My time in Madison this year once again proved that I absolutely love spending time in the city. I am not sure whether the tournament itself just occurs at a perfect time but there is something about the cool, temperate weather combining the air from the lake and the sites of being on the capital that have always made this tournament somewhat special to me and one that I would recommend you try out at least once. Between all the cheese curds, Wisconsin breakfast specialties and an overall well-run tournament from Jimmy Ballard and his crew, I had a blast at our last Regional Championship of the year and will do everything within my power to attend once again next year.
Unfortunately for me, the tournament itself proved to be somewhat of a disaster. Beyond one sordid mistake on my own part, there was nothing huge that went wrong, but really the culmination of many small things that made my performance a small percentage worse each time which compounded into something totally lackluster. I settled on playing Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX because I thought it seemed like the safest play. I had just come off winning a League Cup with a very similar list and was confident in my ability to play it well and in general, most of the matchups seemed either favored or even. I did not anticipate the sheer power or success of the Buzzwole deck that took the event by storm and I’m confident that matchup would have been considerably dismal.
From my previous two articles, you know that I was very into Ultra Necrozma-GX/Malamar, but after several testing sessions the week before against different Zoroark-GX variants, I concluded that my list was not in the right position for the event. Zoroark-GX proved almost impossible to beat consistently and while I think there is a list that is capable of doing this (likely going back on my thoughts on Beast Ring and including them in the deck instead of my many tech Pokémon) but I did not have it for the event and wanted to play something I was comfortable with.
Another issue that bothered me was that the deck had some considerable trouble with Greninja even with Giratina and I had a gut feeling that Greninja would be more popular than what was anticipated. Many of the attackers in an Ultra Necrozma-GX build struggle to do more than 120 damage without consistent help from Psychic Recharge which makes trading over and over again into non-Pokémon-EX a difficult task. If they Shadow Stitch you out of your abilities, then Photon Geyser is fairly useless as well and so you are thusly stuck with few options even if Giratina is preventing the break from threatening you in any capacity. Here is the list I settled on for my Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX deck:
Pokémon – 19
Trainers – 32
Energy – 9
Round 1: Mega Gardevoir-EX WW
Round 2: Tapu Bulu-GX/Vikavolt SUM LWW
Round 3: Zoroark-GX/Golisopod-GX LWT
Round 4: Buzzwole-GX/Garbodor WW
Round 5: Tapu Bulu-GX/Vikavolt LWT*
Round 6: Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX GRI LL
Round 7: Ho-Oh-GX/Garbodor WW
Round 8: Zoroark-GX/Golisopod-GX LWT
Round 9: Greninja BREAK LWL
Mania in Madison: Coping with Anxiety
In general, this whole tournament was just a huge list of tiny woes for me. I lost 8/9 coin flips which made things exceedingly difficult for me. The Zoroark-GX mirror can be a little more complex than just a matter of who goes first, but by the end of the day, it became hard for me to see it in any other light. I won every game where I went first and was able to Guzma or Bloodthirsty Eyes up the main threat on my second turn, leaving them without ample time to respond—while the same thing happened to me going second. Both ties to Zoroark-GX/Golisopod-GX happened in this way, and I think I was slightly favored even going second thanks to the baby Buzzwole being a huge threat and difficult to KO, but the odds were simply not in my favor today. I was missing energy left and right and struggled to open with Brigitte while a large bulk of my opponents had the “raw” Brigette every single game. My “win-and-in” for any semblance of Championship Points was not only against my worst possible matchup, but quite literally game down to a Bubble flip.
I made a special note on my Round 5 series and wanted to use it as an example to talk about dealing with stress and tilt at a competitive event. I am generally a very calm and quiet player and I do not think I go on tilt, but I now realize that “tilt” can constitute much more than just being loud and angry about an instance of bad luck or a game gone awry. In this series against another Tapu Bulu-GX player, I had already begun to feel the frustration of losing yet another consecutive opening flip. The games where you go first against Vikavolt decks tend to be pretty easy while, in the games where you go second, you are the mercy of their own draws. If they hit the T2 Rare Candy Vikavolt (which my opponent did twice on an Instruct for two), you probably lose, but beyond that, the matchup is strongly in your favor and you simply have to focus down Grubbin and trick them into using Tapu Wilderness-GX at an inopportune time.
I lost a quick first game, won and easy second and had found myself in an unloseable Game 3 that would have had me sitting pretty, over halfway through the tournament at 4-0-1. I had Knocked Out my opponent’s only Grubbin on my second turn and they were drawing completely dead with a Tapu Bulu-GX and Xurkitree-GX on the board. I had already hit the Xurkitree-GX for 100 thanks to my baby Buzzwole and one basic energy in the deck and had moved it out of the Active position in order to KO another Grubbin. I then decided to focus on KOing the Xurkitree-GX since it was only one attack away, but for some reason instead of doing nothing and simply declaring my attack, I went ahead and attached a Strong Energy to my Buzzwole FLI.
In my head, I knew what I was thinking: My plan was to finish KOing Xurkitree-GX and then on my next turn, I could attach a second Strong Energy/Third Energy to the Buzzwole and could go for a KO on his Tapu Bulu-GX. For the life of me, I have no idea why I missed the absolute obvious but to call this blunder a misplay would perhaps be too charitable on my own part.
I do not think I have ever made such a mistake in my tenure competing at this game, but what happened next was even more curious. I was sent into some sort of shock from my own mistake and instead of becoming angry or frustrated at myself, I started to feel confused and dizzy. I could no longer think straight and my hand began to shake. I had been taken over by this swirling and dissociative feeling and as a result, my play for the rest of the day suffered. I ended up tying this series by 1 Prize thanks to Xurkitree’s GX attack stalling the game just a while longer so I was unable to finish it but moreover, I did not finish because I could not concentrate. I am confident that if I had done nothing but draw and attack for the rest of the game, we would have finished minutes before time was called and I let this series of events weigh on me for the rest of the day.
In my next round, I made another sequencing error in a mirror match that cost me that series as well, and just like that my tournament hopes were already over. “Tilt” can manifest itself in all sorts of ways and forms and that was definitely something I had never considered before this tournament. It gets the better of us when we least expect it and I think that “solving” tilt, like many of our toughest problems tends to be far simpler than we want to make it.
I have been very open in the past in articles about my own struggles with mental issues, depression and motivation and I found there that one of the most surefire ways to get around these blocks we set up for ourselves is to simply breath. Focus on the breath itself and allow the mind to begin to think about thinks on their most fundamental level. Pokémon, after all, is just a game and I think it only gets worse and harder for us to compartmentalize when we forget this simple fact. When we return to the reasons for why we play or why we compete, we remember that it is a game and as game, its primary focus for us is to have fun and if we can focus on fun, I think it is much easier to avoid going on tilt.
There are some things we cannot control, and undoubtedly this will become frustrating at times, but these frustrating things are not what ultimately matters. Tilt does not have to be unbridled rage or an increased feeling of anxiety and probably feels differently in each and every person. Everyone processes events differently and will likely handle a tough win or loss in a different manner depending on the day and all things that have occured on this day but we keep coming back to Pokémon for a reason! Because it is fun and because we get to spend time with such a unique body of players and if we focus on not losing sight of this fact, I think that days like I had in Madison where everything goes wrong and nothing goes right become not only tolerable but equally acceptable to a day where you won it all.
Meta Impressions: A New Rock-Paper-Scissors
Despite Buzzwole’s dominance and undisputed status as BDIF, I do not think that it is completely unbeatable. Malamar decks are going to be very favored if they adjust accordingly to a heavier non-EX focus, and I think Zoroark-GX decks will still win some percentage of the time (particularly when it is a good-to-great Zoroark player pitted against an average-to-bad Buzzwole player). Malamar had a rough time in Madison because it was not prepared to deal with a non-EX focus, but even then, it still was at least slightly favored in this matchup. In fact, I think if the Ultra Necrozma-GX/Malamar deck that made top 8 had not hit Greninja immediately, it likely would have won the tournament.
However, if Malamar adjust its list to feature more non-EX attackers and Buzzwole lists stay largely unchanged, I worry about whether or not this simply creates a new rock-paper-scissors metagame for us to deal with come the North American International Championship.
This sort of metagame is never fun to deal with in any way and tends to feel more like a lottery than anything else. There will always be some fringe and unpopular decks on the side that somehow throw a wrench in my general classification, but generally speaking, every deck fits in some corner of an RPS metagame whether it intends to or not. The top three decks right now without a doubt are Buzzwole, Zoroark-GX variants and Malamar with the three interacting by beating one and losing to another.
Greninja, for example, is in a very similar corner to Buzzwole, as it has favorable matchups to the other two main decks while struggling against Buzzwole itself and various fringe options. This comparison goes on and on and instead of trying to explain how every deck fits somewhere into this classification, my main point is merely to illustrate that this metagame in its very short existence has already proven incredibly difficult to solve but is there a solution?
New Zoro: Seeing Beyond the Puzzle
Though this point may be somewhat preliminary, I do believe that the answer for solving the aforementioned RPS problem is somewhere with Zoroark-GX. Simply put, the card is too powerful to ever become irrelevant, but I think our current iterations of the deck have clearly proven inferior to Buzzwole. This idea was sparked by the constant butting of heads and theorymoning I often engage in with our own Travis Nunlist, and while most of the initial thoughts were his, I have surprisingly come around to it far more quickly than I would have expected, and think that my own thoughts have been able to mold it into something completely unique. Let’s get started!
4-4 Zoroark leads you to build your deck and play your deck in certain ways and I think that it is time for us to try and move beyond that. Before Tord Reklev took down the European International Championship with the surprise Zoroark-GX/Golisopod-GX, Zoroark-GX was generally just seen as a support Pokémon. Many different techs and archetypes were tinkering around playing it over Octillery as the discard effect of Trade does have its benefits over something like Abyssal Hand. I am not necessarily advocating a return to that sort of role for Zoroark-GX, but I think that we do need to start thinking about it in lighter terms should we wish to construct our decks to have a favorable matchup against Buzzwole.
Puzzle of Time, while obviously an incredibly powerful, requires us to not only build our decks in a certain way but also play in a certain. For Puzzle of Time to be truly effective, you have to be burning through your deck every game to make sure you can find two copies of it when you truly need it and for this to be the case, you have to have 2-3 Zoroark-GX in play and it is with these sorts of board states where Buzzwole takes advantage of you weakness. Additionally, Puzzle of Time encourages Zoroark-GX lists to play a plethora of 1-ofs which of course is not bad but again is inconsistent without the constant stream of Trades.
Without a heavier Zoroark-GX line, Puzzle of Time or several of the 1-of staples from many Zoroark-GX lists, we have so much space to work with and it is my theory (again, just the start of a theory) that this space can and should be devoted to taking down that pesky, buff mosquito. Here is the first deck I have come up with to showcase this new idea:
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 32
Energy – 8
As you can see, the deck is not all that different from your standard Zoroark-GX/Garbodor in the past. It simply uses the space lost from Puzzle of Time and 1-1 Zoroark-GX to add more consistency options and tech Pokémon in order to try to solve the Buzzwole matchup. In theory, the combination of Zoroark-GX and Garbotoxin should still be powerful enough to deal with Malamar decks and maybe even Greninja (though, of course, Giratina can fix this issue should it present itself) while the rest of the deck works on handling the fighting menace.
I would not call this a true solution to my RPS problem as undoubtedly it would still lose to the older builds of Zoroark-GX but ideally, those lists will continue to be squeezed out of contention by Buzzwole.
To test this theory, I took the deck to my Local League Challenge this past weekend and here is what I found:
I always try to take any results at the local level with a grain of salt but the only difference between this event and a League Cup was the name (and lack of top cut), so it felt pretty competitive. I was happy with the results and was able to snag a few crucial points that will hopefully set myself up to finish my invite at the NAIC once again. My loss to Buzzwole was a bit unfortunate where I had an incredible start but could not quite find a way to finish the game. I was N’d to one on the last turn of the game and could’ve won with Guzma, Field Blower and any way to draw them and unfortunately got two duds instead. I think that the deck and Zoroark-GX and general runs surprisingly well even without focusing on it as much as lists have previously. I never felt like I was missing much without Puzzle of Time and beyond choosing not to Trade on occasion to preserve certain cards, the deck might have been more consistent than previous lists.
Garbodor is the most logical pairing of this new Zoroark-GX concept but I am confident that you could take the idea and make it work with just about any other previous Zoroark-GX deck. I know that Travis has built and tested the Golisopod-GX version and thinks it to be equally strong. The jury is still out on whether or not this new idea of ours is actually a breakthrough in the metagame or just a pipe dream but ultimately, I am happy to have done the research either way and will continue to do so in coming weeks.
It is important to always be questioning and inquisitive about the standards and norms that our community settles on and to never take anything for granted. Do we play certain cards, certain supporter lines and certain decks because they are good or simply because everyone uses language that causes them to be perceived as good? I am still very optimistic that the problem of Buzzwole is still very solvable and I look forward to seeing what my fellow players and writers end up coming up with as we move closer and closer to the North American International Championships.
Until next time!
…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.
After 90 days, we open each Underground (UG) article for public viewing. New articles are reserved for Underground members.
Underground Members: Thanks for making this article possible!
Other Readers: Check out the FAQ if you are interested in joining Underground and gaining full access to our latest content.