Zeroing in on the Zoroark Zone

Testing Notes, Meta Review, and Top Picks for Worlds

It seems like only yesterday I was getting out of a Lyft in front of my apartment with bags in hand finally ready to settle down after a long trip experiencing my first Intercontinental Championship. It’s very easy to get complacent after such a big event, especially one that requires so much energy to keep up with, but fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your current energy level) the upcoming World Championship caused many players to transition directly from NAIC into preparation for the Worlds and the introduction of Celestial Storm. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a level of excitement surrounding a new set drop as I did with the excitement of Celestial Storm, which prompted such events as Twitch streamers Purplecliffe and Evilsalad to stream their play testing for the new set for 200 hours in a row non-stop only stopping to alternate shifts which is actually absurd to me.

This level of excitement surrounding a new set, especially one poised to be the Worlds set, is nothing but good for the game and I love to see it. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a part of the hype. My last article contained 5 decks I was immediately excited to test and at least another couple dozen similar concoctions I thought had some level of promise. Hundreds of games with everything from Alolan Raticate-GX/Rotoms to Scizor-GX/Life Herb has given me a lot of insight into how I anticipate this format to shake out.

Testing Notes & Meta Review

Zoroark and Buzzwole’s World—we’re just livin’ in it

Double digit games with over a dozen new ideas has left me feeling like I’ve spent countless hours taking the long way to confirm what seemed to be the biggest initial fear with this set: all of the viable cards in this set simply do not have the firepower to keep up with the current meta. Unfortunately, by current meta I mean Zoroark-GX and Buzzwole-GX decks. While I know both cards have a plethora of viable partners, I’ll be reviewing these concepts from a more top level perspective rather than individual match ups among variants.

Rayquaza-GX is fine, but I don’t think this deck is on the same level as or Buzzwole. It’s new, shiny, and does a lot of damage so it will definitely see play at Worlds, but my testing has shown the deck to be much weaker on average than Zoroark and Buzzole.

It’s become rather clear that these two decks operate on a completely different level than other concepts in our format. The entire season has been a constant battle between these powerhouses, and it seems like our World Championship is going to come down to one final showdown between these two Tier S concepts before they both lose their large pool of cards that keeps them consistently above the rest of the game. Before NAIC there was constant talk about ‘The Triangle”, and I think that idea has shaken out to be giving way too much credit as a contender beyond an anti Buzzwole deck.

Beat one, lose to the other. Is beating both even possible?

Something I’ve taken to trying out lately is trying to build a deck that tries to focus down both Zoroark-GX and Buzzwole-GX without worrying about any other deck. This has proven to be incredibly difficult for a variety of reasons. Fundamental differences with how each deck operates makes finding a common weakness difficult. Buzzwole decks are generally more aggressive while Zoroark decks try to win wars of attrition, and small differences between variants make targeting that much more difficult.

Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX and Control Zoroark could not be more different decks and they share very few common traits among them. Even if you’re able to find a common pressure point to try and exploit there will be so many small differences among lists in the room that can ruin your gameplan. Small things like a thicker Lycanroc-GX line in Buzzwole decks and partner choices in Zoroark decks make the decks so much more dynamic and adjustable than anything else in the game right now.

If we can’t beat em, join em?

If the deck you plan to bring to the 2018 World Championships loses to either Zoroark or Buzzwole then I would highly recommend you reconsider that choice. I would not be surprised to see these two decks comprise at least half of the Day 1 room, with their concentration only increasing as the day goes on and they further showcase their dominance. I’m usually a fan of a format having a ‘best deck’ that can be targeted for a good matchup, but having a format with two vastly different Tier S concepts feels much more restrictive when you realize you could easily spend half of your event playing against one of these ideas.

Because of this, the logical options moving forward seem to be: A. Try to find something that can beat both Zoroark and Buzzwole decks or B. Play one of them and learn their matchups inside out. I know plenty of players taking this approach and logging countless games with their respective choices. This is absolutely more efficient and has a much better chance of not leaving you with an empty defeated feeling after each idea ends up in the trash can. The approach is definitely something I appreciate, but I don’t think I’m quite ready to throw in the towel yet.

Deck Review

Zoroark/Garbodor

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Pokémon – 19

4 Zorua SLG
4 Zoroark-GX
1 Kartana-GX
1 Latios SLG
3 Tapu Lele-GX
3 Trubbish BKP
2 Garbodor GRI
1 Garbodor BKP

Trainers – 34

3 Guzma

3 N

2 Brigette

1 Acerola

1 Delinquent

1 Cynthia

1 Professor Sycamore

 

4 Puzzle of Time

4 Ultra Ball

3 Field Blower

3 Float Stone

2 Choice Band

1 Enhanced Hammer

1 Evosoda

1 Mysterious Treasure

1 Rescue Stretcher

 

2 Parallel City

Energy – 7

3 Unit LPM
4 Double Colorless

This specific Zoroark variant has seen quite the uptick in attention since Stephane Ivanoff’s NAIC and Valencia SPE runs where he ended up winning both events with the same deck, with lists within one card of each other. It took a while to get a great list fleshed out, but I honestly have not been comfortable with any changes that I’ve made to the above list and am of the opinion that Stephane figured out a near ideal 60 cards for this deck. I tried cutting the Latios for the newly released Tapu Lele Promo in the current Team Win and In tournament, but the snipe effect of Latios and more energy for it to attack with cement it as the superior option.

It’s been rather interesting to see Tord’s second place Zoroark Control deck receive much more attention than Zoroark/Garbdor, especially after Stephane took a very decisive 2-0 victory over Tord in the finals due to the strength of Trashalanche. This seems like a combination of Tord’s popularity and the timely release of Magcargo to supplement the deck, giving it a shiny new tool, but I think a lot of players are starting to realize why Stephane was the eventual champion over Tord. The high amount of Psychic type attackers gives it a lot of options against Buzzwole, and showcases its further advantages if Buzzwole deck begin including Field Blower to counter Weakness Policy in the Zoroark Control decks.

As mentioned before, I do believe the above 60 is near ideal, and there currently isn’t a lot I would personally change—but there are definitely a ton of options available for the deck. A different take on this idea was included by Pablo in his most recent article which featured a much more defensive approach to the deck. Including cards like Oranguru UPR, Max Potion, and Team Flare Grunt are very heavily committing to winning the war of attrition in the mirror match, which I’m certain he does. He’s also opted for all basic psychic energy over the inclusion of Kartana-GX and Unit Energy, which is much safer against any special energy hate, but I don’t love excluding Kartana-GX. My first 15 or so games with the deck had me heavily under utilizing Kartana-GX, but once I’ve started incorporating the GX attack as part of my normal strategy I find myself being able to make plays my opponent is unable to and it is the perfect solution to any odd prize shenanigans your opponent may be trying to pull.

Zoroark / Counters

Pokémon – 20

4 Zorua SLG
4 Zoroark-GX

2 Slugma CES

2 Magcargo CES
3 Tapu Lele-GX GRI

1 Houndoom-EX

1 Mew-EX

1 Oranguru UPR

1 Shaymin SLG

1 Sudowoodo BKP

Trainers – 32

3 Brigette

3 Guzma

3 N

1 Cynthia

1 Lysandre p

1 Professor Sycamore

1 Team Rocket’s Handiwork

 

4 Puzzle of Time

4 Ultra Ball

3 Field Blower

2 Choice Band

2 Evosoda

2 Float Stone

1 Counter Catcher

1 Rescue Stretcher

Energy – 8

4 Double Colorless

2 Counter

2 Rainbow

I’ve been having quite a lot of fun messing around with this idea. The idea is now that Magcargo exists, a Zoroark-GX/Counter Energy box style deck has an added layer of consistency to help ensure it’s able to pull off the Counter stuff when it matters. It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Counter Energy, so naturally I had to see what I could do with this idea.

The most peculiar thing about the list is the heavier than normal amount of fire Pokémon, Lysandre p, and Team Rocket’s Handiwork. The focus for mirror is to trade two shots as best you can, and if you ever fall behind in the exchange you can use Sudowoodo to score a quick 1HKO on an opposing Zoroark-GX. Toward the end of the game you want to be looking at your mill cards to try and close the game out. The idea here is to pull off a Lysandre* play where you are pushing up to 3 cards from your opponent’s discard into the Lost Zone to prevent any recovery with Oranguru UPR and/or you can use Team Rocket’s Handiwork to mill cards they are attempting to get back with . Houndoom-EX is especially cute here because it supplements both mill cards very well, allowing you to close out games in unexpected ways.

Shaymin SLG is very good against Lycanroc-GX and is the only real answer to a fully powered Lycanroc that the deck has. Both Counter attackers having access to Rainbow Energy makes them much more threatening as well. I have pulled off plays that look like: Sudowoodo + Counter Energy KO, Counter Energy deactivates with prizes taken. Opponent Guzmas around attacker with the now seemingly-useless Energy to get a hit on an EX, but then Float and Rainbow Energy hit the board, letting the Sudowoodo pull off the aggro play.

While I’m not yet convinced enough to take this deck into Day 1 of Worlds, I do think Zoroark concepts like this will appear with heavier lines of Magcargo and additional Fire Pokémon to help take advantage of Lysandre p – I’ve even been experimenting with Charizard-GX as a partner in addition to Magcargo for the extra Fire types and Charizard’s GX attack, Raging Out-GX, which mills the top 10 card of your opponent’s deck!

Buzzwole/Lycanroc

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Pokémon – 15

3 Buzzwole FLI

2 Buzzwole-GX

2 Rockruff FLI

2 Lycanroc-GX

2 Remoraid BKT 31

2 Octillery BKT

1 Diancie p

1 Regirock CES

Trainers – 32

4 Guzma

4 Professor Sycamore

2 Cynthia

2 N

 

4 Max Elixir

4 Ultra Ball

3 Beast Ring

3 Choice Band

2 Float Stone

2 Super Rod

 

2 Brooklet Hill

Energy – 13

8 Fighting

4 Strong

1 Beast p

The list isn’t anything particularly out of the ordinary. I’ve opted for the double Super Rod approach to help supplement the non-GX focus of the deck and ensure we’re constantly able to recycle the pieces we need as we need them.

BuzzRoc is a deck that I’ve played enough with to be familiar with the ins and outs as well as some of the more nuanced plays, but I am by no means into the deck and have never cared to try and master it through several large events like some of the more vocal proponents. The most unique addition I’ve made is adding a single copy of the new Regirock in Celestial Storm. The Regirock does 10 more damage than Buzzwole FLI if it has a tool attached, which allows it to 1HKO a Zoroark-GX with Strong/Choice/Diancie{*} in play. It also has a Grass weakness as opposed to the every pesky Psychic weakness, and the second attack is arguably better than Buzzwole’s—even if it is harder to power up without Beast Ring access.

I’ve seen some people trying to include Field Blowers into the deck in order to help against the Zoroark-GX control deck, but I think they’re average at best. You can still 1HKO a Zoroark pretty easily without Weakness, and they’re going to be worse than whatever you can play in that spot in most other matchups.

I’ve also seen a new Buzzwole variant that focuses on using Scorched Earth and Magcargo as a draw engine while including mostly basic Energy to help fuel Scorched Earth. Doing so also makes your Max Elixirs and Beast Rings more potent throughout the game. I think this variant is likely much better against Zoroark-GX due to the heavy amount of basic Energy, but I do think it is worse against just about any other deck you would come up against.

Enter: The Sauce Zone

Bulbapedia

Pokémon – 16

3 Magnemite UPR 81

3 Magnezone UPR

3 Dusk Mane Necrozma-GX

1 Dialga-GX

2 Tapu Lele-GX

2 Remoraid BKT 31

2 Octillery BKT

Trainers – 33

4 Professor Sycamore

2 Brigette

2 Guzma

2 N

2 Skyla

1 Fisherman

 

4 Field Blower

4 Rare Candy

4 Ultra Ball

2 Professor’s Letter

1 Pal Pad

1 Rescue Stretcher

 

4 Mt. Coronet

Energy – 11

10 Metal

1 Double Colorless

Magnezone was not anywhere near my radar until I read Isaiah’s recent article where he goes in depth about the deck, its matchups, and why he is considering it for the World Championship. In a frustrated rut after one more concept was shot down by a less than stellar Buzzwole matchup, I decided to build this deck and see what kind of promise Isaiah could possibly see in it. Instead of rehashing why this deck is good, as I largely echo all of Isaiah’s thoughts with the deck, I will instead be focusing on the changes I made between our lists and why I made them.

-1 BKT Magnemite +1 Magnemite UPR 81 – Buzzwole is a thing that is fast, snipes, and is a Fighting type, so playing a Magnemite that is weak to Fighting and does not barrier itself from the snipe felt bad.

-1 Copycat +1 N – I do not think Copycat is worth playing until post-rotation because our current viable Supporter pool has so many other powerful options that it just pales in comparison. Playing N to disrupt their hand is something you will want to do at least once, maybe a couple of times depending on tempo of the game, so having access to only one can really ruin a game for you.

-2 Energy Retrieval, +1 Mt. Coronet +1 Field Blower – While testing I found that I was rarely getting value out of the Energy Retrievals until mid-late game due to Mt. Coronet always being around to get me back a couple of energy, often leaving little for Energy Retrieval to cleanup. Because of this, I opted to cut them for the 4th Field Blower and 4th Mt. Coronet to help stick our stadium and keep pesky things like Parallel City and Garbotoxin off our back. In a pinch, you can even Field Blower your own Mt. Coronet and play another for additional Energy.

-1 Float Stone +1 Pal Pad – This card has been a more recent addition I’m still trying out. I cut the Float Stone for a couple of different reasons: Field Blower is everywhere so it rarely sticks, it’s tough to find when needed making it unreliable, and I really wanted to fit one more Guzma and N into the list. As of right now, this is the only real flex spot I feel I have in the deck, so instead of trying to find another spot or choosing between the two, I’m trying Pal Pad as it can give us access to any low count Supporters again. Because of your thick Octillery line and 4 Professor Sycamore, you will often end up burning through some powerful Supporters which you can now get back with Pal Pad, and Pal Pad is almost always immediately playable, making it even more compatible with Octillery.

-1 Metal + 1 Double Colorless Energy – I made this change on a whim when I noticed that all of the attackers in this deck use Colorless requirements as part of their attacks. The most valuable benefits with the change are with Dialga-GX to help setup GX or to pull off a T2 Shred for 80, and with Dusk Mane Necrozma-GX to discard with Meteor Tempest (The requirement is discard 3 energy, so DCE counts as 2) or to pull off a T2 Claw Slash for 60. I didn’t love cutting a Metal for it, and would love more room for additional energy, but the list is incredibly tight as is, which unfortunately puts those things lower on the list of wants.

I’m just as surprised as you are that I’m actually considering Magnezone for the World Championship, I do think the deck is actually good! It is incredibly favorable against all Zoroark variants, can handle Buzz and Ray just fine as long as it doesn’t die in the early game, and can pull off unique plays that lead to unlosable board states with game breaking effects like Timeless GX. I can understand why this kind of deck can be unappealing, as it is a bit high roll by living and dying by the T2 Zone, but I think the deck is worth the risk one of the days. Playing something like this on Day 1 where 6-0-3 or 7-2 are needed may be a bit riskier, but I could see this deck going even farther during Day 2.

Conclusion

Rounding the corner to the 2018 World Championships has me incredibly excited for the event, but a little less optimistic about the impact Celestial Storm will have on the pool of competitive decks. I’m going to keep grinding to figure out if the Magnezone nonsense is actually viable or if I’m just going insane. If that deck falls through, I’ll probably end up falling back on Zoroark/ for Day 1 unless some sort of divine interference has other plans. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to truly mentally prepare myself for the hefty amount of Zoroark mirrors I’m sure to run into, but Zoroark mirrors are at least somewhat fun and thought provoking, so it could be worse.

I cannot wait to compete in my 4th World Championship in a row and very much hope that I am wrong about Buzzwole and Zoroark being the clear front runners of this format with no answer in sight. Seeing wild inventions perform well is one of the most fun aspects of the World Championships, so I’m certain we will see a ton of ridiculous ideas taking the chance if nothing else. If any of you plan to attend the World Championship please feel free to come up and say hello! There is no tournament like the World Championships, and making new friends at the biggest event of the season always feels extra incredible. Good luck to everyone attending (unless you play against me), until next time!


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