The more time that passes, the more a format seems to get solved. We do go through transition periods where the onetime counter decks shift from being the play to being the countered themselves, but this tends to be a 1-of solution rather than a more holistic one. For instance, in Portland we saw decks meant to counter Zoroark-GX become the primary targets for the “new” counter deck, which gave rise to Espeon-GX resurgence, and decks like Hoopa slowly made their way to the very top tables rather than being a low tier menace usually seen floating around the bottom tables.
With more and more tournaments occuring every year, we are subjected to these stretches of time where formats exist longer and longer, and while this becomes incredibly stale for those playing new events day in and day out, I think that it does raise the skill cap to some degree. In theory, if a metagame becomes “solved,” there are much clearer answers for the “play” every week, and if every player has access to the same amounts of information as everyone else, your actual play in a tournament is far more measurable. Thusly, your results are more about how well you play each and every round rather than hoping to get lucky in the matchup lottery of an undefined format.
We have been playing the current format since Collinsville Regionals, and frankly even that format was only a slight shift from the format before that—with Glaceon-GX really being the only new addition, with a few more fringe decks (like Hoopa) on the side. Lycanroc-GX/Zoroark-GX, Buzzwole-GX decks, and so on have been dominant since December and Memphis Regionals, and with Forbidden Light ready to come out as well, it does not seem that there will be much more to shake this up outside of Malamar. Furthermore, Forbidden Light seems liable to make this old deck even stronger, with new toys like Beast Ring and a non-GX Buzzwole.
At any rate, I think those attending the Latin American International Championship this weekend have a clear and distinct metagame to anticipate. If there results of League Cups post-Portland Regionals are any indication, I think that the meta has settled past the anti-Zoroark-GX meta and is now somewhere more spread out, where there is simply going to be a little bit everything. I foresee a field where neither Zoroark-GX’s counters or the counter’s counters are more dominant, and so if I were headed to São Paulo, I think I would play a deck hedged against everything and attempt to find something that is safe and comfortable against both Zoroark-GX, its counters (Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc, Sylveon), and the counters to those (Hoopa, Espeon-GX/Garbodor, Vikavolt/Tapu Bulu-GX).
This may sound like an incredibly daunting task, but I think we can absolutely find a safe solution to all of this! Let’s look at my top two choices for this upcoming weekend and try to hash out the final few spots in the list to give anyone the best chance depending on their prospective metagame.
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 32
Energy – 8
I think this would easily be my top choice for this weekend (which, of course, can still be League Cups for those like me not going to Brazil). The power of this deck has been proven many times this format and in the format before it, so I do not think I really need explain much of how the deck functions. Zoroark-GX has been the most powerful card in the game since it was printed and provides an incredibly efficient attacker while simultaneously boosting the consistency of any given deck by an unprecedented amount.
Lycanroc-GX is the current partner of choice because the disruption its Ability provides allows you to immediately put pressure on your opponent. A quick KO on the right Basic in the first few turns of a game can turn a poor matchup upside down, and the potential for this is something one ought to consider. It is also valuable because of the utility that its Fighting type provides. The most obvious boon is that Fighting can be used to counter other opposing Zoroark-GX decks, but it also gives us the best answer to Hoopa in the form of the non-GX Lycanroc.
Lucario-GX provides this same amount of coverage (minus a great Hoopa answer), but I am not quite convinced that it is superior to Lycanroc-GX. Lucario-GX can do more damage, but seems to require quite a bit more of situationals to occur in order for this to happen. You need the evolution of Riolu to Lucario to happen more frequently, and also must include things like Regirock-EX to make sure that your damage is on point. Lycanroc-GX, contrastingly, needs very little, and Dangerous Rogue-GX can knockout almost anything given the proper board state.
As a player, I think I would be hesitant to want to play Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX against Zoroark-GX/Lucario-GX, but across the board, I am (mostly) confident in my assertion that Lycanroc-GX is the superior partner. I think that Hoopa as a deck is largely a gimmick, but it is clear that most Zoroark decks lack a great answer to the card. Dangerous Claws, barring a Fighting Fury Belt, can deal with Hoopa with ease, and currently that deck lacks a great answer to this card—this almost guarantees we will be able to get multiple uses out of it, whereas Lucario-GX can play a similar card, but it does not appear to be as powerful as Lycanroc.
Finally, I think the Weaknesses of either card is the final piece of evidence needed to bolster Lycanroc-GX as our choice. Grass weakness is only mildly relevant, and really only an issue against Golisopod-GX, as Tapu Bulu-GX 1HKOs your deck anyway. Psychic, contrastingly, is a type I expect almost every single deck to play, and that would make me uncomfortable as a Lucario-GX player. Mew-EX and Mewtwo in conjunction with each other has almost become staple in every Zoroark-GX list, as well as Buzzwole-GX decks also playing Oricorio or even a Mew of their own.
Tapu Bulu-GX/Vikavolt also plays a Mew (again, less relevant, but still a threat). Espeon-GX will likely be somewhat popular, with other possible Garbodor decks floating around as well. Lucario-GX can only be considered a stronger deck if none of this Psychic threat were the case, and from everything that I understand, that is likely impossible or plainly foolish to consider.
The “newest” thing that my current list of Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX has to offer over any previous lists is simply that I believe I have found a way to include every “answer” option in the list, which will continue to make the deck completely safe for a tournament as large and long as the Latin American International Championship. Giratina hedges against Greninja and having both Mew-EX and Mewtwo EVO continues to help us against Buzzwole-GX and Lucario-GX.
The only other newer concept present in the list is the addition of Timer Ball popularized by Azul Griego and Michael Pramawat and I do not know if I am completely sold on it either. As a player, I will always admit that I tend to be too safe and while Timer Ball is “better” than Evosoda mathematically (and strictly better than Evo Soda in the case of Lycanroc-GX), I am not sure it is worth the risk at an International Championship. I think maybe a split of both may be the best solution for a non-gambler such as myself, but I think there are obvious merits to the card. Despite my insecurities, I do think that the above list with two copies of Timer Ball is close to perfect.
Zoroark-GX/Golisopod-GX: Slightly Unfavored
Zoroark-GX/Lucario-GX: Slightly Unfavored
Tapu Bulu-GX/Vikavolt: Slightly Favored
Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX: Slightly Unfavored
Buzzwole-GX/Garbodor: Slightly Favored
At a glance, playing a deck that has so many “slightly unfavored” and “even” matchups may seem like a mistake, but I believe that in the reality of our other options, a spread like the one listed above may be as good as it’s going to get. Almost all of these matchups are often won and lost on superior play (or a lack thereof), and while you obviously would like to play against something favorable every round, I do not think it is realistic (or even possible) to play something “favored” against everything in a format like this one.
Greninja, for instance, tends to always have the best matchups on paper, and yet will always struggle due to its own issues and so if anything, my recommendation is to take any matchup skew (even the one above) with a grain of salt. Be confident in yourself and your own abilities and know that if you’ve done the work and tested properly, then there is very little to be nervous about. The only thing that would worried me about playing this deck in South America would be the fact that as a region, they have tended to favor any of the Fire decks more than anywhere else in the world.
Even with this being the case, I do not think Fire will be incredibly popular either way, but it would definitely be something I would be trying to scout and consider, as I highly doubt any American or European players will choose to bring Fire to the tournament.
Deck #2: Church of Gardevoir
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 31
Energy – 11
This list is largely inspired by the list of our own Mikey Fouchet who has been one of the (if not the) main contributors to the deck since its release late last year. Any time I want to play Gardevoir-GX at a tournament, I undoubtedly try to ask him a few question beforehand to make sure my list is somewhere in the right direction, and so I can question my last couple card choices. The only difference between his list and my list is simply a handful of personal choices and a few broader cuts in order to give the deck a better chance against a wider field.
Naturally, cards like Giratina are very cuttable depending on where you are playing, but I have a gut feeling that Greninja will have its largest presence ever at an International Championship this weekend and would love to have an auto-win against a deck that (on paper) has so many favorable matchups.
Like Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX, this deck has been powerful and successful for so long now that it seems wasteful to spend much time explaining what the deck attempts to accomplish. Gardevoir-GX is big, likes to do lots of damage for almost no investment, and can punish the other more popular decks by playing around Trashlanche with its GX attack and using Gallade to capitalize on Zoroark-GX’s weakness. The “Broken Deck” list, while seeing very little play since late last year, has remained fundamentally unchanged and should be treated accordingly. I think that the power of Gardevoir-GX has always been that if it is able to stabilize within the first couple turns, it is going to win a vast majority of the games it plays. It is simply that good.
My own list diverges ever so slightly from Mikey’s by attempting to cut a few corners in hopes of including a few more tech options to make some tight matchups more favored. Mewtwo EVO, as always, remains a fast and cheap answer to Buzzwole-GX, but really requires the 3rd copy of Choice Band to be viable. This card is definitely optional, but considering that it punches Lucario-GX and Espeon-GX for nice damage as well, I think it is a versatile inclusion and one that ought to make the final cut of your list in Brazil.
Giratina has also made my list, and is, of course, included for the same reason you’ll find it in any list. As always, this is the most optional card and could be cut for almost anything should there be little Greninja at the tournament or should you be feeling risky and simply hope to dodge it.
Most other Gardevoir-GX lists do tend to favor more copies of Max Potion, but I have always thought that the card was unnecessary to play in a full playset. A third copy is something I would definitely consider in my final three cards or so, but it is a card only needed in the late stages of the game. At that point, you have probably already won or lost depending on how many of your Ralts have been able to evolve. The third and fourth copy of Max Potion will not change the fact that you were unable to draw Rare Candy throughout the game, but in the games where you are able to evolve, Max Potion makes it all the more difficult for anything to find a KO and they can (and likely will) be recycled via Twilight-GX.
Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX: Slightly Unfavored
Zoroark-GX/Lucario-GX: Slightly Favored
Tapu Bulu-GX/Vikavolt: Favored
Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX: Slightly Favored
Buzzwole-GX/Garbodor: Slightly Favored
Lucario-GX: Slightly Favored
Espeon-GX/Garbodor: Slightly Unfavored
I think that this does have “better” matchups than the Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX list I am also enamored with, but the question of consistency does play a huge factor. Most of the “favored” matchups for Gardevoir-GX are a matter of evolving fast, and in the games where you struggle, there is only a little bit of wiggle room where you can struggle and still win games. This may lead to a bad day for anyone if Rare Candy proves difficult to find. Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX will be consistent against anything other than perhaps a turn one Glaceon-GX. You may have much harder games, but through consistency, you will always have options and perhaps that is why I think I am in higher favor with the first list rather than the second.
As Xander stated in his last article, I really would be surprised if there is any new surprise coming out of this tournament. Zoroark-GX and a new partner may possibly emerge, but given a format that has gone on for as long as this one, it really seems to be solved in terms of decks. Ultimately, I think the format is in a very good place. It may be a little stale or dull at this point given that we’ve been (more or less) playing the same format since late 2017, but given all the matchups I have thought about recently, there are so many decks that are viable and most of the matchups are relatively even. I think that is much better than playing a rock-paper-scissors format with little variation or innovation. Life (and Tord) seem to always find a way, though, so I am eager to see what many of the top players lock in as their choice for the weekend.
Expanded, contrastingly, is far more dubious, and like many, I was let down by another quarterly update without any changes to the current card pool. I think that using bans too often works against the game but as long as Zoroark-GX and the majority of its tools remain unchanged, then it is clear that the format will refuse to change. The Gardevoir-GX deck that Travis and I have been working does seem to have a lot of promise in Expanded, but as always, some games you will struggle to evolve and easily get overrun by many of Expanded’s faster threats. I wish I could be competing in Brazil this year and hope that next year I will be able to make more of a run at a top 16 chase. Summer will soon be here and with the season comes the final few events of our season, and I look forward to competing and covering these for everyone.1
Until next time.
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