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How to Approach a “Solved” Format and Kenny’s Play for Denver (Zoroark/Lycanroc/Lucario)
Dawn over Denver.

Hi all, Kenny Wisdom here again, happy to bring you another Underground article. Today we’re largely going to be focused on philosophical preparation and my play for the Regional Championships in Denver this weekend. This tournament is interesting because it takes place at a time in the format’s life cycle in which most of the competitive possibilities have been explored and iterated on enough that it’s unlikely for any further significant innovation to occur. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the SUM–TEU Standard format is solved, like Chris, as I believe there are a number of viable strategies that can win on any given weekend under the right circumstances, but I would bet that we will see very little in terms of true surprises in the Standard format until the release of the Unbroken Bonds, exactly one month from the publishing of this article.

Approaching a “Solved” Format

This puts players in a situation that I always find interesting:

  • Do you continue to do what you’ve done for most of the format, just jamming what you feel is the best deck and hoping for the best?
  • Do you try to find a rogue deck that has good match ups versus your expected metagame?
  • Do you try out some spicy new tech in an established archetype that you hope will give you an edge?
  • Does the answer to any of these questions change if you’re also attending the European International Championship later this month?

My days of worrying about tournament results are largely behind me, but if I were in this situation I would focus on making sure that I have a genuine mastery of two or three of the best decks in the format. Only playing one deck will put you in a very bad situation should the metagame shift to a place where your deck is underpowered, but spending an equal amount of time on each and every variant of each deck is also not a very good use of your time. If I needed Points heading into Denver, I would make sure that I have a deep understanding of the format and what each deck has to offer (especially in the way of counter-play and answers to what the other decks are doing), but also have a strong preference for an experience with my chosen suite of decks.

I believe that formats that are in a place such as the SUM–TEU format heavily reward the best and most dedicated players. The format is old enough that no one will have the surprise factor with some unheard of deck, and most of the major tech options have been explored. What this means is that tournaments in this Standard format will come down to the following:

1. Metagame Knowledge of the most radical changes in competitive Pokémon since I started playing more than ten years ago is the amount of “homework” the average player has to do in order to stay up to date on the metagame. It’s more important than ever to read articles, look up tournament results, and generally have a solid understanding of the metagame in the days before a major tournament. Even in a somewhat solidified format such as this one, small changes in lists can happen and can have an impact. Playing around two of an important tech card when 90% of players have switched to only one copy, for instance, can have a devastating affect on your win percentage.

2. Slight Deckbuilding Changes

Similar to my first point, if you believe you’ve accurately predicted the metagame, you can deviate from the norm and include a heavier line of anti-Deck A cards in exchange for trimming some anti-Deck B cards. Or you could include a tech card that has fallen to the wayside over the recent weeks. I said earlier that no one is truly going to have the element of surprise on their side, but a strategy like this one can impress in the right situation.

It’s important to note that you should only take this route if you’re both very certain that what you’re doing will pay off and very okay with being wrong and suffering as a consequence. I would never suggest everyone simply copy and paste the most recent winning list, but you should have a good reason to deviate.

3. In-Game Play

Part of the beauty of trading card games is that each player can do battle with a deck of their own choosing. As long as you’ve got a 60-card deck with no more than 4 copies of any card besides basic Energy, you’re free to play. We’ve seen time and time again how taking opponents by surprise or using an unorthodox strategy can lead to success.

While this is a beautiful part of Pokémon, I believe that seeing two players work with perfect information of each others decks can also be beautiful. When you remove surprise from the game, you also remove variance in decision making. Each player will know what their opponent has access to, and therefore what they need to play around, and how their opponent intends to win the game. There is of course still luck of the draw, opening hands, and the like. But assuming reasonable draws for each player, matches like these can be some of the most skill intensive.

That’s not to say that everyone will know everyone’s list in Denver. If that were true, then the other two points I made would be irrelevant.

But in a world where you expect the top decks to remain more or less known, a lot of what determines winners and losers will be in-game decision making. As long as I’m not horribly incorrect and there are no gigantic surprises this weekend, the players who have practiced the most and are most familiar with navigating the various matchups the format has to offer should come out on top more often than not.

It’s my hope that this tournament will be particularly engaging to play in and watch because of this. Perhaps I’m wrong and the format will undergo a radical shift starting with this tournament that will heavily impact the state of the format going forward…but I doubt it.

I hope you all enjoy reading and take something away from the theory elements of my articles. As I distance myself further and further from being a tournament grinder, writing about Pokémon theory and other “evergreen” topics appeals to me more and more. While it may not directly affect which cards you write on your decklist for the next tournament, it’s my hope that this kind of content will still be relevant and looked back on years from now, regardless of the state of the game or the particular format.

With all that being said, I also understand that you all come here for solidified deck advice. While my colleagues have been doing a fantastic job in that department this week, I’m no slouch when it comes to Standard and I do have my fair share of thoughts on the format.


Pokémon – 21

4 Zorua SLG
4 Zoroark-GX
2 Rockruff GRI
2 Lycanroc-GX GRI
2 Riolu UPR
2 Lucario-GX
1 Ditto p
1 Alolan Grimer TEU
1 Alolan Muk SUM
2 Tapu Lele-GX

Trainers – 31

4 Lillie
3 Acerola
2 Guzma

1 Cynthia
1 Judge
1 Mallow

1 Professor Elm’s Lecture


4 Nest Ball
4 Ultra Ball
3 Pokémon Communication

1 Field Blower

1 Multi Switch

1 Pal Pad
1 Rescue Stretcher

1 Counter Gain


2 Devoured Field

Energy – 8

4 Double Colorless
3 F

1 Rainbow

Zoroark/Lycanroc is one of the best decks in the format without question. I’m not quite sure where I would rank it if I were forced to, but overall I don’t think putting decks in an ordered list is a very useful exercise. The deck is very good and I’d struggle to find someone who disagrees with that assertion.

The reason I like this particular deck so much is due to the raw power of both Zoroark-GX and Lycanroc-GX. In formats with multiple decks that I believe are close in power level, I’ll almost always default to the one that has the most raw power. That’s not to say that Pikachu & Zekrom doesn’t make quite a formidable team, but when your deck allows you togust multiple times, draw as many cards as you want per turn, and stack your deck, it’s hard to ask for much else.

With the format in the place it’s in, most of the card choices are solidified and every major Standard deck has a “shell” of cards that can’t really be changed without altering the core strategy of the deck significantly. With that being said, there are still plenty of decisions to make in deckbuilding and I’d like to go over some of the more interesting ones now.

Card Choices

2 Lucario-GX
Although I’ve taken the default route of two copies of Lucario, I’m not so sure that is something that should be set in stone. Ricardo Felipe Hille ended up in third place of the Regional Championship in Fortaleza with only one Lucario in his deck, which intrigues me. When someone is successful doing something different from the norm, it’s important to consider why that decision was made, and if it is something that you can learn from. While I don’t know why Felipe constructed his deck in the way that he did, we can use the fundamentals of deckbuilding to try and understand why.

You generally include a single copy of a card in your deck (as opposed to two or more copies) for two reasons:

  1. It’s not a card you need to see in every game; you are confident your deck has the draw and search power to find it every game; or some combination of both. While this deck isn’t particularly light on threats, Lucario is still an important piece of the card and a card that will be useful in most games, so I’m hesitant to believe Ricardo used our first line of reasoning.
  2. The second point is the more interesting one to me: It’s not unusual for Zoroark decks to run single or otherwise low copies of cards that other decks might want more copies of, simply due to the amount of cards you’re going to see throughout a game thanks to Zoroark’s Trade Ability. In addition, cards like Rescue Stretcher can almost be counted as an additional copy of Lucario. Lastly, Lucario specifically is a card that lends itself to being a prime Acerola target, bouncing back to your hand to Aura Strike another day. All of these factors in combination with one another are why I believe it’s justifiable to consider trimming a copy of Lucario-GX from this specific build.

With that being said, I’m still on two copies as I believe Lucario is an important enough card that you want a bit more access (especially Acerola-free access) to it than what a single copy is likely to get you through the course of the game. Still, if I were testing heavily I would strongly consider whether or not the cut can be made. More than anything, I hope that you take away just how complex these kinds of deckbuilding considerations can be.

3 Acerola
Resetting a Lucario or saving a precious Double Colorless Energy is one of the most important aspects of playing this deck. Most lists I’ve seen have two copies, but I like the extra consistency of the third here. It’s important to note that Acerola is a conditional card and therefore you always want to be taking very strict stock of how many you’re playing in your deck, but in this situation I think the risk is worth it.

1 Mallow
This card seems to have fallen out of favor with the general public, but I always want to include a Mallow in any Zoroark decks I play. Having access to specific cards is extremely powerful, and Mallow is a great draw whenever you have a Zoroark-GX in play. Cutting it is not an absurd concept, but it is one I will argue strongly against for the foreseeable future.

1 Professor Elm’s Lecture
Professor Elm’s Lecture is also taken directly from Ricardo’s Fortaleza list, and I’m a huge fan. It’s no Brigette, but it does a reasonable impression in a deck that is trying to flood the board with Basic Pokémon. The consistency this card provides is huge and I wouldn’t be surprised if it became a standard inclusion in the deck going forward.

1 Counter Gain
I’ve gone back and forth between one and two Counter Gain over the past few weeks and still can’t decide which is right. While it’s far from an instrumental piece of the deck, it’s one of the most powerful additions in the right situation. The best use of this card is reducing the cost of Lycanroc-GX’s Dangerous Rogue attack to only a single Fighting Energy. I’m leaning on playing with one copy as it’s another card that can be “turned off,” but I would strongly encourage you to test with two and see where it leads you.

2 Devoured Field
This card is not great, and mostly just acts as a counter Stadium, which I think is necessary. It also provides some useful KOs at times, I suppose, but I’m pretty low on it overall.


If I were playing in Denver this weekend, I would likely be playing the Zoroark/Lycanroc/Lucario list you see here. I’ve played with all of these cards for a long time and I’ve tested extensively with this specific deck. I believe it has the highest raw power level of any deck in Standard and I would recommend that all of you play it for Denver or any other upcoming Standard tournaments.

I think Zoroark/Lycanroc/Lucario is a cut above all of the other good decks in Standard besides the various Lightning builds, which I believe are about even with it. I haven’t put as much time into these decks as I would like and my fellow authors have written at length about them, so I will let those more experienced guide you in that realm. Although I will leave you with this: Pikachu & Zekrom-GX is one messed up Pokémon card.

Best of luck this weekend.


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