This is a collaborative post between Jett (inthirdperson) and I – hope you enjoy!
Getting into the game
So there I was, living the lockdown life, focused, flourishing, when I received a Discord message from Jett: “Have you ever played Pokemon TCG?” And the truth is, that even though I’ve been playing the video games all my life, I’d never dabbled in the card game at all. “No,” I respond, then add, “but I’d like to learn.” Jett sends me a video playlist from the Pokemon YouTube Channel that covers all the basic rules and how-to, and tells me to try playing The Card Game Online. So I watch the videos (a whole 15 minutes!) and install the TCG player. Thus, my card game journey began.
The Pokemon Card Game can be a vast, intimidating, money-sucking black pit (once you fall in, you may never crawl back out again) so I started off small, focusing on the Theme decks. These are pre-made decks, geared toward competitive play with built-in strategies that are easy to pick up and use immediately, even for a novice. Once I’d gotten the basics down, Jett and I started to play each other fairly regularly (our Groudon vs. Kyogre deck showdown is legendary) and have even streamed our matches on his Twitch channel a few times. This is where the idea for this (hopefully series!) was born: Jett and I thought it would be fun to share our thoughts on our favourite cards as we stumble our way through the world of TCG. Though Jett is a lot more savvy than I (he’s a legend on the online ladder), here’s our honour roll picks from our first foray into Theme decks!
In the world of Pokemon TCG, Piplup strikes fear into the hearts of even the most hardened of players. Don’t let its cuteness fool you – because once Piplup has evolved to Prinplup, and of course, Empoleon, it’s an absolute nightmare on the field. With its 160 HP, and myriad of phenomenal attacks, Empoleon is a serious threat.
With its signature move, Recall, Empoleon has access to both Piplup and Prinplup’s moves: Bubble Hold, and Direct Dive. Bubble Hold hits for a solid 80 damage, while having the bonus ability to stop Basic Pokemon in their tracks, by preventing them from attacking on your opponents next turn. If your opponent has no other Pokemon ready to go on their bench, or is unwilling to pay the energy cost to retreat their active ‘mon, you’ve effectively stalled out their team completely. This allows you some extra turns to set up your own bench, and fill your hand with more cards.
Direct Dive is the real kicker here: this move allows you to target one of your opponents benched Pokemon and deal a cool 100 damage, at the cost of discarding all attached energy. Knocking out a potential threat before it even has a chance to get going (for example, I love to try and snipe Jett’s Gible/Gabite before Garchomp even hits the field) can turn the tide of an entire match. Any move that allows you to damage Pokemon on the bench is huge – even if you’re not picking up KO’s, it might put a bulkier ‘mon in KO range of another move. Did I mention that, thanks to Recall, these moves only require one measly energy? Powerful, and economical! But wait, there’s more!
Empoleon also sports the move Aquafall, which does 130 damage, at the cost of 2 energy (which must be discarded afterward). Again, 2 energy is a relatively low cost for the amount of damage, and it’s a quick way to dispense of tougher Pokemon with higher HP. Empoleon is definitely the star of the Unseen Depths theme deck (sorry Kyogre) and from the perspective of a TCG scrub, it’s a fantastic Pokemon.
Jett: Nothing shatters dreams quite like an Empoleon Direct Drive to the bench. With a savvy Trainer like Meg guiding the way, Empoleon can blast that one key Pokemon off of my bench before they have a chance to shine. As that star Pokemon washes away, so too does the energy it was carrying along with my hopes of winning the match. Do everything you can to take Piplup out early or protect your bench with Bench Barrier Mew!
SM Unified Minds
Float like a butterfly, snack like a shark! Bucking the trend of stage 2 Pokemon being beefy brutes with high retreat costs, Garchomp has the ability to slip out of battle for free. Even though its 150 HP is enough to withstand some of the game’s heftier attacks, being able to retreat at will gives me some flexibility for when Garchomp should strike next.
And when Garchomp strikes, it can strike hard! Garchomp’s Over Slice maneuver hits for an efficient 80 damage for only two energy. If I’ve got energy to spare, I can burn an energy during this attack to increase the damage by 40, making it able to KO many single-prize Pokemon in one hit!
When I’m clawing back from a deficit, Garchomp goes into overdrive thanks to its Avenging Aura ability. When Meg has the prize card advantage, Garchomp does an additional 80 damage! That means during a deficit, Garchomp can hit for up to 200 damage before factoring in weakness and resistance! Using only two energy and burning one in the process, Garchomp at a prize disadvantage can one-hit KO any single-prize Pokemon while gravely-wounding most two-prize Pokemon. Some lower HP Victory Pokemon like Pikachu V will even fall to one slice!
Though I got my Garchomp cards as part of a Groudon theme deck, Garchomp is the real MVP.
Meghan: I feel a little piece of my soul leave my body every time I see Gible hop onto Jett’s bench. With its high HP and damage output, I usually like to try and take care of this ‘mon before it becomes a Garchomp. Even if I manage to take an early lead, Garchomp is usually there in the end game, like the proverbial lego underneath my TCG foot, ready to stop me in my tracks (with the ensuing pain and suffering).
Let’s get down to business (monkey business, that is) to defeat our foes! Ambipom is a surprise powerhouse that I’ve grown to love as part of the Unseen Depths theme deck. Though its first evolution, Aipom, isn’t much of a standout on its own, Ambipom has two extremely helpful moves that have helped carry me to many victories. At the cost of a single energy, Ambipom can draw an additional 2 cards from your deck per turn with Nice Nice Catch. Having access to as many cards as possible is as ideal as it gets – with this particular deck, it gets me to support cards faster, and raises the chances that I’ll draw the star of the show, Empoleon. Having access to Ambipom in the early game is hugely advantageous, and if your opponent doesn’t have a powerful attacker ready to go, you can sit pretty with Ambipom pulling cards for several turns (even with its lack of opposable thumbs).
So you need some extra offence? No problem – for 2 energy, Ambipom can use Bye-Bye Throw for a whopping 120 damage! In the smaller leagues of the theme decks, this is considered a big hit, enough to knock out threats like Thundurus, and Tornadus. The only catch, as the name suggests, is your ability (or willingness) to throw cards from your hand into your discard pile. You can select up to 2 cards in your hand to throw away in order for Ambipom to throw hands (chucking 1 will net you 60 points of damage). There’s an element of risk versus reward to consider when using this, as I’ve found myself in a position of potentially throwing away good cards from a meagre hand of 3 or 4, for the trade-off of removing a Pokemon from the field. But if you’ve got the cards to spare, Ambipom can put on some serious pressure, and maybe even surprise an opponent who wasn’t taking it seriously.
Ambipom isn’t the bulkiest of ‘mons (at 100 HP) nor does it have the highest damage output, but it can be both a solid supporter, and decent offensive monster. So who has two thumbs and loves Ambipom? Everyone with two thumbs!
Jett: Burning cards for 120 damage is a high-risk proposition in many cases, especially in service of a Pokemon with only 100 HP. But during the early stages of a match when most basic Pokemon can’t withstand an attack of that magnitude, Ambipom has the potential to completely demolish a squad before it has a chance to develop. Even if Meg’s Ambipom can’t completely shut down my team at the start, a sneaky Bye-Bye Throw might be enough to drop a bigger and wounded Pokemon at an opportune time!
SM Unified Minds
Tornadus on its own isn’t going to rain on anyone’s parade. 120 HP is decent for a one-prize Pokemon, but it will fall in one hit against the game’s heavier hitters. Its attacks when fighting solo won’t send anyone hiding under the covers, either.
But with its BFF Thundurus on the bench, Tornadus becomes an early-game terror! With its thunder buddy on the bench, Thunderous Punch gains the ability to dish out 20 damage to every opposing Pokemon on the bench. If I’m able to land a few Thunderous Punches early, I can potentially score multiple KOs while stifling Meg’s ability to develop any of her Pokemon on the bench.
The one-two punch of Thundurus and Tornadus may not be enough to change the complexion of a match if they’re drawn too late. The combo falls apart if Tornadus can get flattened in one hit, something that becomes much easier to do when everyone has had time to charge up their heavy hitters. But when pulled together early, Meg doesn’t even get to play.
Meghan: Name a more annoying duo, I’ll wait. But seriously, Tornadus (and its genie BFF) are 99 of the problems I have when facing Jett’s Dragonite deck. As soon as these two are on the bench, I know I’m in trouble, and it’s always a scramble to come up with an answer (quickly). Curse you, Tornadus. Curse you.
Who said you had to pick on someone your own size? With Boss’s Orders, you can pick on any Pokemon you want! By playing this card, you switch your opponent’s benched Pokemon with their active Pokemon. Perfect for striking down Piplup before it gets the chance to evolve into the beast that is Empoleon or land the finishing blow on a weakened Charizard.
Meghan: I… really hate this card. Boss’s Orders is a great way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, just when you think you’ve got the game in the bag. Being forced to switch in a benched ‘mon that’s either not ready, or that you’ve been saving to counter a specific pokemon of your opponents is insanely frustrating. Especially when you factor in the mechanic that forces you to give up 2 or 3 prize cards when a V/VMax Pokemon is knocked out, this can be a quick game changer. But what can you do? The Boss is the boss.
Sword & Shield Base Set
So if you’ve played Pokemon Sword and Shield, you may be thinking: “I remember Bede. He was… not a nice person.” and you’d be absolutely right! However, in Pokemon TCG, Bede is my best friend! Bede is a fantastic supporting card, because it allows you to attach an energy from your hand to one of your benched Pokemon. Alright, so what’s the big deal? Well, because the rules of TCG state that you can only attach one energy per turn, it can take 4 or 5 turns to set up stronger ‘mons that require more energy to attack. But with Bede’s help, you’re attaching 2 energy per turn. I’ve been caught several times in matches where I think I’m safe (because my opponent needs an extra turn to attach another energy) only to pull out a Bede and nuke my active Pokemon with a move I hadn’t been prepared for. Bede can accelerate your set up, and allow you to catch opponents unawares with a surprise switch-in. For these reasons, Bede is easily one of my favourite Trainer cards (even if he’s still a total jerk).
Jett: Energy acceleration is such a key component to the Pokemon TCG experience. The player who can get access to their big moves faster is oftentimes at a massive advantage. Bede’s ability to allow for an extra energy to be attached to a benched Pokemon can dramatically widen one’s options. While I hate to see Meg use it against me, I have access to a few Bede cards of my own, as he’s readily available in the modern V Battle decks!
Theme decks are a great way to get into TCG, learn the ropes, and see if you enjoy the game before making a potentially expensive commitment. I’m grateful to Jett for getting me into TCG, as it’s been a fun (and occasionally frustrating) pastime to enjoy. If you’ve ever thought about giving the game a try, I highly recommend it – it’s a lot less scary than I always imagined it would be. As I mentioned before, we’re hoping to create a bit of a series of these TCG posts, so hopefully there’s more to come in the future! Final thanks and shoutouts to Jett, at inthirdperson.com, and thanks for reading! Until next time!