If you’ve been around Pokemon TCG social media in the last few days, you’ll probably have noticed a lot of talk about DCE, Zoroark, potential bans, and the state of Expanded in general. About two thirds of players in day 2 of Anaheim Regionals this past weekend used some kind of Zoroark deck, and people are apparently getting tired of it. I don’t usually participate in discussions like that, but for some reason felt like writing down my opinion on a few of these topics, so let’s get into it.
To start off, I’d like to talk about Zoroark in the Standard format, and why I think it’s a fair card there. I’ve read some arguments claiming that it should have been printed with a different attack cost, and that it would still be a good card. I partly agree, because it would indeed have been decent still, and maybe played as the draw engine in a few decks. However, I also think that Zoroark decks were some of the most fun, skilful and interactive decks we’ve had in recent times, so what exactly is the problem with their existence in this form?
Zoroark’s strength lies in its consistency and versatility. On its own, the most broken thing it can do is spamming Acerola and tanking hits. That’s very useful, but when facing off against decks that take OHKOs, not overly impressive. The challenge of finding the right cards that make Zoroark persist in each meta, and then having the consistency to find them and execute the strategy you thought off – in my opinion, it is fun and feels very rewarding.
If Zoroark didn’t attack for a DCE, all that wouldn’t be possible. You wouldn’t be able to pair it with whatever secondary attacker you want, and it wouldn’t be able to heal and instantly attack again. There’s no way Zoroark as an attacker would have ever been a thing if the attack cost included a Dark Energy, not in formats full of Buzzwole, Tapu Bulu, and whatnot. It was frustrating at times having to deal with all these OHKO decks, but that’s the trade-off Zoroark players take, consistency and options in exchange for raw power.
If we only look at the current season, Zoroark has been performing poorly, which again shows that the card has its weaknesses and needs the right cards around it to be strong. It has been one of the most played decks at every high-level tournament after rotation, and usually had good amounts of day 2 placings, but constantly underperformed once there. Without Brigette, an important part of its consistency just wasn’t there anymore, and without N, it was hard to come back against all those high damage decks.
My personal experience mirrors those numbers. For Offenbach Regionals, our team tried their hardest to make Zoroark happen again, and almost all of us took it into the tournament just because we wanted to. However, the only one that did well was the one playing Buzzwole instead, Pedro, the only one that accepted that Zoroark wasn’t the same anymore.
For all its Standard life, Zoroark has been a contender, up there with other decks like Buzzwole, but it never outright dominated the game. I also haven’t heard much, if any, complaints about it making the game unfun in any other way. So, what would really be the point in it having a different attack cost? Turn a great card into a decent card, just because it’s really good?
Even more prevalent than talk about Zoroark have been complaints about Double Colorless Energy, which I honestly can’t relate to at all.
In itself, DCE is just a way to balance attacks that would be too strong for 1 energy, and too weak for 2 energy. I see it as a way for the game designers to have “1.5 energy” attacks. The argument can be made that the cards that have been using it are too strong or oppressive, but it’s not DCE’s fault. It’s not an accidental interaction. The person who created Zoroark thought that it should be able to attack for one attachment, but wanted it to have downsides, which DCE makes possible. If this possibility didn’t exist, there would just be less options for the ones who make our cards. Zoroark could attack for a basic Darkness energy, but that would make it even better. It could attack for 2 Darkness energy, but that would remove most of its utility as an attacker.
I’ve read comparisons to “balanced” special energies like Double Rainbow Energy, but I don’t think that’s fair. Cards like DRE are meant to fuel actual 2-energy attacks if certain conditions are met, while DCE is supposed to power up less powerful attacks, that are in between 1 and 2 energy attacks in terms of power level. If anything, I’d compare it to Double Dragon Energy, where all Dragons were designed with it specifically in mind for a while.
Ever since DCE’s print in HGSS, cards in every set have been designed around it. It’s a part of the game. I’ve read arguments like “it speeds up the game” or “increases variance”, but I don’t think that’s true. What matchup involves more variance, a Zoroark mirror (in Standard), or a Vikaray mirror? The most prominent DCE users, decks like Zoroark, Seismitoad, or even Night March, have a lot of control over the game and actively lower the impact of variance, and are also often on the slower side of finishing games. Generalizations like that just don’t make sense.
Our current formats are not made to function without DCE, and I don’t think getting rid of it would put them in a better place. It would eliminate a ton of cards that are supposed to make use of it and push all the energy accelerating OHKO deck that are around into their place. I’m sure players would get sick of the format quickly.
Zoroark in Expanded
When talking about Expanded, I agree with Zoroark being too good and needing to be balanced. I could see it getting banned and think that would be a reasonable decision. However, I also think that when Pokemon, in an attempt to nerf Zoroark, banned Hex Maniac and Puzzle of Time at the beginning of the season, they hit the wrong cards. Getting rid of Exeggcute, another heavily discussed card, would also change nothing.
When comparing Zoroark in Standard and Expanded, there’s one crucial difference: its attacking power. In Standard, it can’t take OHKOs on other GX Pokemon, which is such an important weakness in this game that’s based on prize trades. It takes a lot for a 2-prize Pokemon that doesn’t deal OHKOs to be viable. Blacephalon, Buzzwole, Rayquaza, Gardevoir, Necrozma… almost every GX that’s ever been playable doesn’t have much of a damage cap. It’s impressive that Zoroark has still been able to keep up with a lot of them in this and last year’s Standard format, even as the main attacker, considering it’s at an inherent disadvantage in the prize trade.
Enter Expanded and Sky Field, this problem no longer exists. Not only does Sky Field up Zoroark’s damage output into OHKO range on most Pokemon, it also eliminates the disadvantage of spamming set up Pokemon like Tapu Lele and Shaymin. If Sky Field existed in Standard, Zoroark would completely dominate there. If Riotous Beating did 30x, instead of 20, same thing.
Little story time, right when Shining Legends was released, on the first weekend, we had an Expanded League Cup here in Germany. I played a Zoroark deck, and even though I could have played any of the following cards, my lists didn’t have any Puzzle of Time, Exeggcute, or Hex Maniac! I played a thick Muk line as my counter to Sudowoodo, and other than that just planned to consistently hit for 180 from turn 2 onwards, with a small amount of disruption and healing. The format’s prior top decks, D-Valley Garbodor, Darkrai, and Turtonator stood no chance against that, even though my list didn’t include any of the now banned cards and was probably far from optimal.
Zoroark, when freed of its main weakness, is just incredibly efficient, no matter what specific other great cards you put around it. Why set up tons of Darkness energy, or rely on hitting a Blacksmith every other turn, when you could do the same amount of damage for one attachment, and draw a bunch of cards at the same time? If it was attacking for 120 base damage, like a fair Zoroark, everything would be different. You could either go for setting up strong combos with different decks and have big damage output as the payoff, or take Zoroark’s consistency, but in turn struggle with its low power. Like it’s been all year long in Standard.
With Sky Field in format, Zoroark does it all, and I think one of the two should probably go. Removing Puzzle and Hex did very little, because it doesn’t change this inherently broken combination. I’m not even sure DCE is absolutely needed for Zoroark to be a dominant attacker, as Dark Patch would still make it very efficient. The main difference would be less deck space for other cute tricks, but it could still do the OHKO game from turn 2 on while not losing its incredible consistency.
To sum this up, if we don’t want more than half of players in Expanded Regional day 2s to announce “Riotous Beating” all day long, there’s only two ban options: Sky Field, or Zoroark itself. Exeggcute, Puzzle of Time, Hex Maniac, while being very strong cards of course, didn’t cause this.
As I’m sure some of you will be thinking “but Zoroark without Sky Field just won two Regionals in a row!”, let me talk about Jimmy’s deck as well. I don’t think Zoroark is the issue with the deck and am not even sure the deck is an issue at all. The deck mainly attacks with Seismitoad, and while Zoroark is a nice backup option, this deck is much more comparable to Seismitoad Slurpuff, than to any other thing Zoroark has done throughout the past year. Quaking Punch has been subject of many complaints ever since it got printed, but I personally never had an issue with it.
This might be an unpopular opinion, but I always found playing with or against it very interesting, and there are counters. Back in April, before Sindenfingen Regionals, our group had tested Seismitoad Zoroark, but it wasn’t good enough against Zoroark Sky Field decks that played Pokemon Ranger. I don’t know if a simple Ranger is still enough to beat it, but I’m sure players in Anaheim didn’t do their best to prepare for Seismitoad. Control decks in general are usually the most effective when they’re not overly expected, but exploitable if you try. Countering aggressive decks is harder, because they could always run you over, but it’s hard for me to imagine that a deck that gives you much time is that impossible to beat.
For me, it’s a good thing when there’s a deck that’s so difficult to both pilot and to play against, that a single player can dominate the competition for two Regionals in a row! The Zoroeggs deck last season felt very degenerate, like anyone could pick that up and Hex chain others out of the game while spamming easy KOs. With Garbodor and Klefki this season, it’s probably not very different. I have however always seen Seismitoad as a card that good players use to outplay their opponents.
Maybe the deck will continue to win tournaments even if people start teching against it or play decks that are meant to have good matchups against it. In that case, I would first take another look at Lusamine, and the infinite resources it gives the deck. Which is a good transition into the next topic that I’d like to quickly touch on.
An Aside on Lusamine
I think very few people are actually claiming that Zoroark needs to go in Standard. Most of the complaints are directed at Expanded specifically. However, for the past year, there has always been some amount of talk about a different card: Lusamine. A common argument is that it shouldn’t be able to loop itself infinitely.
I for one, would be happy to see it receive an errata or even a ban. It isn’t exactly format defining, but I very much dislike the Lusamine Stall decks. In my opinion, it’s almost impossible to beat them without basic energy acceleration. Decks like Rayquaza can easily dismantle them, but they are the only ones that realistically win the matchup.
The other way to beat them is through Oranguru and Judge, but it doesn’t work in tournaments. Tord’s Granbull deck from Harrogate was built to beat Stall decks, and it absolutely does. However, when facing European control legend Sander, he quickly realized, that when factoring in shuffles from approximately a hundred Judges and Stevens, he’ll need more than 50 minutes. Their game ended with a 0-0 tie, Tord not being in danger of ever losing, but only drawing a single prize in all that time.
I don’t want to be forced to either take the Loss, play a Rayquaza like deck, or play a 50-minute game 1 and tie. However, that’s just my personal preference, and I don’t expect the Standard ban list to be used anytime soon. And to be honest, I think most decks that can’t beat Stall decks right now, wouldn’t be able to do so even without Lusamine. It would make it feel like much more of a fair fight though.
I think Zoroark is a well designed card, but acknowledge it being too crazy in the Expanded format. If I was to decide how to “fix” the format, I’d get rid of Sky Field and Lusamine.
If you like reading such opinion based pieces, let me know, and I might do this more regularly in the future. For now, thanks for reading!