Hello everyone! Last time we spoke, I was scrambling to figure out what to play for Portland Regionals. I ended up playing a Lucario-GX deck with Super Scoop Ups that I did very poorly with. In hindsight, I really underestimated the shift the meta was in the midst of with the results from Charlotte AND the pending release of Lucario-GX. Congratulations to our own Xander Pero and Alex Hill for having a lot more foresight than me with their insane meta calls that paid off very well!
Here’s the list I played for those who are interested:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 33
Energy – 9
The list is not particularly exciting, and aims to use Super Scoop Up for longevity and resetting Lucario-GX, as opposed to something like Pokémon Catcher that can allow you to be more aggressive. I still think the deck is good and only gets better with the release of Diancie ♢, but the Portland Regionals meta was painfully bad for it.
This is definitely the first event in a while I felt totally unprepared for walking into. My lack of Standard experience throughout the season continues to show, as I spent the majority of my preparation time playing ridiculous decks like Mega Alakazam and Jurassic Park that, despite my optimism, panned out to be flops. I haven’t been preparing for events nearly as well as I have in the past and it is definitely showing in my performances, which is unfortunate, but it’s encouraging when I catch myself making mistakes and can continue to learn from them. I’m really hoping to flip this on its head with the release of Forbidden Light as I begin letting ideas trickle into my head while looking forward to the Madison Regional Championship.
I’ve fallen back onto grinding Expanded since then, as my next event is going to be the Salt Lake City Regional Championship. I’ve heard a lot of recent negativity regarding the Expanded format due to the dominance of Zoroark-GX/Skyfield, and feel the need to address these comments about my preferred format.
Zoroark-GX is just perfect for Expanded. It has all the tools it needs to be a very dominant force. Unlike in Standard, Zoroark-GX can do everything by itself so it no longer requires a partner. Gaining Skyfield, Exeggcute, VS Seeker, and Hex Maniac in Expanded give the deck unmatched utility and raw power. Despite first finding success in America at San Jose Regionals with a T8, it did not truly gain notoriety until dominating the Dallas Regional Championship. This was followed up by a Second Place at the Costa Mesa Regional Championship, losing to Drampa-GX/Garbodor in the finals.
A lot of people seem to agree that a ban is in order for some piece of the combination to limit its power, but Pokémon made no changes to the Expanded format with their most recent announcement and have reiterated that “Tournament data is being watched to look for any unhealthy trends or cards that cause problems.”
So, if Pokémon is looking exclusively at specific cards that cause problems, which card should be considered the most problematic in Zoroark-GX?
If Pokémon is going to ban a card with the sole intent of harming Zoroark-GX, while simultaneously focusing on “unhealthy trends or cards that cause problems” then I think that Exeggcute is the clear ban target. Exeggcute is at the root of the problem with every other card that makes Zoroark-GX what it is, and banning it removes so many unhealthy effects in the deck. Exeggcute allows Zoroark-GX to:
- Cheat out of paying any costs for cards that require it – Ultra Ball, Computer Search, and, most importantly, Trade! Without a downside to any of these cards, you can use them with reckless abandon to fly through your deck while preserving only the best cards you have left.
- Easily evade bench disruption – Parallel City & Sudowoodo GRI are much less impactful when you have constant access to +4 bench Pokémon.
- Game Control – Exeggutor PLF is very good at controlling the tempo of the game, and forces an opponent to deal with it directly by stopping Guzma while also stopping disruption supporters like Hex Maniac and Ghetsis.
All of these attributes from one card really exacerbate the effectiveness of cards like Battle Compressor, Puzzle of Time, VS Seeker, and Sky Field to an unhealthy extent because they allow you to control exactly what your deck looks like with no downside. If we look at the first card to receive the ban hammer in since TPCI took over, Lysandre’s Trump Card, we see the following reasons cited:
- Eliminates one of your opponent’s victory conditions (running out of cards in your deck).
- Allows repeated use of powerful Trainer cards.
- Allows drawing through your deck quickly with minimal repercussions.
- Extends the time of battles.
There definitely isn’t a 1:1 comparison with points 1, 2, and 4 (though I do think a moderate case could be made for all of them), but I’d make the case that point 3 is absolutely relevant. Between Trade, 2-3 Shaymin-EX, and Skyfield it is very easy to burn through your deck quickly to setup. Exeggcute removes any potential repercussion for doing so by allowing you to only discard cards you do not want or need and keep the rest. This kind of hyper-efficient resource abuse is something no other deck has reasonable access to, and is the real “problem” with Zoroark-GX in Expanded if one needed to be identified.
Fun fact of the day: The same Expanded deck has never won two North American Regional Championships in a row since they began having their own tournaments, but the same cannot be said for the Standard format. I think I’m definitely in the minority here, but I think Expanded is mostly fine, does not need a ban, and is evolving seemingly slower than Standard because there are less events & they’re farther apart which makes the meta appear much more stale.
Expanded has never been the format for an event larger than a Regional Championship, and the ratio of events when compared to Standard is laughably bad. While North American Regional Championships boast a reasonable 7/15 being Expanded, the Expanded representation internationally is atrocious. A quick search on PokéStats reveals that there have been 362 Standard League Cups this season, but only 54 Expanded League Cups. I’m sure this numbers are slightly off of 100% correct, but this should give you an idea of what I’m getting at. Combine this with absolutely 0 presence at Intercontinental Championships or the World Championship and you have a format that’s craving some sort of validation/legitimacy on an international stage.
I genuinely think that people commit much less time preparing for most Expanded events than they do any Standard event because of these differences, which results in a much less energetic base to figuring out the format overall. Combine this with the dominant force that is Zoroark-GX and it becomes very easy to fall back on “Zoroark-GX is way too broken” and call for the ban hammer. Costa Mesa was the first real demonstration of the format pushing back against Zoroark-GX, and while 4 of them made Top 8 at the event, only one managed to make it through that stage and still did not win the event.
For simplicity, I’m only going to focus on North American Regionals and the International Championships with this analysis. The entire oppressive history of Zoroark-GX in Expanded can be summed up by a T8 at San Jose (unless you count Night March as a ‘Zoroark Deck’, which I do not), 1st at Dallas, and 2nd at Costa Mesa. Since Zoroark’s release there have been 3 Expanded Regionals, 4 Standard Regionals, and two Intercontinental Championships in the Standard format. Decks with a 4-4 Zoroark have won 4/6 Standard events while decks with a 4-4 Zoroark have won only 1/3 Expanded events.
I think much of the complaint about Zoroark comes from things inherent to Expanded that I personally enjoy. Hex Maniac and Ghetsis are often painted in a negative light, but I think those cards are part of what makes the format so fun! Sure Red Card + Ghetsis/Hex Maniac is an absolutely bonkers combo against Zoroark-GX decks, but let’s not forget that the combo has been atrocious the entire time it’s been legal.
The cards only really gained traction when the consistency of Zoroark-GX allowed for the combo to be regularly pulled off & we learned it could shut down mirror. Against most non-Zoroark-GX decks, Red Card + top deck is 5 cards, and honestly a pretty reasonable hand to work with. Not having Abilities can be annoying, but your opponent is committing to disrupting you instead of furthering their own setup so if you setup despite disruption then you’re in a great spot.
I’d also like to mention how much more consistent Expanded is than Standard. Having access to Computer Search, VS Seeker, Colress, Korrina, and Teammates (just to name a few) is unbelievable, and that kind of consistent yet diverse supporter access makes games much more fun, interactive, and less draw dependent.
I think we will see the same trend we’ve seen with Standard recently where Zoroark ends up on its back foot within the meta because everyone has finally realized their deck needs to be able to beat Zoroark or else it is not worth playing. I predict at the Salt Lake City Regional Championship there will be a real battle of the Zoroark counter decks, and while Zoroark will definitely have a presence the ultimate winner will be whatever can handle Zoroark-GX decks AND the other Zoroark counter decks.
There are quite a few decks that can be crafted with the soul purpose of beating Zoroark-GX, and we saw three of them in Top 4 of Costa Mesa! No one deck currently dominates the non-Zoroark part of the meta, and it becomes much more viable for a deck like Glaceon-GX/Barbaracle to play Oranguru UPR just to beat Drampa-GX/Garbodor, which will very certainly see an increase in play after toppling Zoroark-GX for a Regional Championship.
If we assume this to be the case, we’ll have to figure out what will be the most popular Zoroark counters. Once we establish this we’ll have to not only figure out how to beat those, but also figure out how to continue beating Zoroark as well!
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 35
Energy – 9
Ah, yes, a Stage 2 deck in Expanded. What could be more of a perfect response to the hyper consistent, yet disruptive, machine that is Zoroark-GX other than Rare Candy? In all seriousness, this is a deck I initially drafted before Costa Mesa Regionals, but without the Gardevoir-GX or Fairy Energy and with a lot more Gallade, Sash, and Korrina. After Costa Mesa I was discussing deck ideas with our own Brit Pybas who mentioned he thought Gardevoir-GX could be good, so I sent him what I had previously worked on and he came up with a draft. After testing pretty extensively against Zoroark-GX, Glaceon/Barbaracle, and Drampa/Garbodor, this is the list I’ve ended with. The great thing about Expanded Gardevoir is not only do you have a supporter that gets you Ralts (Brigette), but now you also have a supporter that gives you Gallade (Korrina)!
Focus Sash is the most interesting thing about the list and is there to be one more thing that Zoroark needs to get around to OHKO a Gallade. It’s not that we don’t think they can remove it by itself, it’s that we’re going to force them to get around Focus Sash AND Sudowoodo if they want to score a OHKO on our one prize attacker. The Max Potion has been very good against Glaceon/Barbaracle and Drampa/Garbodor, and is just another incredible card you can grab with Korrina.
As a bonus, you crush any pesky Durant decks that may pop up because Gardevoir-GX is amazing.
3rd Gallade, 3rd Focus Sash – These two cards were actually a pretty recent cut from the list, and came after extensive testing against Glaceon and Drampa showed the 3rd Gallade to be very excessive in those matchups. The 3rd Gallade and 3rd Focus Sash certainly do a lot to further secure the Zoroark-GX matchup, but the cards have very diminishing returns elsewhere. Gardevoir-GX is good enough against Zoroark-EX on its own, as it cannot be OHKO even with Sky Field and a full bench.
Octillery > Oranguru – Choosing Oranguru over Octillery was a pretty interesting conclusion for me to reach, but I ultimately decided on the monkey due to how much more low maintenance it is. I found that Expanded is such a fast format it’s very difficult to actually want to commit the time to setting up Octillery, so having something that can be searched + draw immediately has proven much more beneficial. Oranguru can still set you up very well with Gallade’s premontion as you’re often only looking for a card or two anyway. However, if you decide Octillery is for you I would recommend changing the Nest Bell to a Level Ball as well!
Rescue Stretcher vs Super Rod – This choice very often comes down to preference, and Super Rod is definitely slower in a format where keeping up is the name of the game. I switched to Super Rod when I added the Max Potion to ensure energy cycling with the heal, but this may prove incorrect with further testing.
Dowsing Machine – I have been a part of the ‘Computer Search is strictly better’ crowd for quite some time now, but with all the one-ofs in this deck playing Dowsing Machine is quite appealing. Re-using Max Potion/Field Blower/etc a second time and then shuffling it back in with Twilight GX offers the same appeal as Puzzles with Zoroark-GX/Gardevoir-GX in Standard. Playing Dowsing Machine has the potential to turn all of your one-ofs into something you can get up to four uses out of! However, this does make me a bit nervous as taking risks on consistency with a Stage 2 deck throughout a potentially 17 round event seems rather risky.
The Expanded format has really taken the side stage to the Standard format since they split into separate events, and while I acknowledge that TPCI choosing to focus on one format with a higher percentage of newer cards is a reasonable decision, I do think that favoring one format so heavily over another is damaging to encouraging creativity within the format. Even if major events continue to favor Standard more often than Expanded, seeing one Intercontinental Championship with the Expanded format would go a long way in giving it more legitimacy on an international platform. Continuing to support the format in such a half hearted & wishy washy sort of way feels sub-optimal, and I’d love to see a better balance or flat out removal considered going into the 2018-2019 season.
As always, please feel free to come up and say hello if you see me at any event! I always really appreciate chatting with readers and making new friends! Good luck to everyone attending Brazil this weekend and to everyone attending Salt Lake City next weekend (unless you’re playing me). Until next time!
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