The Zoroark Format — Exploring Expanded with an Old Friend

Something strange is happening. Conversations turn to VS Seeker and Quaking Punch, Zoroark-GX deals 60 more damage than expected, Stage 2 Pokemon disappear and 30 HP attackers appear. It’s Expanded season! With Anaheim Regionals coming up, players are neglecting Standard for a while in order to prepare for the other format.

I’m European. I know how it feels to be left out because your favorite website is talking all about Expanded, but the only Expanded event you could attend is a League Challenge five hours away, so let’s talk about both formats this week. There’s a lot to talk about in Standard, as we’re slowly figuring out the post-Lost Thunder format, we’re seeing decks like Zoroark-GX / Decidueye-GX / Alolan Ninetales-GX and Granbull do well this weekend again in Brisbane. Even Japan’s Champions League can give us some insight on our own format, despite notable differences with their format having additional sets!

As I started writing, I realized I had more to say about Expanded than expected. To provide you with the best content, I decided to keep my thoughts on Standard for next week. I’ll incorporate results from the upcoming Special Event in Chile so you have the most accurate picture of Standard leading into Harrogate Regionals.

There’s a lot to discuss about Expanded. I’ll provide thoughts about the format, various power dynamics between different decks, and the many innovations that came with Lost Thunder. We’ll go over some underrated cards that might have a huge influence on the format, and conclude with a discussion on Zoroark-GX / Garbodor, and why it’s in a good spot right now.

Overview

The release of Lost Thunder brought many cards that changed the face of Standard: Blacephalon-GX, Granbull, and Alolan Ninetales-GX, to name a few. Perhaps the most influential card on Expanded is Faba. In Expanded, where utility Supporters can be easily reused thanks to VS Seeker and cards like Shaymin-EX can supply draw power, disruption Supporters can make a bigger impact than in Standard. Faba doesn’t create game-winning locks like Hex Maniac did, though. Instead, it counters decks that rely too heavily on Special Energy. Between Zoroark-GX variants like the Seismitoad-EX / Zoroark-GX deck that won the last Expanded regional, Night March, and other similar decks, many decks will have to adapt in order not to lose to Faba sending their four Double Colorless into the Lost Zone.

Not every deck can make perfect use of Faba. Beware of the mindset that you need to play it to autowin Zoroark-GX decks: they are more resourceful than that! For example, an average deck playing Faba alongside their four VS Seeker might not do much to Seismitoad-GX / Zoroark-GX, since Quaking Punch prevents the use of VS Seeker. In that scenario, that deck will only be able to play Faba once. However, decks using Lusamine can reuse Faba under Item-lock, and eventually run Seismitoad-EX out of Energy. These decks include stall decks based on Wailord-EX, Primal Groudon-EX, and the more control-oriented variants of Zoroark-GX.

All three of these decks seem like viable options for Anaheim. Zoroark-GX Control is a deck that’s getting better and better as players refine it according to the metagame, but its dependency on Double Colorless Energy is worrying now. Primal Groudon-EX is a deck that does great against decks like Zoroark-GX, Garbodor, Seismitoad-EX and various combinations thereof. As always, since it needs Tropical Beach to function, the deck is not accessible to the majority of players. In turn, this means that few people bother teching against it. Tapu Fini-GX is being removed from Archie's Ace in the Hole / Blastoise lists, for instance.

Finally, there’s Wailord-EX. I think this deck could do well in this format. With Hex Maniac banned, it’s easier to use partners like Hoopa and Shuckle-GX . Faba provides a way to send Special Energy to the Lost Zone, but Basic Energy can be permanently removed thanks to Team Flare Grunt and Girafarig . You can use Girafarig’s Get Lost attack with no Energy if you have Dimension Valley in play, and Dimension Valley can be easily retrieved with Lusamine. This could fit into a cheaper version of the deck that uses Steven's Resolve rather than Tropical Beach. Such a version could run Rough Seas for its Ability to heal infinitely, especially against Trevenant. Note that the Trevenant matchup is one of the advantages Wailord-EX has over Primal Groudon-EX.

If it looks like the metagame will be full of long slogs between control and stall decks, don’t worry. Aggressive decks are on the menu, and the more players focus on the slower matchups, the less equipped they are for the faster ones. What good is Faba or Lusamine or Oranguru, when a Blacephalon-GX hits you for 250 damage on turn two? The three aggressive decks that are being hyped right now are Blacephalon-GX / Naganadel, Archie’s Blastoise, and Lost March. Two of these are new concepts are from Lost Thunder, but make use of some Expanded-only cards.

Blacephalon-GX / Naganadel gets to use Blacksmith and Battle Compressor, sending Fire Energy to the discard and attaching it back. This means you can always power up a Blacephalon-GX out of nowhere, without needing an Energy Switch. Your matchup against decks that deny you the use of Beast Ring are better. The deck is faster, since you can Blacksmith as early as turn one!

Lost March may look like a slower version of Night March at first, but it has advantages over its older cousin. Namely, there’s no counter to it like Oricorio or Karen when a card is in the Lost Zone, it stays there. The deck uses Jumpluff an attacker that uses Basic Energy, so you are not vulnerable with Special Energy hate.

It’s not easy to send your Pokemon into the Lost Zone in Expanded. The only new way to do so is attaching Klefki to Skiploom before you send it to the Lost Zone with Floral Path to the Sky to boost your damage output. Level Ball and Pokémon Communication benefit Lost March by granting access to almost any Pokémon in the deck, the second by doing the same thing but being able to put Jumpluff back in the deck if you happen to draw it. It’s worth mentioning that Grass-type Pokemon are a useful attacking type in Expanded, hitting Seismitoad-EX, Primal Groudon-EX and Wailord-EX for Weakness, among others.

Archie’s Blastoise has the most versatility out of the aggressive decks. It can use a variety of attackers, from Articuno to handle one-Prize attackers, to Wishiwashi-GX and its powerful GX attack capable of OHKOing Zoroark-GX. Its playstyle is popular, and top players that have been used to Zoroark-GX builds have switched to Archie’s Blastoise for League Cups recently. This leads me to think that this deck will be well represented in Anaheim.

Of course, the meta is not limited to Zoroark-GX decks, slower decks that use Lusamine, and aggressive decks. Trevenant BREAK is a contender. It gains Morty in Lost Thunder, though I’m not sure how important the card will be to its success. And then there’s Unown DAMAGE: the elephant in the room. Its variant with Blastoise, Archie’s Ace in the Hole, and Frozen City can, in theory, win on turn one, even though it’s fragile. If someone figures out the right list, this is the deck that could make a huge splash in the format, but it must resist techs like Sudowoodo that are easily accessible on turn one. Even if the deck won on turn one every time it went first, if it gets countered whenever it goes second, you won’t win more than 50% of your games with it — that’s not the odds you want! For what it’s worth, I believe that a deck that wins or pseudo-wins on turn one, even if it’s not reliable, should not exist. The ban of cards like Wally, Forest of Giant Plants and Archeops were made to enforce this rule, so I expect Unown to get banned in the future if it works.


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