Experts' corner

Ryan Sabelhaus

"Warning! Ghosts Gather Here" - A Look at the Format and Analysis of Zoroark-GX/Banette-GX

Ryan's back and takes a look at the current state of the format, along with discussing creativity in deck-building and analyzing one of his favorite decks, Zoroark-GX/Banette-GX/Garbodor!

09/19/2018 by Ryan Sabelhaus


What’s going on, 60cards readers?! It’s been quite a while since I’ve gotten the time to write an article, but I’m finally back and ready to share my thoughts with you about the current format and state of the game. Many things have changed for competitive Pokémon in the recent months, including a new point system that allows all players with 19 points to advance to the 2nd day of competition. I’ve signed up for multiple articles throughout the next couple of weeks in order to go over my entire thought process with the Pokémon community. I’ll be starting a string of articles that will discuss the current state of the format, how deck-building has progressed, and go over one of my favorite decks in each of these articles so that players can also come away with something to try out and work on for upcoming tournaments.

For my first article, I’ll be going over the 19-point system and how it can change the way people should view these tournaments. It’s a completely different concept compared to tournaments of recent past where there wasn’t a direct cutoff point that needed to be reached. I’ll also go over how I believe deck-building has changed in the recent months and how it has progressed into something that is truly unique when compared to decks that have won other tournaments before the rotation. Finally, I’ll discuss one of my favorite decks in the format that I would have played if my flight wasn’t cancelled to Philadelphia, which was the Zoroark-GX/Banette-GX/Garbodor GRI deck that Xander Pero piloted to a Top 4 finish. Let’s jump into this article!


For anyone that is unaware of how tournaments have traditionally gone in the Pokémon Trading Card Game, players usually play out all 9 of their Swiss rounds and the Top 32 players with the best records move into the 2nd day of competition. This would mean that if the player that got 32nd place had a record of 6-1-2 and had a very high opponent’s win percentage, they would make it into the 2nd day of competition over other players that had the same record as them. With the new point system that was enacted by the updated tournament pairing program (TOM), all players that complete the first day of competition with a record of 6-2-1 (19 points) or better will proceed into the second day of competition. Regardless of the win percentage of any opponents that were played, competitors just need to reach that cutoff of 19 points. Many players have been questioning this change, especially after what we saw at the recent Philadelphia Regionals that occurred. Instead of the normal 32 players advancing, we had a massive field of 78 players making it to day two.

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of this system:


- All players will have the same chances of making the second day of competition, regardless of opponents' win percentage coming into play. This will remove the negative effects that come from early round opponents dropping and destroying a player’s win percentage, which can be unavoidable and detrimental to anyone that is on the bubble. All competitors just need to reach that goal of 6-2-1 or better, regardless of whom they have played.

- With no bubble, there is a nearly endless amount of room for players to make the 2nd day of competition. With a higher chance of getting to play in the 2nd day of competition, more players can climb from the lower ranks and even finish in the Top 8, rather than be eliminated from playing in the second day. Dean Nezam is a great example of this, as he should have been eliminated from Philadelphia Regionals after the 1st day of competition from being placed in the 34th seed. With the new point system, Dean had 19 points and proceeded to day 2 where he was able to win five games and make the Top 8 as the overall 6th seed! This would have never been possible without the new point system allowing Dean to play in Day 2, where he was able to prove himself in the extra 6 rounds that occurred.

- A great quote that was seen in a thread about this topic was from Ross Cawthon, who posted “More games will on average have more skill-based results, and less variance.” This statement is true and is another good reason for the new system. With more games to be played, there will be less variance and skill-based results SHOULD be higher, which would show that players with the most skill should make higher results on average given the opportunity to play more games in Day 2.

- With a lower cap to make it into the second day of competition, players aren’t immediately heartbroken after a second loss on the day. In tournaments before this new system, players would be extremely stressed after their second loss and would have to play very fast to avoid tying another game and possibly getting eliminated from contention. Now, players can still afford to lose twice and also have the breathing room of a tie on their record, as long as they can win the rest of their games.

- This system can also be very helpful in a matchup-based format of Pokémon, as some matchups are just unwinnable and may not be representative of the entire field. What I mean by this statement is that some players may just be very unlucky and hit an awful matchup that isn’t being played very much, when they made a correct call and had good matchups all around them. This player doesn’t deserve to be eliminated from contention for just hitting a bad matchup when they made a good deck choice to have favorable matchups around them. There will obviously be variance and luck in what matchups are being hit, but this system should make losses less detrimental and allow for players to squeak through the first day even after hitting some unfavorable matchups.


- For anyone that would have originally made it into the Top 32, they now have added competition and a chance to finish at a seed lower than Top 32. An example of this would be Tristan Macek at Philadelphia Regionals, who finished at 20th seed after the 1st day of competition. After a bad string of games and bad luck, Tristan ended up finishing at 65th place, which earned him the same set of prizes as everyone that had already been eliminated the day before. With the previous system, Tristan would have at least guaranteed himself a much better finish with a lower number of players making it into the 2nd day of competition. This disadvantage is mainly pointing out the possibility of lower placements which receive lower amounts of Championship Points/prizing after a poor Day 2 performance.

- Although this may seem similar to the first disadvantage listed, Pokémon is now allowing more people to play in day 2 without raising prize support for these players. I feel like this is a huge problem for nearly everyone in the Pokémon community, as players can play a full day of extra rounds to receive nothing more than everyone that was already eliminated the day before in that prizing bracket. It seems like with more added prize support for anyone that makes Day 2, a good majority of the community would be happier with this system being applied.

- More players in the second day of competition means that tournaments will most likely run for longer amounts of time. Competitors are never big fans of longer tournaments, as they become exhausting and can also cause gameplay errors to occur. In the Pokémon Trading Card Game currently, messing up during games can be a big mistake for players and can come with some terrible consequences. Even in the Philadelphia Regionals finals, Rukan Shao was extremely tired and made multiple gameplay errors that ended up costing him the championship. Exhaustion will always be a factor in these large tournaments, but it may come into play at a higher frequency with more players making the second day of competition.

Everyone can take these pros/cons with some skepticism, as they’re just my personal opinions and may not be the way that some people think of this system. Overall, I like the new system and love the opportunity for more players to make Day 2. To win the gold, you have to make it to the playoffs, and we now have more chances for everyone to make it to the playoffs! I definitely feel like Pokémon should have more prizing support for anyone that makes the 2nd day of competition, especially with tournaments starting to cost more and more money to enter. If a player can reach the cutoff point necessary to advance further in the competition, they should receive compensation for that accomplishment.


This is what I’ve been most excited to talk about with everybody in the Pokémon community. For so long, the top-tier decks have been dominated by huge Pokémon-EX or Pokémon-GX that have been powerhouse archetypes. Decks may completely revolve around Zoroark-GX and possibly add in another Pokémon to give the deck an attacker, such as Golisopod-GX or Lycanroc-GX. Other top-tier decks have focused on using just basic Pokémon to dominate a board-state early, such as the Buzzwole decks of recent past. It has been such a long time since our format has allowed for any creativity in deck-building, which has just recently changed with this rotation! At the Philadelphia Regional Championships, we had the 1st seed and 2nd seed after Day 1 playing not one… not two… but THREE stage 1 Pokémon lines in their decks! Caleb Gedemer, the inevitable champion of the tournament, was running his Buzzwole FLI deck that played a Magcargo line to support drawing which cards he needed, a Garbodor GRI line as a secondary attacker to punish any decks that revolve around items, and a Weavile UPR line as a third attacker to help combat any decks that revolve around playing Pokémon with abilities. Xander Pero also ended up making the Top 4 of this tournament and was playing a Zoroark-GX based deck, which included a Banette-GX line to counter any Buzzwole decks and to manipulate damage, and a Garbodor GRI line as a third attacker to punish any decks that revolve around items.

These results are a strong indicator that creative deck-building is back and better than ever for this new format. Players can choose to fit in nearly any Pokémon lines that help certain matchups or add consistency. Without Professor Sycamore in the format to just discard everything in a hand and possible pieces of a Stage 1 line, the setup process is slower and can handle more Pokémon lines being played. Without the possibility of getting N’d to lower amounts of cards in the late game, players can also just play their own game without much worry of getting N’d out of these Pokémon lines. Without Garbodor BKP to just constantly block abilities, more support Pokémon can be played to help in the setup process and to help with internal consistency (such as Magcargo stacking good draws or Ribombee grabbing energy cards for Magnezone-based decks). More Pokémon lines means more creativity in deck-building, and more creativity just makes this game much more fun to play!

Just by looking at the top 78 decks for Philadelphia Regionals, it’s obvious that deck-building creativity is already higher than formats of recent past. Multiple Magnezone/Dusk Mane Necrozma-GX decks advanced, multiple Empoleon UPR decks advanced, some players were using Swampert CES to support their decks drawing cards, multiple Metagross-GX decks advanced and one of them even made the Top 8, Banette-GX was the second seed of the tournament after Day 1 and placed in the Top 4. With Garbodor BKP out of the way, nearly any Pokémon with a decent ability becomes a viable option to play in competitive decks so players should be ready for anything at these big tournaments. Don’t be afraid to try out anything right now in this format, as all decks have more time to setup and can’t have their abilities shut off so easily from Garbodor coming into play.


This was the 4th place deck at Philadelphia Regionals that was piloted by Xander Pero and was probably the deck that I would have played at that Regionals if my flight didn’t get cancelled. With a great matchup against many popular decks in the metagame, Zoroark-GX/Banette-GX seems like a perfect meta call with only one glaring downside that can’t be avoided. This downside is the abysmal matchup against a very popular deck in the current meta, which is Zoroark-GX/Lycanroc-GX. That deck is faster, smoother, and can capitalize on weaknesses for both of our main attackers without using many item cards. Other than that, Zoroark/Banette can deal with just about anything in the meta and has solid matchups across the board. Let’s take a closer look at how the deck works and some of the card choices involved in this deck.


Zoroark-GX/Banette-GX is basically a toolbox type of deck that has answers to almost everything in the format. If you are playing against anything with Buzzwole or Buzzwole-GX, Banette-GX can help completely swing that matchup with Garbodor coming in for the big knockouts at the mid to late game. For nearly every other matchup, Zoroark-GX is the main attacker and Banette-GX is just support that can move damage counters around to make knockouts easier. This deck sets up like any other Zoroark-GX based deck, with tons of Nest Balls, Ultra Balls, and either a Lillie or Apricorn Maker to accentuate after those. You try and get out as many Zorua as possible, with one or two Shuppet on the bench as well. Shuppet is never really a target for most opponents (besides Buzzwole decks) so they are usually safe on the bench. Depending on the matchup, the next couple of turns are usually just evolving into attackers, trading into resources, and using different supporter cards to help gain an advantage.

Against other Zoroark decks, Acerola is usually the supporter of choice, as we can win the Zoroark battle by constantly using Acerola to pick up damaged attackers, while most other Zoroark decks play one or zero Acerola of their own. Against any decks that use 180 HP attackers, such as Rayquaza-GX or Tapu Bulu-GX, Professor Kukui is a great supporter help reach the numbers to achieve knockouts. With a full bench + Devoured Field + Choice Band + Kukui, those Pokémon can get one-shotted by a Zoroark-GX. While this combo may sound hard to achieve, it’s pretty easy with multiple copies of everything and multiple Zoroarks on the board to draw. Let’s take a closer look at some of the cards that are in Xander’s list:

4-4 Zoroark GX (SLG; 53) : This is a Zoroark-based deck and requires max counts to assure that we get out as many Zoroark as possible by turn two. Zoroark also serves as our main attacker in nearly every matchup.

2-2 Banette GX (CLS; 157) : While Banette is a fantastic support card to help move damage counters around, it is mainly used for our weakness to Buzzwole decks. Banette has a great resistance to Fighting Pokémon and can capitalize on Buzzwole’s weakness to Psychic attackers, making that matchup very favorable.

1-1 Garbodor (NVI; 49) : This isn’t a big line for Garbodor, but it’s mainly just a finisher that can hit for big numbers needed to take a final knockout or two. Don’t look to setup Garbodor in the early game, as Trubbish usually ends up hitting the board during the mid-game to evolve later for a final attack on opponent’s that have used too many item cards.

1 Tapu Koko (BW; 31) : Plain and simple. Sometimes this deck can’t reach the numbers needed for some knockouts, which is where Tapu Koko comes in to weaken everything on the opponent’s board. Tapu Koko also gives Banette-GX some damage counters to start manipulating, while also giving us a free retreater in the process.

1 Tapu Lele (UPR; 94) : This is our tech card against Rayquaza-GX, as we can one-shot a 3-energy Rayquaza-GX with just a Rainbow Energy and a Choice Band. Just helps to make this matchup more solid for Zoroark/Banette, as Rayquaza-GX can get out of hand if not dealt with immediately.

4 Ultra Ball / 4 Nest Ball (SUM; 158)  / 2 Timer Ball (SUM; 134) : We need to have plenty of setup cards to assure that we can get out our basic Pokémon. Maxed out Ultra Ball and Nest Ball are almost mandatory for this deck and I would love to find a replacement for Timer Ball if possible, but it seems to be one of the best choices for getting out evolution cards. The Timer Balls could possibly be changed for Great Balls or Friend Balls but would require some extra testing to see if they work better than the risk of playing Timer Balls. For now, Timer Ball seems good enough.

2 Choice Band / 2 Weakness Policy: Ideally, we would have 3 Choice Band to assure that we can hit some crucial numbers that are needed for this deck. Since there aren’t many decks out right now that play more than one Field Blower, low numbers of tool cards should be fine. The Weakness Policy is to help Zoroark-GX overcome the weakness to Fighting and become an attacker against the baby Buzzwole decks, or to help Banette-GX overcome the weakness to Dark and become an attacker against other Zoroark-GX decks. Both are risky, as a Field Blower can ruin this plan, but not many people are playing Field Blower in a format that doesn’t have Garbodor BKP.

3 Cynthia / 3 Guzma / 2 Lillie (UPR; 151) : These are the main consistency cards of the deck that are pretty much needed in every Zoroark deck nowadays. Lillie is the best supporter to play on the first turn of the game, Cynthia is the best supporter to play in the mid-game, and Guzma is the ideal supporter to play on the ending turns where crucial knockouts are needed on opponent’s benched Pokémon.

2 Acerola (BUS; 112)  / 1 Professor Kukui (SUM; 148) : These are the “tech” supporter cards that help against certain matchups. Acerola is strong against anything that can’t directly one-shot our attackers, while Kukui is good for reaching that desired combination of cards to hit for 170 to 180 damage.

1 Lusamine (CIN; 96) : While good in theory for allowing us to get back two crucial supporter cards and also being a supporter card for Banette-GX to abuse, Lusamine may be too slow for this deck and could be utilized better as a third Acerola or a Pal Pad.

1 Mallow (GRI; 127)  / 1 Judge / 1 Apricorn Maker (CLS; 124) : These supporter cards are the spots where you can put in whatever you would like to make the deck your own playstyle. Apricorn Maker is a great card to help in the early to mid-game, which can also help to thin your deck by getting rid of some Nest Balls or Timer Balls. Judge is the replacement for N as a disruption card but doesn’t seem to be nearly as effective as N was in the late game. Try to play Judge in the early game for maximum efficiency. The Mallow is just a great card to help consistency and is popular in many Zoroark-based decks to get crucial cards when needed. Possible replacements for these three cards could be Mars, Team Skull Grunt, TV Reporter, and many other choices.

3 Devoured Field (CIN; 93) : Since we don’t play Field Blower, this deck needs a way to bump out opposing Shrine of Punishments. Devoured Field also allows us to hit crucial numbers with that additional 10 damage for Zoroark’s attacks, such as hitting 130 on baby Buzzwole with a full bench and hitting for 180 damage with the full combo of cards.

3 Rainbow Energy / 1 Psychic Energy: This could honestly be just four Rainbow Energy, but the Psychic energy makes the deck slightly less vulnerable to Enhanced Hammer and allows us to attack opposing Xurkitree-GX. The majority of the time, it’s going to be used as a Psychic energy anyways.

Now that we’ve taken a look at the card counts in this deck and have gone over why certain cards are included for different matchups, let’s go over some of the strengths and weaknesses of this deck.



- As a Zoroark-based deck, this is going to be very fast and setup quickly. Many decks in the format are trying to setup stage 2 Pokémon with Rare Candies, which won’t be able to deal with early aggression very well.

- Banette-GX can help this deck to reach certain numbers that are usually just out of reach. Always remember to use Banette-GX’s ability and be thinking multiple turns in advance to which Pokémon need weakening.

- With Banette-GX in this deck, there is a strong counter for the baby Buzzwole deck that is currently gaining in popularity over the past couple of weeks. If this deck can setup effectively, Banette-GX can sweep through those baby Buzzwole decks without any problem whatsoever.

- Since this deck plays 2 Acerola and has a Lusamine (which can be changed for Pal Pad), there are plenty of ways to heal through opposing decks that focus on two-shotting our attackers. Consider those matchups to be very favorable with the added healing cards in our deck.

- Many players often forget about Garbodor GRI and will use huge amounts of items to help in the setup process. Garbodor has a great way of just showing up for the last huge knockout needed to take the win over an opponent.

- With Puzzle of Time no longer in play, Banette-GX provides a great source of recovery with its Tomb Hunt GX attack. Even if crucial cards are discarded throughout the game, Banette-GX can always get them back when in a bind.


- This deck can falter very easily if there aren’t many basic Pokémon hitting the bench on the first turn of games. This usually isn’t a problem, but some matchups can be unwinnable if only one Zorua is hitting the bench to be evolved on the next turn, as using “Trade” is our main source of drawing cards and getting setup.

- Zoroark/Lycanroc is nearly an unwinnable matchup that can’t be teched for with just one card. If this deck grows in popularity, Zoroark/Banette has no place in the metagame.

- If some setup decks that can hit for huge amounts of damage get setup quickly, there is nothing that Zoroark/Banette can do to stop them. Good examples of this would be Magnezone/Dusk Mane Necrozma-GX or Solgaleo-GX/Metagross-GX. They are too bulky with too much HP and can just one-shot anything that we put in front of them.


With everything considered, Zoroark-GX/Banette-GX is a very strong contender in the current format that is also extremely fun to play. It has answers to nearly everything and only has one truly bad matchup in Zoroark/Lycanroc. I don’t expect this deck to be played very much, so it is also a good surprise deck to bring into tournaments. Everyone should feel free to test nearly anything going into these upcoming tournaments and let your creativity run wild, as some players coasted on creativity to make huge placements in the Philadelphia Regional Championships and it paid off.

Thanks to everybody that read through my article and hopefully everyone took something away from my writing! If you aren’t currently following me on any social media platforms, be sure to add me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter (@Sabelhaus_TCG). Huge shoutouts to my sponsors at 8Bit Planet and you can follow anything team related on our Facebook page at Team 8 Bit Planet. If you have any questions or comments about the article, feel free to message me with anything!

-Ryan Sabelhaus<3

[+17] okko


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