Nothing Is Safe — A Look at the Standard Metagame for Harrogate Regionals

If Expanded is the realm of Zoroark-GX , and has been since the latter was released, it must be emphasize that Standard is not. Or, should I say, not anymore. This is a topic I’ve already touched upon, but to summarize: unlike in Expanded, Standard Zoroark benefits neither from the high damage output allowed by Sky Field, the free draw engine from Exeggcute‘s synergy with Trade, the draw power of Colress, or, perhaps most importantly, the variety of disruption options (Seismitoad-EX, Red Card, Delinquent, etc.). And compared to last year’s Standard, Zoroark decks need to deal with a higher variety of threats, while not having access to the same consistency as before. I had hopes that Professor Elm's Lecture would fix the latter issue, being an adequate Brigette replacement, but although it helped (and in the debate of Elm versus Lillie, I’m still #TeamElm), it has not brought back Zoroark to its former glory. I think the card that the deck misses most is Evosoda, as it provided an unconditional out to a turn two Zoroark-GX. Timer Ball acts a replacement, sure, but not a great one. For this reason, I’m excited about the upcoming reprint of Pokémon Communication, as it will fit perfectly in Zoroark-GX decks, allowing them both to access Zoroark on turn two, and any techs they might run. Unlike Evosoda or Timer Ball, Pokemon Communication can also grab your Basics! For example, you can use it to grab Sneasel when you want to set up a Weavile. Seeing as the combination of Zoroark’s draw engine and the ability to run techs to deal with any other deck is what made Zoroark so strong in the first place, I feel the deck could get much of its power back in the late season.

If I’m bemoaning Zoroark’s fall from grace, it’s not only because of my affinity for the deck. It’s also because Zoroark was, for the most part, a safe deck — something that you can run in any situation and, provided you run the right techs and play correctly, beat any deck with. This is why it was favored by many of the game’s top players and why it did so well at every event. This season, Zoroark doesn’t have nearly the same status, although it’s still more than playable. It’s not particularly safe anymore — and, perhaps more importantly, nothing is. There’s no deck that you can run and be confident that you’ll do well no matter what the metagame ends up being. I guess this is a bit like saying there’s no clear best deck in the format, although I make a difference between a BDIF and a safe deck, the latter having mostly skill-based, 50-50 matchups, rather than outright beating the majority of the metagame.

A format not having any obvious best deck is generally seen as a good thing, but the lack of a safe deck is a bit frightening. It means that understanding the metagame and making the right metacall is more important than ever. With Harrogate regionals just around the corner, I want to discuss the state of the Standard format — what I expect to be played, the safest decks to run, the possible metacalls. This article mainly, but not exclusively, features discussion on Zoroark-GX variants and Buzzwole-GX  Lycanroc-GX.

1. Zoroark-GX, the Undying

Since I’ve been so down on Zoroark-GX in the introduction, it may come as a surprise that it’s the first deck I want to talk about. However, if you look at the facts, Zoroark-GX is the only deck to have made Top 8 at all four of the major Standard events held with Lost Thunder legal (LAIC, Ronaoke and Brisbane Regionals, and the Special Event in Chile). What’s more, it also won the recent Champions League in Japan. Although Japanese events are played with a different structure (25 minutes, best of one matches in rounds and top cut) and a different format, and their results must therefore be taken with a grain of salt, it’s still additional evidence of Zoroark’s resilience.

There are two main Zoroark variants doing well: Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX and Zoroark-GX / Decidueye-GX  / Alolan Ninetales-GX. They play quite differently and their matchup spread is not the same at all, so I’ll talk about them separately.

Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX is the deck that most resembles last year’s Standard Zoroark variants, with Zoroark as the main attacker and Lycanroc as both a support Pokémon and a solid secondary attacker, especially in the mirror match.

Lists vary quite a lot: some players opt for a very streamlined deck that plays only Zoroark-GX and Lycanroc-GX, up to five Fighting Energy, and higher counts of cards like Choice Band and Devoured Field. This allows the deck to often have an Energy on the board on the first turn, in order to use Lycanroc-GX as fast as needed. The additional copies of damage-boosting cards help the deck reach 180 damage, which makes it better in straightforward matchups like Blacephalon-GXNaganadel. However, you have less options against non-GX decks like Granbull, stall decks, or Stage 2 decks. (Against the latter, you can still go for some quick aggression to KO their Basics before they evolve.)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some players opt for a variety of techs, especially among Pokemon. Thanks to Unit Energy FDY, you can play other attackers such as Weavile and Alolan Ninetales-GX, and even use Zoroark-GX’s Trickster GX. Other Stage 1 Pokemon that fit in the deck, thanks to Ditto Prism Star, include Magcargo and Alolan Muk. Deoxys, Girafarig, or Marshadow can also be played, for some Basic options. These cards all allow you to help your matchups against specific decks. Weavile is great against decks that play multiple Ability Pokemon, like Zoroark / Decidueye / Ninetales or Gardevoir-GX. Alolan Ninetales-GX is a counter to Ultra Beasts such as Buzzwole-GX. Alolan Muk helps to beat Granbull by shutting off Oranguru‘s Instruct and Malamar by neutralizing Giratina and Marshadow-GX. Girafarig makes the Alolan Exeggutor matchup favorable and prevents stall decks from building an infinite Lusamine loop, and so on. Of course, you have to choose which techs to run, as you have neither the deck space nor the needed consistency to include them all.

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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