoroark-GX menace, and if even Igor was close to defeat, what hope do the more average of us have?
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