Challengers Teaming Up — Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX and Ultra Necrozma-GX

Internationals are coming up! (source)

Hello readers! International Championships are, in my opinion, the most prestigious tournaments of the season, and I’m excited that the next one is approaching so quickly. I have mixed feelings about having to play once again in an untested format, but that’s a topic for another time. The format itself is our focus for today.

I spent the last weekend playtesting the new set with a small group of friends. Between us, we had built most of the hyped decks, including Pikachu and Zekrom-GXZapdos, two builds of Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX (one with Professor Elm's Lecture and one with Lillie), Lost March, and Malamar / Ultra Necrozma-GX. I can’t say we used the most scientific of methodologies, but simply playing games between various combinations of these decks and keeping track of the results led us to some preliminary observations about the format:

  • Pikachu & Zekrom-GX is really good. This was expected given that the deck has taken Japan by storm. I would compare it to Blacephalon-GX / Naganadel in the previous format: it’s not the obvious BDIF, and it has exploitable weaknesses, but its game plan is so simple and powerful that it can beat any deck given a strong enough start. The power of a fast Full Blitz is not to be underestimated, although it can lead to some tough decision making: should you attach the Energy to the attacking Pikachu & Zekrom-GX for a Tag Bolt GX follow-up, or to a different attacker in case Pikachu & Zekrom-GX gets KO’d? In some situations, this can be a real dilemma where the wrong choice essentially loses you the game. Nevertheless, I believe we’ll certainly see Pikachu & Zekrom-GX at the top tables in the near future. There are many ways to build the deck and I don’t think there’ll be an early consensus, so if you play against it, you’ll have to be ready for a variety of cards, such as Zapdos, Aether Paradise Conservation Area, Tapu Koko-GX, and others.
  • Absol is not being respected enough. Its Ability cripples decks that rely on the Jirachi + Escape Board combo, and takes away the understated utility of free retreaters in decks such as Lost March. Decks that can afford the Bench space, such as Pikachu & Zekrom-GX, can benefit from Absol to slow down their opponents.
  • Lost March is solid and seems able to beat Pikachu & Zekrom-GX. Towards the end of the previous format, we’ve seen Lost March become the non-GX deck of choice for many players, and I expect this momentum to carry forward. That said, I’m not extremely enthusiastic about the deck’s presence in the metagame due to the rise of Ultra Necrozma, the omnipresence of Alolan Muk in Zoroark-GX decks, and the possibility of Wondrous Labyrinth Prism Star.
  • Zapdos is not bad, but it feels underwhelming. Jirachi is a fantastic card, but it is vulnerable to both Alolan Muk and Absol, so it’s not as foolproof as it seems. To be fair, my group only tried the non-GX version of the deck with Shrine of Punishment; the Jolteon-GX version might be stronger.

As for the two decks in this article’s title — Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX and Malamar / Ultra Necrozma-GX — they’re both strong decks that I’m considering playing at the Oceania International Championship. In this article, I’ll discuss each of them in more detail, including my current lists and techs.

Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX

It seems that many top players, myself included, regularly predict the return of Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX to tier one of the metagame, yet it never happens — so you may have doubts about me holding the deck in such high esteem once again. I don’t want to claim that Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX will gain BDIF status in the new format, but I have two main reasons to suggest that it will be very good:

First, Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX may not have been the best deck in the Latin America International Championship — the tournament where Lost Thunder debuted — but it was a safe choice. Many top players opted to play it and were rewarded with CP. I’ve stated before that, given the high amounts of CP available even as far down as Top 128, it’s more important to secure a “decent” finish than to go for the gold, both for players trying to get their Worlds invite, and for those fighting for travel stipends and/or the Day 2 bye at Worlds. In this light, I feel that Zoroark-GX / Lycanroc-GX was a strong deck in the SUM-LOT meta, and should still be strong in the SUM-TEU era. A good player with experience piloting the deck can win most games with it, whereas many other decks (this is a shameful reminder that I played Decidueye-GX / Alolan Ninetales-GX / Swampert in Sao Paulo) depend more on their matchups.

Second, although Zoroark-GX has the reputation of being an underwhelming card in Standard, I think that is the case only in comparison to the deck’s domination in Expanded. Looking at tournaments from the SUM-LOT format, Zoroark-GX decks won the Latin American International Championship, Brisbane and Harrogate Regionals, and the Special Event in Brazil. That’s four of the nine Standard events played in that format! In addition, Zoroark-GX also won the Champions League in Niigata, Japan (a format somewhere between SUM-LOT and SUM-TEU). It is undeniable that Zoroark-GX has been putting up results, and that it’s absolutely able to win events.

This isn’t to say that Zoroark-GX doesn’t gain new tools from Team Up as well. Pokémon Communication is a nice addition that helps the deck’s consistency, and Nanu provides an opportunity for some tricky plays, but more importantly, Pikachu & Zekrom-GX’s Fighting Weakness gives a lot more value to Lycanroc-GX.

Pokemon (20)

4x Zoroark-GX (SHL #53)4x Zorua (SHL #52)2x Lycanroc-GX (GUR #74)2x Rockruff (FOL #75)1x Alolan Muk (SM #58)1x Alolan Grimer (TEU #83)1x Magcargo (CES #24)1x Slugma (LOT #43)2x Tapu Lele-GX (GUR #60)1x Ditto Prism Star (LOT #154)1x Buzzwole (FOL #77)

Trainers (32)

4x Lillie (SM #122)3x Guzma (BUS #115)2x Acerola (BUS #112)1x Cynthia (ULP #119)1x Judge (FOL #108)1x Professor Kukui (SM #128)4x Ultra Ball (DEX #102)4x Nest Ball (SM #123)3x Pokémon Communication (TEU #152)2x Choice Band (GUR #121)1x Rescue Stretcher (GUR #130)1x Field Blower (GUR #125)1x Switch (HS #102)1x Counter Gain (LOT #170)1x Pal Pad (ULP #132)2x Devoured Field (CRI #93)

Energy (8)

4x Double Colorless Energy (HS #103)4x Fighting Energy (CL #93)

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