Experts' corner

Robin Schulz

Darkrai in Expanded, a different take on Gardevoir, and trying to make Zoroark-GX work

Robin goes over his latest tournament decks and takes a look at possible ways to play Zoroark-GX in both Expanded and Standard

10/19/2017 by Robin Schulz

Hello 60cards readers,
it’s been quite a while since my last time on here but I’m finally back!

In this article I’ll go over multiple topics, starting with the two decks I used for my most recent tournaments and ending with thoughts about the format with Shining Legends and beyond, including my take on different Zoroark variants.

Darkrai in Expanded – Special Event Bilbao

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve always been a big fan of the Darkrai deck and used it to get 2nd at both European Expanded tournaments last season, the Side Event League Cups in London and Sheffield. When the season got announced, including an Expanded Special Event at the end of September, I was quite excited we Europeans would finally get to play the format in important tournaments and started getting my Darkrai list up to date.

After Night March, which I consider to be the hardest matchup, took the win in Fort Wayne, I was getting very unsure about what to play again. I put some time into the Ho-Oh focused Turtonator variant that my teammate Nico ended up winning the event with, but found it to be just as bad in the Night March matchup and with not much of an advantage in other matchups, so I decided to just stick with what I know and like best. I was still debating between running techs for NM or not, and in the end decided to indeed include them, but more about that later.

The list I played is a bit different than most others at the time so I will point out the main aspects. Darkrai-GX plays a very important role in this deck and I’d say I attack with it almost as often as I do with Dark Pulse Darkrai. It can OHKO any Pokémon in the game as early as the very first turn of the game thanks to its GX attack, and the non GX attack is good enough to knock out non EX Pokemon like Garbodor or Shaymin, which are just easy prizes.

To make optimal use of Darkrai GX the list plays a total of 3 Hypnotoxic Lasers. I started with 2 but adding the additional one makes Dark End much more reliable, to the point where you almost always have one when you want to use it. Having the option of that free OHKO at early points of the game is very important in matchups like Fire or Mirror, so I’m quite confident Lasers are the correct play in here.

The 2/2 Darkrai split has become a bit unpopular, but I don’t think the 3rd Dark Pulse Darkrai is very important at all. Thanks to having Darkrai-GX as a strong secondary attacker, the only time it would really hurt to only run 2 of them is when one is stuck in the last two prizes. It’s true that Dark Cloak Darkrai isn’t important as an attacker anymore, but only playing one copy and prizing it would be very detrimental almost every time, so I’d rather have two.

Another somewhat questionable inclusion is the 4th Battle Compressor, but I definitely would not run less. Comparable to Ultra Ball, you always want to open with it because it allows the deck function. Drawing into multiple Compressors early is so strong! And as the game goes on, they never really lose their strength. Unlike in Night March where they have to save them in fear of Karen, Darkrai can freely use all its Compressors to thin out the deck as much as desired.

The most nonessential cards in the deck are certainly Seismitoad-EX and Karen. Their only purpose is to make Night March a playable matchup. It’s usually just a prize race, but due to them being non-EX focused in addition usually taking the first knockout, it is quite an uphill battle. With both these otherwise useless cards, the matchup does get easier. If you can knock out a Night Marcher with the Quaking Punch + Karen combo, they can’t respond to that with a KO of their own and instead will revert back to using Shaymin or Tauros for some turns. Both of those are an easy KO for either Darkrai, so at that point you’ll have taken 3 prizes in a row. If they benched additional small basics you can even Guzma and take more than one knock out with Seismitoad. This strategy makes the prize race much closer, especially considering we can sometimes use it repeatedly, or even hit them with a surprise T1 Quaking Punch to get ahead when they’re not quite set up yet. Having a good non-EX on our side, Yveltal, is also helpful. Thanks to Compressors, the tech cards aren’t much of a hindrance against other decks, so I decided to sacrifice the two deck slots in exchange for feeling a lot more confident against an important matchup, which I think was fine. In hindsight that decision didn’t seem to affect my tournament.

Short Tournament Report

R1 Turtonator Volcanion LWW
R2 Sableye LL
R3 Darkrai WW
R4 Darkrai WW
R5 Yveltal Darkrai WLW
R6 Seismitoad Garbodor LWL
R7 Golisopod Garbodor LWW

My rounds against the Mirror match were uneventful. My deck ran super well and I barely missed any important KOs while my opponents couldn’t keep up. One of the games was close, while the others were 6 prizes taken in 3 or 4 turns. The Turtonator match was similar except for me not seeing a supporter at all in game 1.

Round 5 didn’t differ much. I lost one game after not having a supporter, but had strong set ups in the other two games. I don’t think the Yveltal deck can really keep up with the power level of Darkrai, even if they use Sudowoodo to make it a closer matchup.

The loss against Sableye was a very quick one. In the first game, I was forced to discard a bunch of items T1, only to proceed to deaddraw in the following turns, finding myself in an unwinnable situation quickly. In the second game I had supporters, but managed to whiff all 4 Max Elixirs during the first two turns! Needless to say, a lot of Items in my discard pile and few Energy in play is quite the weak start against Sableye.

The round against Seismitoad Garbodor didn’t go much better. First game I once again had to Sycamore away multiple Elixir/Patch on the first turn, which allowed him to get a crucial Trashalanche KO later on. Second game I donked his lone Turtonator. Third game I was supporter-less at the beginning of the game, while also not drawing well under his Item Lock and having to deal with Laser sleep flips.

My chances for Top 8 were gone at that point, but the last round still turned out to be important. Usually another loss would have resulted in still being in top 32, but since almost everyone at our record decided to ID, it turned out that a loss actually meant placing below 32 and recieving no prizes. Luckily I was able to take a close win against Golisopod/Garbodor, a matchup I was quite confident is positive.

Overall I was ok with how the tournament went, but the deck felt more inconsistent than it should, giving me multiple dead hands that resulted in losses. Cutting the Toad/Karen combo for Trainers' Mails or additional supporters should help, but then again I don’t recall seeing those two cards in the games in question, so I believe it wouldn’t have even mattered much.

I also feel like that’s one of the characteristics of expanded though. There’s little room for comebacks if you can’t get rolling immediately. In other formats not drawing a supporter for a few turns wasn’t always necessarily game-losing, but in the current Expanded format you’ll usually have already lost the game after a few turns with no supporters! That said, I really enjoyed the fast-paced games the format has to offer and am looking forward to playing in it again.

Thoughts on Straight Darkrai-GX

To finish of this part of the article I’d like to take a quick look at the Dark Pulse-less Darkrai variant that Daniel Altavilla piloted to a Top 16 finish in Daytona. I think the deck makes sense and is actually more similar to regular Darkrai than it might seem at first.

Both Daniel’s list as well as the one I played in Bilbao aim to always take 2 prizes with the Dead End/Laser combo, and will oftentimes take two more on either a Shaymin or Pokemon like Garbodor. The difference is its way of taking the missing few prizes. While Dark Pulse is a great fit to a deck that already plays a full set of Elixirs and Patches, forgoing it and instead making space for Choice Band and Virbank City Gym isn’t too crazy either.

The advantage of that method is that it requires far less board setup to close out games, which is great against decks that apply a lot of pressure. The downside is you can never really establish an overwhelming board presence and are prone to whiffing, because after all, Laser + Virbank + Band is still a three card combo that typically has to be assembled in a single turn. The damage cap is also lower for Darkrai-GX, which can cause trouble against decks with more than 190 HP.

A card I’ve been liking in the deck is a copy of the Sableye from Guardings Rising. If you just need the KO combo or a Guzma to win the game but don’t get it, Sableye can buy you a turn. Using Limitation prevents both Guzma and N, so just play a Sycamore, draw into everything for next turn and laugh while the opponent can neither disrupt your hand nor avoid taking the useless non EX KO. It might seem like a cute gimmick, and maybe it is, but I’ve successfully used it while playing around with the deck online, and let me tell you, it is so much fun to win the game this way!

Back to Standard – Gardevoir and League Cups

After getting home from Bilbao it was time to shift the focus to Standard. I actually didn’t play a single League Cup for the season prior to that week, and because of subpar scheduling of German League Cups for the quarter (one was on the Bilbao weekend, another got canceled because of late notice, two others overlapped), I only can attend two in total this quarter. That means I need to take them as seriously as possible, there’s no second chance for any missed points.

Ever since rotation I was always quite confident of Gardevoir, even though I decided to go with Metagross instead for Bremen. Simply picking the strongest deck in the format is in my opinion a good strategy for League Cups, and since I didn’t expect much Metagross after Igor had just won Hartford with Volcanion, the question for me was not really what to play, but rather which Gardevoir list to play.

After Bremen I was looking for ways to improve the Golisopod matchup, which was not horrible, but quite tough for sure. Sylveon was okay, but if they’d just N away the Magical Ribbons while taking a 2HKO, I’d usually be too far behind to win the game. One of the best cards against Golisopod definitely was Max Potion. It mitigates their early pressure and enables you to build a strong board with multiple Gardevoir-GX, and it also buys the time to safely Twilight GX all the important cards back into the deck.

Let’s take a look at the list I ended up taking to my League Cup.

What I consider the heart of this variant is the high count on Max Potion, Field Blower and Choice Band. As mentioned, Max Potion is amazing against Golisopod, but it’s also crazy good against other Garbodor variants and the Mirror. Some fringe matchups like Ninetales or Decidueye are also heavily shifted by them.

Field Blower is very important against any Garbodor deck, and even though Gardevoir is able to get them back, I don’t feel confident playing only two because of how crucial drawing into it at the right time can be. Choice Band is also a key card in many matchups and situations, so I want to be able to get to it as consistently as possible.

I think the 3 Max Potion and 3 Choice Band should give the list an edge in the mirror, even without the Parallel City + Plea combo, which I believe to be a bit overrated. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s definitely still strong! And since tournament results argue strongly in Sylveons favor, I guess I should give it another try. I also felt very comfortable in the Golisopod/Garbodor matchup, and would rate Drampa/Espeon/Garbodor as about even.

The hardest decision was about which Support Pokemon to play. I originally had a 1-1 Octillery line in the deck and was thinking about increasing it to 2-1, but decided to give Starmie a try because of its synergy with Max Potion. I didn’t hate it, but after having played with it a bit more now, I guess I’d go back to Octillery. Abyssal Hand is just too good, and even though getting back Energy with Starmie is very nice, it's not completely necessary to win games.

Speaking of Energy Recovery, the list is omitting Super Rod in favor of a 2nd Rescue Stretcher, and I think I’d leave it like this even with no Starmie. There have been simply too many situations where I wanted to get back a Pokémon immediately, whereas using Super Rod in this deck never felt like it impacted the outcome of a game.

As one last note about the deck, I think Twilight GX is actually amazing and I use it in almost every single game, which may be part of the reason I’ve never been too much of a Sylveon fan.

I don’t think a tournament report would be too interesting, but I ended up making Top 8 in the League Cup and lost to a close series to Ninetales. Max Potion was very good but I ended up whiffing too often at important points of the game, situations that certainly made me wish I had an Octillery in the deck. Still, that’s 25 CP which was my minimum goal, so the deck did its job.

I’ll still be playing around with this version of the deck in preparation for London because I don’t think Gardevoir will be lose any of its strength with the introduction of Shining Legends and Crimson Invasion. That being said, let’s take a closer look at what these sets have to offer.

First thoughts on the new formats

My next tournament will be an Expanded League Cup at the end of the month, so that’s what I’m mostly focused on right now. It’s actually not just a regular League Cup but the main event of TPCi’s presence at the boardgame trade fair in Essen, and as such packs a bunch of cool prizes!

Since Shining Legends will be legal for that tournament, I’ve been thinking about what would be the best way to use Zoroark GX. I don’t think any other card from the set will be particularly impactful in Expanded, but Zoroark is obviously a strong card.

Expanded – Night March and Straight Zoroark GX

The first and most obvious change that should be made after SHL is putting Zoroark into Night March. It seems like it will almost completely solve the Karen problem by making it much easier to rebuild a strong discard pile while at the same time being a strong attacker on its own that can step in when Night March is not doing enough for a moment.

For it to be effective I’d go with a 2-2 line and maybe also put in a Rescue Stretcher. The first 3 cards I’d remove from the typical Night March list are Tauros, Oranguru and Hex Maniac. The first two are not needed anymore thanks to Zoroark, and while Hex is still fine, I don’t think it’s very important in the deck. I’m not sure about what else to remove, probably either the 3rd Shaymin, Marshadow, Pokemon Ranger, 4th Mail or 2nd Dimension Valley.

Night March is certainly one of the strongest decks in the format, and one of my options at the moment. The Garbodor matchup is tough but not too bad, and most other decks are no match for NM, even with counters in them.

Another concept I’m planning to test is Zoroark as the primary attacker. Here’s my first draft of a list. Because I have not tested it yet, some cards are only in the list to gauge their usefulness.

(Zoroark DEX is the GX)

Zoroark GX is the clear main attacker, but BKT Zoroark seems useful too, so I included one copy of it for now. If the opponent wants to make use of our Sky Field, Mind Jack can hit for crazy high numbers, so either they don’t and we have the bench size advantage, or we get some easy Kos.

Alolan Muk is important and probably necessary if playing a deck like this because of Sudowoodo. Zoroark won’t do much with a bench limited to 4, but Muk neatly solves this problem. The downside is of course that we block our own Leles and can’t make much use of Exeggcute that could otherwise be a great card in the deck.

The list has a full set of Tapu Lele because it needs a lot of Pokemon to bench anyway, and this is by far the best one. T1 Wonder Tag is what we’ll want to do in most games, so why not maximize the chances? I still put in one Shaymin for when we want to dig a little deeper into the deck, and maybe a 2nd would be good too, but I could also see not including it at all being a viable option.

The rest of the Pokémon are honestly just fillers that either fill the bench or get Traded for new cards, and I haven’t gone out of my way to check all the possible options yet. Seismitoad paired with Karen should be a help against Night March, although one has to be wary of their own Zoroark threatening to OHKO a Toad if there’s a Sky Field in play. Oricorio is another deck spot dedicated to combatting Night March, since I think it will be a tough matchup no matter what. Sudowoodo is to be used against decks that don’t have their own Sudowoodo, so you won’t need Muk and can instead effectively block half their bench.

Some words about the Supporter lineup: 3 Sycamore and 2 N is about as low as I’d go, but it should be fine. I include double Brigette since it’s very important for setting up, and the second copy can just be discarded for extra cards later on, or even be used to refill the bench after a Sky Field gets removed. Acerola seems good when attacking with a relatively bulky single energy attacker, and Xerosic could be another useful utility Supporter that benefits from the draw engine Zoroark provides. Maybe even Karen could prove to be useful in regular games because the deck has enough non-Supporter draw power, but its main purpose is of course still annyoing Night March.

The Trainers should be mostly self-explanatory. 1 Special Charge should be enough, even with only 4 DCE, as this isn’t a deck where you’ll need to replace it every turn. Town Map gives more control over the game and I always like to include it when building a list that has the space for it. It might not make the final cut, but right now there’s a lot of cards in here that don’t seem essential.

I’m looking forward to testing this deck and think it has potential. Zoroark is a very decent attacker against the Garbodor decks and can trade well against all the non-Stage 2 EX/GX decks like Turtonator, Darkrai or Golisopod. Gardevoir is probably the worst matchup, and I’m also not sure how it would fare against Night March, but we have some answers for the latter in Muk, Toad, Karen and Oricorio, so it should be manageable.

Standard – Will Buzzwole Zoroark be a thing?

My next tournament after said League Cup will already be the IC in London! To be honest, I haven’t put any time into testing the format yet, but part of the reason for that is that the two new sets seem kind of underwhelming.

Shining Legends has some utility Pokémon that could make for cute techs, but as far as attackers go there’s really only Zoroark. And with Gardevoir being a strong contender for BDIF and a natural counter due to its resistance, Zoroark will need a very strong partner to somehow reach the top of the metagame.

A potential pairing for Zoroark could be Buzzwole-GX, which is one of the most noteworthy cards in Crimson Invasion. 30/30 for 1 Energy, with access to Strong Energy is quite good, and could be the base of a spread/devolution approach against Gardevoir. It’s also perfect for softening up specific threats for a KO with Zoroark.

Another reason for going with that approach is Buzzwole’s weakness to Garbodor, which happens to be a matchup that Zoroark is quite good in. A possible problem however is that one would probably want to supply Buzzwole with a bunch of Po Towns. Being unable to get rid of them in the Garbodor matchup means bringing Zoroark down to 180 HP against Drampa, which is very suboptimal.

Still, I think this could the best completely new deck to show up in London, and I’ll definitely make sure to test some versions of it in preparation for the tournament.

Another interesting new card is Kartana-GX. The Ability is great and its attacks are good enough to make it an option in any deck that plays Rainbow or Metal Energy.

Overall I don’t think the meta will change much though, and the top decks should still be Gardevoir and Garbodor, followed by Golisopod and Volcanion. Some change would be nice though so I wouldn’t mind if that assumption turned out to be wrong.

Closing Thoughts

I hope you liked this article, which ended up basically being a summary of my month in Pokemon! I still have a high opinion of Darkrai and Gardevoir in their respective formats, and I am also excited to try out the new decks I talked about.

Follow me on twitter @limitless_robin if you’re interested in updates about my tournaments and other stuff. Thanks for reading and until next time!

- Robin

[+14] okko

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