Hey everyone, and welcome to another article brought to you by our overlord, Zoroark. It may be the Illusion Fox Pokémon, but its success certainly isn’t an illusion!
It has come to my attention that there has recently been plenty of discussion regarding the amount of success Zoroark-GX decks have had in Standard and Expanded. Don’t worry; I’m here to add another log to the fire that’s already tall enough. In this article, I’m going to formally (and logically) discuss the main problems that come about from a card like Zoroark-GX. As known, its success doesn’t solely come from itself—it has access to a plethora of wonderful cards that are insanely powerful when combined with its draw power. Without any further delay, let’s put Zoroark-GX on trial.
Principles of Card Design
The first question in any design room is “Do we want this card to be strong?” If the answer is no, you (the reader) can very quickly see a common example of this. Simply look up any set in Pokémon TCG history, display some portion of the set on the screen, close your eyes, and point to a random point on the screen. Congratulations! Approximately 75% of the time you’ll choose a card that will never be competitive. Perhaps 15% of the time you’ll point at a playable. Some 5% will be strong, and the last 5% will be very strong.
This was a test in understanding a fundamental concept of TRADING card game designing. Economically speaking, there must be bad cards in circulation. The goal of the card design team is to create a mix of weak, mediocre, good, and strong cards. This not only encourages experimentation for the competitive players that make up a subsection of the market, but requires the purchase of more product to get the best cards.
When printing a good card, this is one of the two slots it can fill. The other is as the attacker. Consistency/niche cards don’t line up as the main attacker, but provide support in the form of an engine or as a tech card. Alolan Muk is a great example of a niche card; it’s incredibly strong in the right meta. Examples of consistency cards from the past would be Claydol GE and Slurpuff PHF. In current Standard Zoroark-GX and Swampert CES are the two options.
I’m mainly referencing Evolutions that fill consistency/niche because Basic Pokémon are much more efficient and have a lower investment. I’ll get into this further later.
Trade gives Zoroark-GX arguably the best Ability of all time regarding consistency. The only parallel I can draw to it is Claydol GE, which was a monster in its own time. However, I think Zoroark-GX is an inherently stronger card. Combined with Exeggcute PLF, Trade can discard when it wants. When it’s inconvenient to discard, its Ability simply states draw 2 cards. This is too powerful on a Stage 1. Slurpuff PHF has been played in a Seismitoad-EX deck during 2015(?) Cities to some success. That deck was already powerful enough the 1 card per Slurpuff.
Seismitoad-EX/Slurpuff aimed to lock your opponent out of the game with Quaking Punch while playing disruption Supporters. Slurpuff’s Ability, Tasting, allowed the deck to draw cards while playing Team Flare Grunt, Lysandre, or AZ. Fundamentally, the deck was insanely strong. It could lock the opponent out of the game while attacking with the strongest Pokémon in the game at the time. However, the deck was kept in check by the amount of space required for Slurpuff and disruption cards. Decklists were compact and slightly clunky until 2 Slurpuffs were set up. The deck was also very slow since there was no fallback attacker. It could be overrun by Night March, or by bad hands.
A strong card can also be a powerful, efficient attacker. The first card that comes to mind is Yanmega Prime from Triumphant. Needless to say, Yanmega Prime is an incredibly good card. Zoroark BLW and Donphan Prime from HGSS are on a similar power level (in that 2011-2012 format). All of these cards are strong attackers that swing for a zero-low Energy requirement. This plays into their low investment. A good example of a powerful card because of its high attacking power is Buzzwole-GX. It can KO easy Basics and 1HKO large Pokémon.
A good attacker will almost always be competitive for some amount of time. So long as the attack is worthwhile and feasible, it will work.
Investment is the unsung quality required for a card to be good. What if I told you that I printed a card that destroys every other card, and therefore every other deck? You’d ask what it is, and then I’d say it was a Stage 3, and then you’d realize I’m talking about Greninja BREAK. For being the best attacker this game has to offer, Greninja BREAK was not winning every tournament. That’s because it requires the most investment as well. A Greninja BREAK deck requires 15 spots dedicated to the attacking line, some 25 cards dedicated to consistency, and the last 20 are up for grabs. Compared with every other deck, there’s a greater investment required to attack with Greninja BREAK than say, Buzzwole-GX.
Niche/consistency cards have an investment required as well. Swampert is a Stage 2, while Tapu Lele-GX is a Basic. Which requires the lesser investment, both in card slots and in work to utilize it? That’s right. Likewise with other Stage 1s, Zoroark-GX is relatively easy to put into play. It only requires a 4-4 deck at most, which is only 8 spots.
However, Zoroark-GX’s main strength regarding investment is its high value generated per turn. If we could graph value vs. investment, Zoroark-GX and Tapu Lele-GX would be up there as the highest two cards on the list. They have the greatest benefits for the least amount of work.
Combining the Three
I could name many different cards that are either a strong engine or niche card, or a strong attacker. However, the main problem is that they aren’t worth the investment. Take a look at Greninja BREAK. It has the best attack, but the investment isn’t worth it. Or Gardevoir-GX before Alolan Ninetales-GX. Almost any Stage 2 I name will be labeled as a strong Pokémon/Ability, but be too inefficient to use because it requires too great an investment.
The real troublesome cards come about when they take one of the two aspects above and are combined with one of these properties. Garbodor GRI and BKP are two great examples. Garbodor GRI is an amazing attacker. Garbodor BKP is an amazing niche card. Their investment is relatively low because they’re the same Pokémon, and therefore evolve from the same Basic: Trubbish. Investment-wise, Trashalanche only takes a single Energy, meaning that Rainbow or Psychic Energy can be used rather than multiple types or a large amount of an off-type.
Empoleon DEX is the main Pokémon before Zoroark-GX I can rightfully call a home run in 2.5/3 categories. It has a great Ability, Diving Draw (aka Trade), and a great attack that 1HKO’d or easily 2HKO’d in its time. The only downside was the investment. It required a Rare Candy or a 3 turn process to get an Empoleon out. This required a lot of effort despite Empoleon’s Ability, which allowed it to set up more Empoleon along the way.
Alolan Ninetales-GX LOT is the latest Pokémon to combine these three categories. It has a lower investment cost than Zoroark-GX because Alolan Vulpix is already worthwhile to run in most decks, and any that add it will find it more useful than a random Basic for a different Stage 1. Alolan Ninetales-GX has an arguably better Ability than Trade in the short run. It would take some simulations, but I’d estimate that the value of Mysterious Guidance is 3 Trades, or even 4 depending on the deck. It also has incredibly strong attacks. If there’s one card that will be complained about in the future for being too OP, it’ll be Alolan Ninetales-GX. That card is the sole reason Stage 2s are becoming playable in Standard again.
Power creep is a phenomenon present in any collectible card game that uses both old elements and new ones. It is the gradual unbalancing of a game due to successive releases of new content.
Power creep doesn’t come about from the addition of EX/Pokémon-GX, or even TAG TEAM Pokémon. The amount of Prizes a card gives up is only one variable in determining its strength. The gradual creep comes from the printing of cards that simply outshine previous ones. Tapu Lele-GX is an example of power creep, and so is Zoroark-GX/Alolan Ninetales-GX. Remember when Zoroark-GX/Gardevoir-GX was a deck after Tord’s Australia win? Well, now the Zoroark-GX line has been absolutely outshone by Alolan Ninetales-GX and friends.
Now, all of this ties into Zoroark-GX’s strength in combining the three as well. The card is objectively better than Empoleon, and its comparison with Alolan Ninetales-GX is relative to the deck its played in. Let’s do an in-depth comparison with Empoleon to truly understand why it’s much stronger.
Ability: Same Ability.
Attacking Power: Better attack because the Beat Up effect is only dependent on your side of the board—can reach max damage without help of the opponent. Math lines up better with dealing 1HKOs.
Investment: Zoroark-GX is a Stage 1 rather than a Stage 2, but gives up an extra Prize. Zoroark-GX has an extra 70 HP. The attack requires a Double Colorless rather than a Water Energy, meaning it’s worse in its own deck because of fewer Energy but is splash-able.
The Alolan Ninetales-GX comparison is harder to make because they serve slightly different purposes. Mysterious Guidance is very strong in having explosive turns while Zoroark-GX is for the long game. Alolan Ninetales-GX is also more of a sidekick than a main attacker/forefront of a deck like Zoroark-GX is. It’s commonly seen as a 3-2 or 2-2 line in Buzzwole-GX/Lycanroc-GX or Stage 2 decks rather than a 4-4 line. This is also because of the lower investment required to use it.
Zoroark-GX is an objective offender of these guidelines. It simply has too many benefits in each category, in both formats. It’s versatile in that it can either be used as the main attacker, like Zoroark-GX/Garbodor BKP/Sky Field, or as a draw engine and backup, like Seismitoad-EX/Zoroark-GX. In Standard, it’s likewise with Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX and Control Zoroark-GX.
The sidekicks are what allow Zoroark-GX to be a stronger card than it normally would be on its own. These are playable for a few different reasons, but the main reason is because Zoroark-GX adds enough draw power to offset their inclusion. Singleton techs are easy to include when you’re drawing an average of 5 cards every turn without the use of a Supporter. With 3 Zoroark-GX, that number is bumped up to 7. A Professor Sycamore gives 8 total cards for the turn at the cost of discarding the entire hand. Zoroark-GX is draw 6 discard 3, but the discards can happen over drawn cards. Exeggcute makes Zoroark-GX draw 6 without a drawback.
I’m going to focus on the cards that make disruptive Zoroark-GX decks stronger than looking at the ones that make a deck like Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX or Zoroark-GX/Garbodor BKP work. Sky Field is the main offender, but Exeggcute is not far behind. Sky Field lets Zoroark-GX surge past the bounds of 120 damage with Riotous Beating, taking it from a 2HKO card to a 1HKO card. As I’ve said, Exeggcute circumvents the drawback of Trade, allowing the deck to truly gain a card advantage. Propagation takes Trade from a one card gain to a two card gain.
Let me preface this by saying that if there is card(s) that I’d choose to ban, I’d choose Zoroark-GX itself. Zoroark-GX is the card that allows all of the others to become oppressive. Hex Maniac wasn’t insane before people could draw 6 extra cards while playing Hex Maniac. Puzzle of Time wasn’t a (huge) problem before it became easy to amass a large hand with Trade.
The biggest comparison I can make toward banning the culprit and not his friends is Forest of Giant Plants. Would you rather ban Shiftry, Vileplume, Decidueye-GX, and every other strong Grass Evolution, or would you ban the card that allows these cards to be broken?
Disruption cards are normally fair because they consume the Supporter for the turn. If you play a disruption Supporter like Delinquent, Team Rocket’s Handiwork, Team Skull Grunt, or even Guzma, you’re not using that Supporter on a Cynthia/N/etc. Zoroark-GX and other engines offset that drawback entirely by filling the need to draw cards. Compared to other engines, Zoroark-GX does the most for the least investment.
This combo recently saw success in T4 of Anaheim. To be fair, this was already present since Dallas last year in Riley Hulbert’s winning deck. I don’t think there’s anything inherently unfair about a deck trying to cheese the opponent with this combo. It’s a 3 card combo with Peeking Red Card, and even then it can be drawn out of. What truly takes this combo to the next level is the unprecedented level of damage the deck can do on T2. It’s a Zoroark-GX/Sky Field deck, and best believe it’ll swing for 180 on T2 while doing the combo again if you draw out of it.
This combo would not function in any other deck because it wouldn’t happen consistently. Zoroark-GX is the only card that can deal insane levels of damage while having amazing consistency.
Zoroark-GX allows Hex Maniac to succeed for the aforementioned reasons. On its own, Hex Maniac isn’t a huge problem. It was looped with Shaymin-EX in decks like Night March, but Hex Maniac was also the card that kept Archie’s Blastoise in check. I’m not opposed to strong Ability decks in Expanded because meta shifts are always good, but it’s a problem when there isn’t counter-play. There is almost zero counter-play to a Quaking Punch with hand disruption. The same goes to a huge Keldeo-EX dealing 1HKO damage every turn.
The biggest argument toward banning Hex Maniac that I’ll follow is that it detracts from fun. But in any case, doesn’t any disruptive card detract from fun because it meddles with your strategy? That’s not to say all disruptive cards should be banned, because if so, this game would turn into solitaire. Disruptive cards are healthy so long as there aren’t ways to abuse them.
Infinite concepts are the main reason that these disruptive cards can continuously be used repeatedly. Oranguru UPR and Lusamine are the two offenders. Oranguru shuffles in too many cards for its cost and versatility. Bunnelby was a playable, balanced card because it shuffled in 2 cards per turn and only had 60 HP. Oranguru returns 3 cards with 120 HP. Lusamine is also borderline unfair because it can continuously stream disruptive Supporters every other turn. Combined with Oranguru and Trade, Lusamine simply adds to the amount of cards reused every turn. Resource Management can target the Counter Catcher, Double Colorless, Enhanced Hammer while Lusamine returns the needed Acerola.
Infinite concepts are fundamentally bad for card games when they’re too efficient to use. This plays back into the idea of investment I mentioned earlier. If there was a Stage 2 with Resource Management for a specific Energy type, it would be harder to take advantage of. Now, I still believe that card would be played in a Zoroark-GX deck to good success, and I don’t advise printing that. Shuffling 3 cards from the discard pile is too potent of an effect, regardless of cost.
Lusamine is slightly tamer, but still falls into the bucket of infinite effects. The only gripe I have with Lusamine is that it can grab itself. If Lusamine could only grab other Supporters, there would be less of a problem because Resource Management would have to grab a VS Seeker/Lusamine when needed, taking away a spot from a different card.
Fossils are completely fine if there wasn’t a continuous way to discard them!
There are two ways to go about this. The first solution is to ban Zoroark-GX, at least in Expanded. The card is fairly contained in Standard because there are fewer disruptive tools and no Sky Field. Banning Zoroark-GX would allow the unbanning of Puzzle of Time, Hex Maniac, and an errata to Ghetsis. I’d errata Ghetsis by writing a clause that it can’t be used on T1, since that’s the main gripe of the card. Ghetsis allows a great amount of counter-play, but is abused on T1 by winning games out of the opponent’s control.
Banning Zoroark-GX would almost allow Oranguru and Lusamine to go untouched, but they shouldn’t go untouched anyway. As I said, infinite concepts are a bad idea in card games. I’m for banning Oranguru and errata’ing Lusamine to be unable to target itself regardless of what happens to Zoroark-GX.
The second option is to ban the infinite cards that allow Zoroark-GX to be good. If Oranguru and Lusamine are banned/errata’d, then the Zoroark-GX control deck in both formats gets hit hard. However, I think with the right determination, new ways will be found to make the deck work in Expanded. Maybe Bunnelby makes its way into the deck. Oranguru isn’t even the looping card in Expanded: Lusamine/Acerola loop while locking Items and avoiding deckout with a Fossil is the main strategy.
Banning the plethora of disruptive tools like Red Card, Delinquent, Team Skull Grunt, Team Rocket’s Handiwork, Hex Maniac, and Counter Catcher will only reduce the complexity of the game. That’s not an inherently bad thing, but mill decks will be completely removed until newer disruptive tools are printed. From a card design standpoint, that’s bad. Alternate win condition decks are healthy. The problem with Zoroark-GX is that it can use these disruptive tools while also having an amazing other win condition of taking 6 Prizes. It’s too versatile in these applications.
Lastly, don’t ban Double Colorless Energy. I’d rather see a Seismitoad-EX ban than a Double Colorless ban. That would simply hit at too many cards and be too big of a change for the problem. Also, that probably wouldn’t even fix it! I can imagine a Basic Energy version of Seismitoad-EX/Zoroark-GX working just as well as one with Double Colorless.
While this a murky topic, I hope I did some justice in summarizing why these cards are problematic in today’s game as well as in the future. In short, I’d advocate the banning of Oranguru in both formats, Zoroark-GX in Expanded, a Lusamine errata, a Ghetsis errata and unban, and the unbanning of Puzzle of Time and Hex Maniac. Let’s take a look at which cards fuel the disruptive problems rather than pointing at the disruptive cards. Zoroark-GX and Oranguru will always find new ways to be oppressive, so it’s better to deal with them rather than the new weapons they find.