Hello! I’m Stéphane Ivanoff, and if you’ve been following the Pokémon scene, you might have seen my name come up recently. Last week-end, I won the North American International Championship, the biggest Pokémon tournament ever, with Zoroark/Garbodor, a deck that many considered subpar. In this article, I would like to present the deck and explain why it was good enough to win this event, as well as talk about its future.
First, because I know that many readers, especially those from outside Europe, may not have heard of me before the NAIC, I’d like to give my credentials, just like I gave Tord’s one year ago, back when he was largely unknown (hard to believe, right?). I’ve been playing the Pokémon TCG since 2010 and I first had success at the national level, making top 4 at French Nationals four years in a row from 2012 to 2015 (including two wins in 2012 and 2014).
There were years when I couldn’t play as much but I still managed to qualify for Worlds every year since 2012, including making day 2 last season when a top 16 finish at NAIC managed to barely bring me into the top 22 of Europe. Winning NAIC this year was definitely the biggest accomplishment of my career but I’ve been doing alright for a long time now!
But the Pokémon TCG is not only about the players, it’s also about the decks. Few people expected Zoroark/Garbodor to win the event, so how did it do it? I’m in a unique situation to talk about the deck, so here’s the story.
A bit of history
Let’s start with how the deck came to be. As far as I’ve seen, the first significant result Zoroark/Garbodor achieved was when Marc Lutz took the deck to Sydney Internationals and got top 64 with it. Then it started seeing some play in League Cups, with almost all the lists playing Bursting Balloon in order to achieve a one-sided Garbotoxin lock : You put Balloon on Garbodor, activating Garbotoxin, then it’s discarded at the beginning of your next turn, allowing you to use Trade again.
While this is a cute combo, I don’t think Bursting Balloon is very good. Having played against this version of the deck, it never felt like Balloons were very impactful : you need to find one every turn, which is not easy even with Trade, and you don’t put as much pressure on the opponent with a one-turn Garbotoxin lock than with a permanent one, that would force them to have a Field Blower. Plus, outside of the specific Garbotoxin use, Bursting Balloon doesn’t do much.
Sure, it can in theory add 6 damage counters to an opponent and put an opposing Zoroark GX in reach of a Riotous Beating OHKO, but it’s easy to play around it with Guzma, Field Blower, or even by not attacking. There’s a reason why we don’t see Bursting Balloon in any other deck! In contrast, Float Stone is seen in the majority of decks because it’s very good by itself.
This is why, I believe, the Bursting Balloon version of Zoroark/Garbodor never stayed more than a fringe deck, whereas the Float Stone version now totals three International Championships top 8s : you just play better cards!
I say “three” because my friend and countryman Fabien Pujol made top 8 with the exact same list as myself in Columbus, but he first showed the power of the deck at LAIC back in April, where he also made top 8 after an amazing 9-0 start. In my opinion, this is when the current version of the deck was born. Here is how it went down.
It would be incorrect to say that Fabien or myself created the deck. Our friend Didier Nguyen, an underrated deckbuilder (he played Zoroark/Lycanroc back in the European International Championship, before it was cool!), showed us a Japanese decklist that got second at Kyoto regionals. It had a 2-1 split of Garbodor (two Trashalanche and one Garbotoxin), as well Kartana GX and Unit Energy.
Being in the Japanese XY-on format, it also had cards like Sky Field, Shaymin EX, and VS Seeker, but we changed the list to a more Occidental style, with the familiar 4/4 Zoroark GX, Puzzle of Time, Enhanced Hammers and Parallel City. The three of us spent several days in Brazil tweaking the list and playtesting it, and the deck felt very strong against most of the expected metagame, but it was also significantly harder to play than the Bursting Ballon variants. The reason why is that you have many options at every point in the game.
For example, it is often the right play to use Field Blower to remove your own tool from Garbodor in order to access abilities, and knowing when to have Garbotoxin active, and when not to, takes time to master. In the end, of the three of us, only Fabien had the confidence to play Zoroark/Garbodor at the International Championship in São Paulo. He ended up making top 8, and not following him remains my biggest regret of the season.
This is why I was pretty set on playing Zoroark/Garbodor in Columbus for the last International Championship of the season. In the meantime, the deck had become more popular, and even reached the finals of Toronto Regionals, piloted by Frank Diaz. Still, most people felt the deck was not a real contender, maybe because most players had removed Kartana GX from the deck at this point, and some had even come back to the Bursting Ballon variant. Whatever the reason, Zoroark/Garbodor had the potential to surprise people once again.
During our journey to Columbus, Fabien and I tested the deck mostly against Buzzwole/Lycanroc and Zoroark/Golisopod, two decks that we’d expect to face a lot and that had a close match-up with Zoroark/Garbodor. In the end, we decided on the following list.
The shell of the deck should be familiar to everyone who’s seen a Zoroark list this season : 4-4 Zoroark GX, 3 Tapu Lele GX, 4 Puzzle of Time, and so on. I will not comment on these staple cards, and focus instead on those that are specific to this deck.
A 3/2-1 line of Garbodor is ideal, in my opinion. In most cases, you don’t need either of the two Garbodor early in the game, so only playing 3 Trubbish is fine. One Garbotoxin is enough, as the opponent will often have more pressing threats to deal with. If they do Guzma and KO it, Rescue Stretcher, Puzzle of Time and the inherent draw power of Zoroark should be enough to bring it back.
Latios is a tech which is mostly used against Buzzwole decks, though it has it uses to knock out Inkay or to put a benched Tapu Lele GX in range of a Riotous Beating KO. What makes it especially good in this deck is that, unlike in other Zoroark variants, you can use its second attack, Lagoon Flight, which deals 70 damage. This allows you to KO Pokémon such as Buzzwole, Rockruff, and even Buzzwole GX if Latios has a Choice Band. This means that the Buzzwole/Lycanroc player will, at some point, have to deal with Latios, which takes some pressure off your other Pokémon.
Kartana GX is an Enhanced Hammer that can be searched through an Ultra Ball, and also fills the bench for Riotous Beating damage. It is useful to discard DCE from an opposing Zoroark GX, Strong Energy from Rockruff, or what have you. It also has Blade GX, which gives the deck a GX attack (other than the very situational Tapu Cure GX) to use. I believe this is what makes the deck a serious contender : GX attacks are obviously very powerful and not having one at your disposal would be a waste. Blade GX can close out games and prevent 7-prize games : if you have an odd number of prizes and the opponent only has Pokémon GX in play, Kartana GX allows you to knock out one less than you should and just use Blade GX to take your last prize.
Field Blower is a 3-of in this deck because in addition to its normal uses, you sometimes use it to discard your own Float Stone from Garbodor in order to draw cards with Trade. It also helps a lot in match-ups such as Buzzwole/Garbodor and to have the upper hand in Parallel City wars.
Mysterious Treasure is the only new addition from Forbidden Light and is played in the place of a second Evosoda : though it doesn’t search for Zoroark GX, you can use it for almost all of the other cards in the deck. Crucially, it allows you to find a Tapu Lele GX, which makes it one more out to a turn 1 Brigette. This allows you to play 2 Brigette and still have similar odds to hitting it turn 1 as the average Zoroark/Golisopod or Zoroark/Lycanroc deck.
Some cards that didn’t make the cut are Mewtwo EVO, a 2nd Enhanced Hammer, and a 4th Unit Energy. Mewtwo is useful against Buzzwole, but in testing, we rarely needed it, as both Buzzwole and Buzzwole GX could be knocked out by Trashalanche instead, and the main threat in that match-up was Lycanroc GX. A 2nd Enhanced Hammer would make the deck better in Zoroark mirrors, and the 4th Unit Energy would make managing resources a bit easier, but since it’s not a card you need in the early game, three copies of it is fine.
We also played around with a 4th Trubbish and thought about playing Xurkitree GX, which would give the deck an autowin against decks that only play Special Energy, such as recent lists of Zoroark/Lycanroc. However, we didn’t get around to testing it and I think the card would have proved much too passive for the general gameplan of the deck. Also, note that the Zoroark Control deck that Tord Reklev piloted to a second place would have beaten Xurkitree by recycling Enhanced Hammer and disruption cards, despite only playing DCE.
Here’s a good reason to play Zoroark/Garbodor : it’s a safe play, because it has no autolosses. Thanks to the power of both Zoroark GX and Garbodor, you have tools to deal with every deck in the format. Before I give more details about how to play against the various decks in the metagame, please note that as a general rule, any match-up becomes worse if the opponent plays more Field Blower than expected. (Buzzwole/Garbodor, and any other deck against which you never want Garbotoxin up, are the exceptions to this rule.)
Buzzwole/Lycanroc : The Fighting powerhouse is a mostly even match-up. Your first Brigette should search out two Zorua and a Latios, as you want to set up two Zoroark GX to have access to some draw power, and Latios will attack early on in the game. Trubbish will also be important but it can wait one or two turns, since a smart Buzzwole player will avoid playing too many items in the early game. If you have a Unit Energy in hand on the first turn, don’t hesitate to attach it to Latios, to threaten a turn 2 Lagoon Flight.
The main threat in that match-up is Lycanroc GX, so any Rockruff should be dealt with quickly, either with Latios or Zoroark. If the Buzzwole player attaches a Strong Energy to Rockruff and you can’t KO it, you should try to remove the energy, with Slice Off if needed. Unlike other Zoroark variants, you don’t need to focus on Remoraid or Octillery (unless the opponent is obviously dead drawing), as you will often establish the Garbotoxin lock in the midgame.
When Abyssal Hand and Bloodthirsty Eyes are shut down, the Buzzwole player’s midgame turns are much weaker. This means it is harder for them to use Beast Ring and knock out a benched Zoroark GX in the same time, for example. There will be a window of time when the opponent can use Sledgehammer and play Beast Ring, but as always when playing against Buzzwole/Lycanroc, you should make this window as small as possible.
This is the point in the game where you start using Trashalanche, to deal with any 3-energy Buzzwole (GX or not). With two Trashalanche, you can KO most of the opponent’s threats, except Lycanroc GX. To deal with Lycanroc GX, it is often best to go for a 2HKO with Energy Drive, with Garbotoxin active so that Diancie’s ability is shut down and it is harder for them to KO Tapu Lele with Claw Slash.
If Lycanroc has just used its GX attack and has a Special Energy attached, you can discard it and 2HKO it with Zoroark GX instead. Note that not all of these suggestions will be useful in every game and you have to adapt your game plan to the situation! They are simply tips to keep in mind, but you need to play to the situation. For example, if you use Parallel City and the opponent discards Octillery, expecting Garbotoxin, you can choose not to play down Garbodor BKP and evolve Trubbish into Trashalanche instead.
Malamar : Whether it’s the pure Psychic version or the Ultra Necrozma one, this is a very favorable match-up for Zoroark/Garbodor. Unless you need Trade to get an Energy card, you should try to establish the Garbotoxin lock early on, as Malamar’s Psychic Recharge is necessary for the deck to work. Zoroark GX is a safe attacker in this match-up : against the Psychic version, it can only be knocked out by Marshadow GX, which can’t attack under Garbotoxin, and can be revenge KO’d by Trashalanche anyway. (Marshadow GX can use Moon’s Eclipse GX after a Field Blower is played to remove Garbotoxin.
In that case, between Trade and Wonder Tag, you should be able to play Guzma and knock out another Pokémon, while putting a tool back on Garbodor if possible.) Ultra Necrozma GX can also KO a Zoroark GX, even under Garbotoxin if it uses Beast Ring to get charged up. For the most part, however, you will win the prize race, especially with Trashalanche becoming a very good attack in the endgame.
Zoroark/Golisopod : Let’s start with some general Zoroark tips. Most Zoroark mirrors end up being about trading 2HKOs, so cards like Acerola and Enhanced Hammer matter, with Kartana GX acting as a second Enhanced Hammer in this deck. You also want Parallel City to reduce your opponent’s bench. However, your real ace in the hole is Garbodor BKP. While Zoroark/Golisopod may have access to better tools, such as Counter Catcher, in a “fair” Zoroark match-up (where both players can use Trade), your goal is to make the match-up unfair instead, by setting up Garbotoxin to cut off both players’ draw power when your board position is better.
Typically, after the early game where you try to KO any unevolved Zorua, players will trade KOs with Riotous Beating. You should try to set up Garbotoxin on a turn where you N your opponent and you either knock out their active Zoroark GX or remove its energy. Without access to Trade, it is likely they dead draw or at least have worse turns where they need to Sycamore away key cards, play Cynthia or N to find a Field Blower instead or Acerola, or some other inconvenience.
Then, if they do play a Field Blower, you can draw cards with Trade as well, and use Garbotoxin + N again. Finally, when planning your last prizes, keep Blade GX in mind. For example, if you have only two prizes remaining and your opponent benches a Zorua or Wimpod, you should bring it Active and KO it as soon as possible, and take your last prize with Kartana GX. This is much easier than taking two prizes on a Zoroark GX or Golisopod GX, which can be healed or discarded with Parallel City.
Zoroark/Lycanroc : Most of the above tips apply to this variant as well. However, where Golisopod is not particularly threatening (at least, not more than Zoroark GX), Lycanroc GX can be a huge threat, which makes this deck a worse match-up (but still absolutely winnable). Your main priority should be to KO any Rockruff you can, or failing that, to discard their energy. (Note that many Zoroark/Lycanroc lists play only Special Energy, following Seb Symonds’ Sheffield-winning list.)
Even if the opponent sets up a Lycanroc GX with enough energy to use Claw Slash, you can still Hammer away the Strong Energy, put up Garbodor BKP in play and N, and go for the 2HKO with Energy Drive, Riotous Beating or Trashalanche. If it’s a Fighting Energy instead of a Strong Energy, you can’t use Enhanced Hammer on it, but on the flip side, that means that Lycanroc will not OHKO Garbodor GRI with Claw Slash, so you can attack twice in a row with it.
Buzzwole/Garbodor : This is a favourable match-up. All the attackers in that deck are Psychic-weak, so Garbodor GRI and Latios are very good. The deck has no energy acceleration outside of Beast Ring, so take some time in the early game to set up some Pokémon. Zoroark GX can even attack safely in the early game as long as there’s no Buzzwole GX with two Energy on it (in which case it should be dealt with quickly, either by KOing it or by discarding its energy).
The Beast Ring turns are crucial, so if at all possible, you want to only give them one turn of it. For example, you can take one prize on a Trubbish with Zoroark GX, and then KO a Buzzwole GX in two turns (Energy Drive is a decent attack in that situation). This puts you to 3 prizes left, which allows the Buzzwole player to play Beast Ring. If they only play one, you can then KO the opposing attacker with Trashalanche, basically winning the game.
For that, you need to have two Trubbish or Garbodor in play. If you have only one (and no Latios), the opponent can simply bring it Active and KO it with Buzzwole GX, and you will not be able to deal with it. This is the only way you lose the match-up, apart from Garbotoxin+N shenanigans. (By the way, Garbodor BKP is absolutely useless in this match-up and your Trubbish should only evolve into Garbodor GRI.)
Greninja : In this match-up, you want to set Garbotoxin after their third turn, just before they can get access to Giant Water Shuriken. You can get some easy KOs in the early game, but Greninja will then be out of reach of Riotous Beating and you’ll have to settle for 2HKOs. Still, as long as you can keep the Garbotoxin lock, the match-up is not as bad as it sounds.
Use Enhanced Hammer to remove Splash Energy before you take a KO, to try to limit the number of Greninja BREAK the opponent has access to in the late game. If possible, target down Starmie, so that turns where the Greninja plays a Field Blower are only bad, instead of devastating. One trick that’s very useful is to attack with a Zoroark GX then, when it’s taken a hit or two, retreat it (with Float Stone or Guzma) to another Zoroark GX.
When the second one is damaged as well, bring out a Tapu Lele GX and use Tapu Cure GX to heal both Zoroark. Tapu Lele will take a hit but it shouldn’t matter, and you can resume attacking with Zoroark. For the most part, you should deal with Greninja and Greninja BREAK. At some point when the end is in sight, you can think about taking an easy prize on a benched Froakie or Frogadier. In the endgame, it is likely that Trashalanche becomes an OHKO on Greninja BREAK, and you can take your last prizes with it.
I have tried to give guidelines against the most common decks, but above all, remember that you sometimes have to be creative. Zoroark/Garbodor is a deck with many options and the usual line of play may not be the optimal one in any situation. There are games where you will Parallel yourself multiple times, games where you will set up double KOs with Latios, games where you’ll attack with Kartana’s Gale Blade (with a Choice Band, it OHKOs Sylveon GX!), and so on. This variety of options makes Zoroark/Garbodor a hard deck to master, but it also makes it very rewarding to play.
While the 2017-2018 season is over (apart from Worlds), there is still one major event in the current format : the Valencia Special Event will take place on Friday and Saturday. Zoroark/Garbodor will likely see more play than in previous events. A word of warning, though, if you plan to play the deck : now that the spotlight is on it, it is riskier to play it. I expect Malamar and Zoroark lists to go from two to three Field Blower, which gives them more answers to Garbotoxin and Parallel City. There could also be more Special Energy hate, so I would consider going back to a list with Psychic Energy instead of Unit (and no Kartana GX). In any case, the deck is not dead by any means, but it winning NAIC does not mean it will necessarily do well in Valencia. As for myself, I haven’t had time to playtest since coming back from the United States, so I might play Zoroark/Garbodor out of comfort (and pride), but I’m also considering other options, as I’m worried that people will be prepared for it.
Looking further, Zoroark/Garbodor seems like a fine play for Worlds. I haven’t played any games with Celestial Storm, but on paper, the only new deck will be Rayquaza GX, which will probably play many items and discard them with Rayquaza’s ability. This seems like a decent match-up for Zoroark/Garbodor, but I may be underestimating Rayquaza. Above all, the meta will be new again, with Japanese players bringing a new unknown into the equation. As I’ve said above, Zoroark/Garbodor does well when the metagame is unpredictable, due to the reliability and all-around efficiency of both Zoroark and Garbodor. For this reason, I’ll definitely take the deck into account when I’m preparing for Worlds.
No deck has ever won NAIC (or their predecessor, the US Nationals) and Worlds the same year. Could Zoroark/Garbodor be the first?
Thank you for reading! I hope I was able to shed a bit of light on the workings of Zoroark/Garbodor. If you’d like to hear more about me, feel free to follow me on Twitter (@lubyllule). Or, if you can read French or have a lot of confidence in Google Translate, I also write articles for French website Pokécardex sometimes (including an in-depth tournament report from NAIC).