The Zygarde Zone

Looking at International All-Star Zygarde-GX/Lycanroc-GX for NAIC ’18

For all of the times over the last few months that I’ve talked about different milestones in the season, all with a relative eye toward how close we are to the grand finale in North America’s International Championships, we’re finally on the precipice of it all. We’re just 8 days from the start of play in Columbus, and what an 8 days it will be. For all players, this is generally a pretty crazy time of testing, preparation, and thought over the proper deck choice for the biggest tournament of the year.

Unlike some years, there’s a large body of Tier 2 event results from which to work as we look toward NAIC. With 4 weekends of SPEs/Regionals already completed in the format, there’s no shortage of ways to look at the format, and it’s going to be truly interesting to see where people end up at the end of the day.

As it is, I’m day 2 in our 10 day marathon of deck coverage for the event. You can view the entire schedule that we’ll observe over the next week over on the forums, complete with a list of which decks each author will be covering. As it is, I was originally slated to cover Greninja, but with the events of the past few weekends, it became more important that I talk about another deck that was otherwise going to be omitted from our schedule: Zygarde-GX/Lycanroc-GX.

For the Frog lovers in the world, I’ll give some thoughts on Greninja at the end of the article, but the primary focus today will be one of the lesser-known Fighting decks we have in today’s format. Also, off my runner-up finish in Mexico City, I’ll try to intermix a few words about Buzzwole/Garbodor without entrenching on Jimmy’s coverage later in the marathon. Without further ado, let’s get into that.

Background: History and Cards

Zygarde-GX FLI was printed alongside a fairly unique Supporter effect in Bonnie, allowing the repeated use of GX attacks. As it happens, Supporters are too important in this format to spend them on attacking (as odd as that sounds!), and the Stadium discard is a bit too weird. For many of those that foraged into testing Zygarde upon release, the Bonnie route was often the chosen course of action, and I think that trip into the weeds is why it wasn’t a mainstream concept at the set’s release.

As it is, Cell Connector is a very strong attack, especially in a format that doesn’t look too kindly on attacking Tapu Leles or have all that many Grass type attackers—setting up in the Active Spot isn’t the death knell it has been in some other recent formats. The 50 base damage, with Diancie and Choice Band, is frequently enough to either KO small Basics entirely or setup 2HKOs on big GXs.

With a GX attack that invites comparison to “Safeguard” Abilities, there are a lot of scenarios where the deck can KO a big threat while ensuring an opponent has to both Guzma and manage to setup another attacker to achieve anything on their turn. This is the same sort of effect as what we see with Dawn Wings Necrozma-GX, and as anyone that’s sat on either side of that can attest, it’s a powerful way to swing momentum in a game.

Of course, Zygarde’s GX attack has one big caveat: Buzzwole FLI can hit through it quite happily, and as such a prominent card in the metagame, that’s not something to be looked at lightly. Aside from that, though, as previously mentioned you can create a lot of 4-Prize swings where an opponent is on the losing end of an exchange requiring them to deal with a 200 HP Zygarde when it’s over. Yikes!

Rounding out this triple attacking threat, while 130 damage doesn’t sound too impressive, it’s important to remember we’re all just living in the Fighting types’ world, and 130 can easily spiral into something more. 130 is also perfect for dealing with pesky Buzzwole FLIs, so it’s actually not a terrible number on its own. With the appropriate boosters, it’s not too difficult to pull off the 4-Prize swing I mentioned earlier on the back of a GX attack.

The other half of this deck is one of the format’s strongest cards: Lycanroc-GX is played in a lot of archetypes, and not by accident. Gust effects like Pokémon Catcher, Gust of Wind, Guzma, etc. have always been powerful, and an on-demand, non-Trainer one like this is all the more so. When coupled with a very good GX attack and a very solid secondary attack, it’s not hard to see why Lycanroc is played so much.

Claw Slash is somewhat under-appreciated in many circles, but with 200 HP, it’s often entirely comfortable to settle for 2HKOs on the bulkier GXs. More importantly, it capably 1HKOs Zoroark, and with the aid of one of our damage boosters, can easily deal with Buzzwole FLI. This is one of the few Fighting decks that also plays Double Colorless Energy, making an early Claw Slash all the more possible—especially with Max Elixir.

We’re mostly all familiar with the strength inherent in Dangerous Rogue-GX, but in this deck, it can often create a bit of a dilemma: both GX attacks are quite strong, yet only one is allowed in a game. Unfortunately, I’m not quite as experienced a pilot with the deck at this point as I’d like to be, but I find Dangerous Rogue’s primary use tends to be eliminating a big threat from the board in an earlier pinch—say, a Buzzwole-GX that’s been the recipient of 2 Max Elixir—when Zygarde can’t be easily found to do the job. Otherwise, Zygarde is usually the better option for winning games.

Like all Fighting decks at this point, we’re going to feature Buzzwole FLI. I’ll admit to being skeptical of the card initially, but that just puts it and Darkrai-EX DEX in a category of cards I horribly misjudged on their release. Sledgehammer is just so strong, and Zygarde-GX can put enough pressure on that opponents frequently have to play into the 4 Prize card situation in the process of dealing with the first one. Especially coupled with the chip damage Cell Connector often throws out, Sledgehammer is a real threat.

So, where did this all start to come together? While much of the world focused on Madison, then turned its attention to Sheffield, this deck has quietly amassed quite the list of accomplishments over in Oceania. On the first weekend of Forbidden Light’s legality, it took a win at the Malaysia Regional Championships. The next weekend, it took second at the Singapore Special Event, and the following weekend, second once again, at the Hong Kong Special Event.

I was first exposed to the idea beyond “crazy thing that won in Malaysia” at the Singapore SPE. I had the opportunity to play against the deck in one of the earlier rounds of the tournament, going 2-1 over it with Buzzwole/Lycanroc—a list that was very close to the Madison one Xander won with. I’ll admit to having been totally skeptical at first, but as the Prize trade got closer and closer and I realized there was a conceivable chance that I’d lose games in the late turns depending on N draws, I realized the deck has more options than I initially gave credit for.

Things like Sudowoodo BKP that’ve fallen out of favor in the current builds of Buzzwole-GX find a home here making life difficult for things that 1HKO Zygarde-GX. The synergy is actually quite profound: if opponents aren’t 1HKOing Zygarde, you’re probably in a fairly comfortable situation. If they do manage a 1HKO, Sudowodo is almost always an excellent way to retaliate while only putting a 1-Prize attacker on the line. Where traditional Buzzwole decks prefer to pound away with Buzzwole FLI, this deck focuses more on moving through Prizes at a heightened pace and forcing opponents to expend copious resources to draw their own Prizes.

Testing Lycanroc for Mexico City

As you may have heard, my brother and I once again met in the Top 4 of a Regional Championship—this weekend, in Mexico City, him with Zygarde and I with Buzzwole/Garbodor. In light of what I’ve said so far, I’m going to talk through how we ended up with those deck choices, but especially focus on Zygarde.

I didn’t think too much more of my Singapore experience against the deck until late last week, as everything my brother and I tested hit a wall of “loses to X part of triangle” or, honestly, even more of “loses to everything 30% of the time on its own failings.” On Thursday afternoon, as we discussed out what we expected of the metagame in Mexico, I posed that we could test the Zygarde deck I’d played against in Singapore.

Alex was receptive, as theoretically it should do decently against Malamar and Zoroark—hallmarks of success right now—while at least toeing close to even with Buzzwole. Now, we hit a bit of a wall: after checking our supply of Zygarde-GXs, it was revealed that we only had 4 copies, which is 2 less than the 6 we’d have required. In a twist of sad irony, I’d been at my local game store stocking up on sleeves on Tuesday, seen Zygarde-GXs in the case, and gone “psh, I won’t need those.” Nevertheless, as my LGS is closed on Thursdays and my flight was prohibitively early on Friday, we tabled the idea in favor of a fairly standard Buzzwole list.

Fast forward about 24 hours, as we sat in Mexico City, I was TCGO’ing a Zoroark/Lycanroc list when I realized I was missing some pretty key cards to play it—and, honestly, playing Zoroark just didn’t appeal all that much to me. Among these, I played some Zoroark/Lycanroc vs Buzzwole games with Alex in which Buzzwole simply failed to do anything. It was this rash of terrible games that led us back to the drawing board, and we decided to throw the Zygarde together on TCGO and see what happened.

As it happened, Zygarde performed quite effectively against Buzzwole and Malamar in the few games that we played—with a caveat that Malamar was going through a stretch of being quite effective in performing against its own interests, so the testing may have been a bit skewed. Alex decided to run with that list, and I yielded to that. A lot of agonizing and not enough sleeping later, I chose Buzzwole/Garbodor in the morning.

Yes, I could’ve sent out SOSs seeking more Zygarde for myself, but I was reticent to play something relatively unknown to us in a tournament where I desperately wanted to at least Top 64 to keep pace in the Top 16 race. Not owning the rest of the cards sort of just made it convenient to sweep any competing thoughts away, so I was left to choose between Buzzwole/Lycanroc and Buzzwole/Garbodor. In the end, I went with Garbodor, and I’ll talk a bit later about how that went.

So, with little testing, we mostly stuck with the initial list Klive Aw piloted to Malaysia’s title and a second place in Singapore. An important caveat was the lack of Scorched Earth, which was literally due to our lack of Scorched Earth. I had a lot of absurd techs packed for Mexico, but that did not happen to be one of them, so a different version was perfected. You can see Alex’s list over on the Team Top Cut Comics Facebook page, but I would note that we’re both very sure the original, with Scorched Earth, is a better play.

In the event, Alex took losses to Golisopod/Zoroark, Buzzwole/Lycanroc, Malamar/Hoopa, and Buzzwole/Garbodor. Golisopod is a credibly bad matchup, while Buzzwole is close enough to reasonably expect to lose a series once in awhile. I watched most of his Malamar/Hoopa match from the next table over, and would personally argue that a theme deck may have beaten him that round. I’m being a tad satirical, but I do not believe the round was representative of the matchup. Buzzwole/Garbodor…well, it’s pretty ugly.

In the end, Alex fell to yours truly in Top 4, but the deck proved itself to have merit in the right metagame. Since I don’t have a ton to offer in terms of list suggestions and analysis—I think the book is mostly written, ironically, despite being a pretty “new” concept to most’s minds—we’re going to spend the rest of the article talking through matchups. I would make one note regarding the list, though, which is that I intend to test high Strong Energy counts, as that ought to further boost the Buzzwole matchup if it can be done effectively.

Matchups

Buzzwole/Lycanroc

Even/Slightly Favorable

Doing well in this matchup is a staple to success in this metagame, and this deck at least gives itself a chance of winning. As mentioned earlier, Claw Slash is quite adept at going through Buzzwole FLIs, and Zygarde can say the same in certain scenarios. I find Zygarde’s GX attack often quite valuable in creating favorable trades in the matchup as well. Often, you will fall behind, but be able to come back through clever use of your attacking options.

Timing a “Safeguard GX,” as it could be called, with their Beast Ring turn can be quite valuable, as no Buzzwole FLI is going to 1-shot a clean Zygarde-GX. Otherwise, Sudowoodo is often good for retaliating against any Buzzwole or Lycanroc-GXs that get clever ideas with regard to KOing your Zygardes. Often, this comes down to how well you can leverage your GX attacks: and, in fairness, there are some games where there just won’t be a good path to victory.

Buzzwole/Garbodor

Unfavorable (Slightly?)

Admittedly, the battery of my experience in this matchup is the two games my brother and I played in Top 4. One of those could barely be called a game, and the other was about as perfect as I could script it—nevertheless, there were spots where I was a tad nervous, and I could see extra Strong Energy (to overcome Fighting Fury Belt) turning the matchup decently well.

But, as I alluded there, the big problem here is Fighting Fury Belt: when they can 1HKO you, but not vice-versa, life becomes very complicated. Now, in fairness, it’s actually easier said than done for Buzzwole/Garbodor to reach 200, but between Jet Punch, Sledgehammer, and other options, the means to achieve constant knockouts are there. Field Blower, while a somewhat insane inclusion on the surface, could be a way to help both this matchup and that of Malamar/Fighting Fury Belt variants.

Malamar

Even/Slightly Unfavorable

Here’s the problem with assessing any deck’s Malamar matchup: there are a lot of games where Malamar just won’t draw the sequence of cards it wants to be able to in order to execute its gameplan, which leaves you a lot of openings as almost any other deck to make things happen. The speed posed by Cell Connector is something most Malamar decks won’t deal with well, but in the games where they manage, a stream of Hoopa or other non-GX will be troublesome.

Therefore, I think this is a definite instance of “target down the Malamar” as a strategy. Obviously, discretion is key, and in situations where you can take 2 Prizes and eliminate a big threat, it’s probably good to do so. Otherwise, far and away, you want to be reduce their capacity for big turns, and only Malamar can facilitate those.

I combine all variants because I think the principle is the same: if they set up well, you’re probably going to be in a rough spot. If they don’t, you’re more equipped than the average deck to take advantage. I’d be uncomfortable playing Malamar to NAIC for reasons on these grounds, because so many of its matchups can take a dive when things go wrong—obviously, that’s true of everything, but the risk feels greater to me with Malamar.

I will mention: the further Malamar variants move toward non-GX/EX attackers, the worse this gets, in my mind.

Zoroark/Golisopod

Disastrous

Almost everything in the deck is weak to Grass, meaning this is not a recipe for success. Maybe once in awhile you’ll manage to pick off every Wimpod before it can evolve to an evil Golisopod monster, but in practice I’m not sure that’s a reliable strategy in practice. Merely bad news, in my view.

Zoroark/Lycanroc

Highly Favorable

They feature exactly zero ways to effectively deal with our attackers, unless playing Shaymin—not a popular inclusion at the moment—and will struggle to deal with the speed output and early pressure offered here. Couple that with multiple easy way to run through both Zoroark and Lycanroc-GX and we find ourselves with a very excellent matchup.

Zoroark/etc.

Generally Favorable

In most cases, the Zoroark/Lycanroc script is typical of all of the Zoroark variants, but sometimes things like Shaymin SLG come into play to mess with that logic. Zoroark/Garbodor can do funny things with your draw power, though you don’t really play that many Items for them to work with on a Trashalance basis. In general, though, Zoroark variants will have a hard time here.

Greninja

Favorable

Unlike with most decks, Greninja won’t be able to Enhanced Hammer+N into a bad spot, as you can simply regenerate energy with Cell Connector. A smart player may identify ideal Moonlight Slash spots that could turn things a bit further south, but in general, I would expect the damage output with no required reset to simply be too much for Greninja to handle.

A key aspect is managing your bench. You have to balance Counter Catcher+stall fears with the need to have multiple attackers in play, and sometimes it will require a bit of luck: that’s where these games can be lost. Really, though, I wouldn’t expect to lose a Best of 3 almost ever.


I think that roughly summarizes the matchups that I’d expect to care about going into NAIC. There will be other decks, but you can only plan for so much when making a deck choice. Overall, good spreads against most Zoroark variants (which I only expect to continue to rise in popularity) and Buzzwole/Lycanroc, with a tolerable Malamar situation, make this an interesting option for Columbus.

Greninja Gathering

As promised a few weeks ago, I want to take a few words to discuss the state of Greninja heading into NAIC, particularly as it was my initial topic here. Fortunately, most of what I wrote after Madison a few weeks ago remains true as far as matchups and deck composition are concerned, so you can see that for further guidance.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe it’s a friendly world for our froggy friends. Golisopod/Zoroark is likely to only continue in its rise to prominence, which, while generally being a fine matchup, is also a losable one that I’d rather be a Malamar or something of that ilk. More importantly, Golisopod has good matchups against many of your own good matchups, meaning the day will get harder as it moves on.

Moreover, as Buzzwole lists continue to evolve, the situation hasn’t gotten any greener: 4 Baby Buzzwole is a mess to deal with, as they should be able to simply stack damage on while forcing you to be very prize-inefficient in dealing with their board. The move back toward 2-2 Lycanroc isn’t a welcome revelation either.

Buzzwole/Garbodor has staked a claim to legitimacy over the last few weekends as well, and that matchup is simply atrocious. Giratina promo or not—and, many Malamar players will stick by it, I think—I do believe it’s time for Greninja to quietly fade into the Expanded abyss, likely to never be heard from again.

The Word on Buzzwole/Garbodor

As mentioned earlier, I took second in Mexico this weekend with Buzzwole/Garbodor. As I mentioned earlier in the Zygarde discussion, this wasn’t a “certain” choice for me by any means, and I filled my list out on Saturday morning for the first time this season. It was between it or Buzzwole/Lycanroc, but I decided I liked my matchup spread a bit better with Garbodor in the deck. There’s nothing equivalent to playing an N to 1-3, putting something with 230 HP active, hitting for 200, and having Garbotoxin.

My only Swiss loss was to Gustavo Wada’s Hoopa SLG/Latios SLG/Mewtwo EVO, complete with the Fighting Fury Belt/Acerola/etc. package. Unfortunately, it’s super hard for me to deal with those attackers without simply losing a prize war, so I was more surprised that I won Game 2 than that I lost the series altogether. Otherwise, it was entirely smooth sailing to 11-1, where I took a pair of IDs to get to 11-1-2. Top 8 and 4 proved not problematic, and Game 1 of the Finals was mine on a Double Prize Loss (and, perhaps would’ve been winnable either way). Game 2 was entirely in grasp, and then slipped out. Game 3 was a 6-2 lead that somehow disintegrated.

Probably not a half-bad series for viewing, as all 3 games featured huge shifts in momentum, but a pretty depressing series to come out on the wrong side of. This makes my third 2nd place at a Regional over the last two seasons, and considering the nature of all 3 of them, it’s a bit hard to swallow at this point. Nevertheless, it was a good weekend.

The only thing revolutionary about my list was Counter Catcher; the rest is the product of my brother and Wes Hollenberg.


That brings me to the end of today’s article. I hope you took something interesting away from it, and that it helps you in your preparation for NAIC. We’re only a short bit away from the big show, and a lot is left at stake.

All the best to you,

Christopher


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