A Brief US Nationals Recap, the Player vs. Judge Perspective, and a Little Something to Count On Come Worlds or Next Season

pikachu looking

With the US National Championship having just concluded, there is plenty to write about. I know many writers will lend their perspectives on how everything went down, so I will stray from writing about the big tournament exclusively. I am still going to give a brief summary of how things went for me as well as my deck choice, but I want to appeal to both players planning on going to the World Championship and to those who are already looking forward to next season.

Also, I will take some time in my article to cover an issue that seems to show up every now and then with normally negative outcomes: the perspective of the competitive player versus that of the judge. I recently had a lively discussion with a judge about the “best-of-three” system, and it caused me to rethink the way that competitive players and judges interact. In many cases, I feel some perspective-taking is in order, and since I am well-versed in the subject of social skills (I have been working with individuals on the spectrum for nearly four years now), I feel qualified to make a good point or two.

The focus of today’s article will be on something both acutely basic and severely overlooked: card counts. Perhaps more than ever, this format seems to require players to squeeze every last bit of functionality out of the 60 cards that comprise their deck. Efficiency and consistency truly seem to be the name of the game. Yet, as I peruse the decklists that have been posted online and on sites like Facebook, there seem to be curiosities going on when it comes to card counts.

In this article, I will attempt to provide a general guideline for when to resort to each type of card count (0, 1, 2, 3, and 4), presenting examples challenging certain notions. I will also get into the more rigorous work of analyzing some exceptions to these guidelines and looking at interactions between cards that muddle things a little. The single presence of a Computer Search as opposed to a Dowsing Machine, for instance, wildly changes the fabric of the deck. On average, it can mean the difference between accessing an early-game Enhanced Hammer or possibly pulling off two during the course of a match.

So you see, while a question like “How many Ultra Ball should I run?” on the surface looks simple, there’s a whole breadth of knowledge and experience that goes into determining what can be cut.

Also! I hope you like your eggs scrambled, because I’m serving up a “Blast from the Past” this month that will surely satisfy any player hungry for an offbeat strategy. Let’s get started!

Remember to click on the link in the table of contents to go directly to that part of the article.

Table of Contents


exeggutor rg

Our “Blast from the Past” today will feature one of my all-time favorite cards: Electrode ex! In terms of balance, I think Electrode ex was one of the best cards ever created. Its Poké-Power was unbelievably fair, since it was unthinkably powerful but at the cost of 2 Prize cards. Its attack was also effective and speedy, but controlled since it existed on a 90 HP Pokémon ex.

The reason I liked this card so much was because of the quality it had to complement so many interesting strategies. Unlike Milotic FLF, whose Ability can only retrieve basic Energy, Electrode ex was able to bring back any Energy – and the Energy could go to any Pokémon (excluding Pokémon ex)! What this meant was that Electrode ex could be the backbone to any deck that needed Energy acceleration but had difficulty finding it.

One of my favorite decks of all time – Zapdos ex RG/Rayquaza ex DX/Electrode ex (ZRE) – used this card to flood the field with Energy, thus doing incredible amounts of damage in very little time. Ross Cawthon used Electrode ex to fall behind in Prize cards, then trap something Active by using Pow! Hand Extension, only to use “Spinning Tail” until all of the opponent’s Pokémon were Knocked Out. For a peek at how this idea worked, check out Ross’ 2005 2nd place Masters list:

Pokémon – 22

3 Larvitar RR 63
2 Dark Pupitar RR 41
3 Dark Tyranitar RR 19
2 Voltorb EM
2 Electrode ex
1 Pidgey RG
1 Pidgeotto RG
1 Pidgeot RG
1 Slugma RR
1 Magcargo DX 20

3 Dunsparce SS
1 Jirachi DX

1 Magmar RR

Trainers – 24

4 Celio’s Network
3 Copycat
2 TV Reporter
2 Rocket’s Admin.

1 Steven’s Advice


3 Rare Candy
3 Swoop! Teleporter

1 Pokémon Retriever


4 Pow! Hand Extension
1 ATM Rock

Energy – 14

4 Scramble

4 Special D

4 Heal
2 Rainbow

Two of the other decks Electrode ex had a role in have faded into obscurity. The first, “Metro,” was basically a pairing of Electrode ex with Metagross DS – not too original there (both Pokémon had the same attack even), but still effective. [Editor’s Note: Popularized by me!] The other deck, the one I will be talking about now, used Electrode ex to power up a familiar but often discounted attack: “Big Eggsplosion.” Here’s a list for your consideration:

Pokémon – 15

4 Magmar RR
2 Voltorb HL

2 Electrode ex
3 Exeggcute RG

3 Exeggutor RG
1 Jirachi DX

Trainers – 29

4 TV Reporter
4 Rocket’s Admin.

2 Steven’s Advice
4 Professor Elm’s Training Method
3 Lanette’s Net Search


4 Pow! Hand Extension
3 Swoop! Teleporter
1 Pokémon Retriever


4 Desert Ruins

Energy – 16

4 Scramble
4 Double Rainbow
2 Heal
2 Boost
3 P
1 L

Simply put, this deck is loads of fun. Exeggutor’s attack allowed you to flip a coin for each Energy (not Energy Card) attached to it. With the help of Electrode ex, the number of coin flips you did became staggering. Imagine blowing up an Electrode ex, attaching two Scramble Energy to your attacking Exeggutor, then attaching a Boost Energy to it. That alone would be nine coin flips, averaging out to be 180 damage!

The strategy here is pretty simple: discard Energy and draw cards thanks to Magmar RR, get Pokémon in play, then use Electrode ex’s Poké-Power to stack Energy on your field and attack big with Exeggutor. Since going down in Prize cards was a common strategy, this deck uses four copies of both Rocket’s Admin. (yesterday’s N) and Pow! Hand Extension.

While the strength in the deck rested in being able to do massive amounts of damage, the weaknesses were glaring. After you pulled ahead in the Prize card count, your ability to hit big faded instantly. The two Scramble Energy I mentioned earlier? In late game, they became… well, nothing but single C Energies. Boost Energy discards at the end of one’s turn, so you’re looking at very little to work with.

When I won a Gym Challenge and my invitation to the 2006 World Championship, I faced a lot of these decks with Flariados (Flareon ex/Ariados UF). While Ariados UF was Weak to Psychic and my opponents were consistently Knocking me Out with incredible amounts of damage, I still came out on top because of the awful late-game Scrambled Eggs has (also because I typically won the Prize card tradeoff).

If you’re looking for a fun deck with loads of flips, give this deck a try!


With a tournament the size and importance of US Nationals, the mind gets good at setting up sharp little traps here and there. Some players panic about their deck choice, switching things up at the last minute. Others have extraordinary expectations about their performance, devastated when they drop out of the tournament halfway through the day. Still others do too much playtesting, pushing themselves into a little box of stress by getting little sleep the night before.

Of these different traps, my mind fell into the one that suggested I would miraculously win US Nationals with minimal playtesting. In all honesty, I followed the advice of my last article by choosing to play a deck that would fare well in the hands of a player who had done very little playtesting – Yveltal-EX/Raichu XY. I thought the deck so strong that I could not possibly do poorly with it; surely with my years of experience and natural skill, I would overcome the issue of not playtesting much and have a remarkable performance.

In reality, I performed worse at US Nationals this year than any Nationals tournament before. While I blame a lot of this on bad draws, I still had the issue of actually not winning US Nationals. What oh what could I do?

I worked my way out of the rugged jaws of that malicious trap by taking a long walk the morning after with my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Naomi. As I walked with her to get my wife some coffee, I realized a few things. First, the Pokémon TCG exists to bring people together. Sure, the aim of every Pokémon tournament is to determine the most skilled player in the room, but that business pales in comparison to the friendships I have made during the time I have played this wonderful game.

Another thing I realized – and this was probably because I saw it first in my daughter – is that we should make the most of any opportunity to do new things, to experience life. Rather than bickering about a subpar performance, I ended up spending the day in Indianapolis with my wife and daughter – with my family! Naomi had never been to Indianapolis before, so it was new for her. It was also new for my wife since it was the first time at US Nationals I had ever been Knocked Out after the first day (okay, there was one other time, but we ended up cheering my brother on instead). Point is, we treated Saturday and Sunday as though we were on vacation.

nance family vacation 2014

Lastly, we cannot all do well at these tournaments. When fortune swings your way, enjoy it. And when it doesn’t, make the most of your situation. All of life is how we react to life, and it helps to understand the inevitable: all players are gunning down that first place finish. Your dream of winning is the same as so many others. Everyone wants to do well, but not everyone will. Count your blessings when your coin flips come up heads, and be prepared for when they do not.

All in all, US Nationals was a wonderful experience. The highlight of the tournament for me had nothing to do with my performance or skill, it had everything to do with how my daughter reacted when she saw Pikachu. Even thinking about it right now brings a tear to my eye: I made her dreams come true by taking her to the one place where she could actually meet “Chuu!” Never have I seen a more endearing smile.

erik naomi chuu

Congratulations to everyone who did well at US Nationals this past weekend! And to all my friends, it was wonderful seeing you and getting the opportunity to spend some time catching up. In just under a month, I am planning on taking my passion for making art to the next level by leaving my job and pursuing art full time. While I will still be busy as ever, the transition means that I can be a serious competitor once again in the Pokémon TCG scene. I look forward to seeing everyone again soon and once more bringing my “A game” to the mix.

Oh, I almost forgot! Here’s the deck I decided to play for US Nationals. I give most credit to Josh Harvley, a fellow Poké-parent who had the list initially. I basically contributed the Reshiram LTR idea, haha.

Pokémon – 13

2 Yveltal-EX
2 Darkrai-EX DEX
3 Pikachu XY
3 Raichu XY
1 Absol PLF
1 Keldeo-EX
1 Reshiram LTR

Trainers – 36

4 Professor Juniper
3 N
2 Colress
2 Bicycle
2 Random Receiver
1 Pal Pad


4 Ultra Ball
4 Dark Patch
3 Muscle Band
2 Pokémon Catcher
1 Professor’s Letter
1 Super Rod
1 Dowsing Machine


4 Hypnotoxic Laser

2 Virbank City Gym

Energy – 11

7 D
4 Double Colorless


The other day I got into a spirited debate about our current “best-of-three” (Bo3) system. The conversation focused mostly on the practice of flipping a coin or using some other random method to determine the outcome of a game when a tie for both players would keep those players from making top cut. This of course stemmed from an incident that happened at US Nationals, and the people involved in the discussion seemed to fall into mostly two camps: those who thought the practice of flipping to determine a winner was okay because of how awful the Bo3 is to begin with, and those who see the practice as completely unforgivable and worthy of a penalty and double game loss (if not worse).

To be very clear here, let me say that flipping a coin or using some other random determinant to produce a winner and a loser is against the rules. The rulebook here is very clear:

10.2. Random Determination
Players may never determine the outcome of a match through a random means (flipping a coin, rolling dice, etc.).

Here’s where I think things get tricky…

Competitive players and judges both have their own perspectives, and they are both very convincing. The competitive player, for instance, who spends a large amount of money making it to Nationals to find themselves in this situation will find the entire thing absurd. Many players discredit the legitimacy of the Bo3 system already, so it is not much of a surprise when they toy with the idea of flipping a coin, especially when the current rules give absolutely no consideration to the state of the game until a game is complete. When players find themselves a turn or two away from avoiding the dreaded “we both tie and lose out” situation, it should be easy to see why they feel such frustration and want to break the rules. In their mind, the Bo3 system is so abhorrent that a simple coin flip to avoid such a disgusting situation seems fair by comparison.

Now, I know many of you who just read that probably groaned and thought, “Erik, these people are breaking the rules – there’s no excuse for that, period!” Do not worry – I still agree with you. But my heart goes out to those players in the same way I feel bad for the parent who must steal to feed their child, or the homeless person who chooses to be a little aggressive in their begging because they haven’t eaten in a day or two. I know those are extremes when compared to a Pokémon tournament, but many people put a lot into a tournament of this stature, and I can see where it feels wrong to lose out because of a system that many do not agree with to begin with.

For those who do not see the issue with flipping a coin, here’s the other perspective that exists: judges, who seek to preserve the integrity of a tournament on a much larger scope, want all the cards to fall in place as appropriately as possible. Many judges are vocal in their dislike of “intentional draws” (IDs) during which both players agree to a tie because it benefits them both. This is because judges want to preserve the purpose of any Pokémon TCG tournament: to determine the player in the room with the most skill.

Unfortunately for judges, IDs are legal, which really complicates the issue. It’s okay for two players to decide to tie to gain an advantage that might not exist if they played it out, but determining a winner by random outcome to give only one player an advantage is wrong? In both cases the integrity of the tournament is at stake since both situations alter who will make top cut, but one of them is deserving of a game loss and the other is okay?

The judge I talked to about all of this personally disagrees with IDs. His logic, to me at least, is sound. I do think things get muddled with the whole idea of who gains and who loses from these factors. For instance, many players who miss the cut by one or two spots probably would not blame the players who randomly determined a winner in their match, since they would also have to blame the players who chose to ID. And besides, we are talking about a game in which flip cards are an absolute norm. Many outcomes already rest on the flip of a coin, right?

Still, there is one fact that rises above all of this: judges do not make the rules, they simply abide by them. If you think a judge is wrong in issuing a penalty for anything in the rulebook, you are sadly mistaken. That judge did not write the rule, he is merely abiding by it, and guess what – that’s a good thing! The last thing we need is for judges to be inconsistent.

Now, after all I have said, here’s the point I want to drive home…

judge referee

In my opinion, judges and staff have a responsibility to communicate the rules and resources to players in a much more active way than is being done now. At the same time, players have an obligation to read up on the rules and take these things seriously. Communication between the judges and players is good in many ways, but this is one way in which it is not. I know a lot of players and judges might disagree with that sentiment, but I urge you to reconsider.

At US Nationals this year, there was talk of a Player Responsibility Sheet. This resource covered the various things that players are responsible for. Rather than being given out to players, it was announced over speaker to everyone. Sufficient, right? Wrong. Put yourself in the competitive player’s shoes: you’re at the biggest tournament of the year, you’re looking around and spotting all your friends, you’re sweating bullets because of your nerves, and you’ve heard “the spiel” plenty of times before at other tournaments. There’s a good reason to believe that many players were not listening to those announcements.

Is this the judges fault? Of course not, but that’s why I said communication between players and judges should be even more active rather than it currently is. Hand me any sheet of paper during the player’s meeting and I will read it. At tournaments this next season, let’s start handing out reminders on some of the more tricky aspects of the game with explanations for why those rules exist. Let’s have an open dialogue at tournaments on some of these matters. Yes, I know it might be boring, but it needs to happen.

And for the players, get yourself a copy of the rules and resources and start brushing up on it. If something does not make sense, bring it to the attention of a judge at the next tournament – they should be more than happy to cover it for you. How many of you know, for instance, that you can get a minor penalty for leaving a small amount of garbage in the tournament area, even when you’re not playing in a match? Imagine the pain and anguish you can avoid just by doing your homework. If you’re serious about this game, then get serious about it on all levels.

Here’s my last bit of advice to help bridge this gap between judges and players, and it’s an important one: judges, take some time to be a player every now and then; and players, take some time to judge. As a competitive player, I tend to side with other players on rules and regulations. I like to think that my history as a judge has helped me deal with this bias. Not until you find yourself screaming at the top of your raw lungs in front of an entire room full of kids, parents, and players can you really appreciate the hard work that all judges must endure.

The same works for judges. The Bo3 system creates some absolutely heartbreaking moments for players who want nothing more than to be the very best. Moments like these are no stranger to the Pokémon TCG, and it’s easy to recommend a strict adherence to the rules until you actually find yourself bumping up against one of those moments.

Of course, I couldn’t end this section without adding in my own personal opinion: Bo3 is preferred to single Swiss, but only if we can have our old rule back of the “significant game” when 4 Prize cards have been taken. Basically, this rule let winners be determined when either player had taken at least 4 Prize cards. This would dramatically reduce the number of ties and give many players no reason to flip a coin to determine the winner. Integrity would be maintained, players would feel at ease.



james math number

Now we get into the main idea I want to tackle today, that of card counts. At one point in the time I have been playing, I adopted the following general rules for card counts:

  • One to two copies of a card when it is a tech.
  • Three copies of a card when it is a significant aspect of the deck.
  • Four copies of a card when the card’s effect needs to be maximized and can help at all moments of a game, or when you want to maximize your chance of starting with it.

Of course, there are numerous exceptions to these rules, and card counts often depend on the purpose and strategy of a given deck, but it gave me a good feel for how to decide whether I should run three or four of a certain card.

General Rule for Running “0” of a Card

I know, I know, it seems silly to mention the “0” count of a card. In most player’s minds, Professor Juniper will always be superior to Cedric Juniper, and so on. If I had to put a general rule on this one, it would be the following:

Run 0-of a card when a better card exists or when the cost of playing that card outweighs the potential payoff.

Many players fall into the trap of trying to incorporate a card that has a better alternative. The single copy of Shauna in Brandon Salazar’s US Nationals winning list perplexes me. Since he runs so many Basic Pokémon in his deck (10), it seems safe to run a Colress instead, especially given the fact that in our current format big Benches are common. I am not declaring this a mistake, I will just be sure to ask Brandon when/if I see him at the World Championship.

Notable Examples

Enhanced Hammer

As I said above, consider dropping a card (or cards) altogether when the cost of playing the card outweighs the potential payoff. The format’s epitome of this rule rests in Enhanced Hammer, a card that can very well lead you to victory in some matches but do nothing for you in others. For this card, context is everything. If everyone is playing Special Energy, then Enhanced Hammer would be a strong play; if not, then maybe it gets cut.

Abomasnow PLB in Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX

Well, Abomasnow PLB, Glaceon PLF, Froslass PLB… take your pick. For a long time, players reasoned that including a Stage 1 Water Pokémon into Virizion/Genesect would help sway the matchup against Fire decks. The problem? In many cases, it did little to solidify the matchup, and against every other deck it was absolute dead weight. This is one of those examples of cutting the combo and taking a loss against Fire decks.

Dark Claw

This one’s a no-brainer. Muscle Band is your go-to card for that extra 20 damage. Please do not make the mistake of ignoring this, thinking you can get by and “What’s the use? The only non-Dark Pokémon I run is Keldeo-EX, and I never attack with it.” You will end up using Keldeo-EX, it is inevitable.

Druddigon FLF

This one might surprise some players, but it really shouldn’t. Going into the US Nationals, decks like Blastoise BCR/Black Kyurem-EX and Rayquaza-EX/Emboar LTR were rapidly losing appeal. As a result, the decision to get rid of Druddigon FLF seemed natural. This is an example in which knowledge on the metagame can earn a person another card in the deck.


ash metapod tree one

Single copies are usually reserved for those cards that we would rather not even play. Think about the cards that fall into this category, cards like Super Rod, Professor’s Letter, and the Stage 1 that evolves into a Stage 2. All of these cards, if we had our way, would not even be in the deck.

Usually, these are cards we do not want to see in our opening hand, yet we still want to see them at least at some point during the game.

Also, bear in mind that a single copy of a Pokémon card is quite different than the single copy of an Energy card or Trainer card. Most decks include multiple cards for getting one’s Pokémon into play, thus the single copy of a Pokémon is generally accessible at most points during the game. For Trainer cards, Skyla (and the soon-to-be-released Korrina) levels this out a little, but not every deck runs these cards. For better access to Energy cards, consider running a maxed out Skyla line and Computer Search. Typically, players are not ultra-dependent on getting out single copies of an Energy card.

General Rule For Running Single Copies of a Card

I will break this up into two general rules, one for Pokémon cards and one for Trainer/Energy cards. Again, the support that normally exists for accessing Pokémon cards makes single copies of them more manageable.

For Pokémon Cards: Run a single copy as a tech, or when it’s the Stage 1 for a Stage 2 line.

For Trainer/Energy Cards: Run a single copy as a safe option, or when you have already maxed out on a card with a similar effect. You can also run a single copy of a card when you’re okay with only seeing it once during the game, even if it’s late-game.

For Pokémon, think about things like Jirachi-EX, a 1-of that can completely alter the course of the game. Most people would prefer to not have to run Jirachi-EX, but its inclusion can dramatically increase consistency in the right deck. “Techs” are cards meant to swing certain matchups in one’s favor, and once again, if players did not have to play them they wouldn’t. Mr. Mime PLF, for example, went from being a wildly important card to being played by hardly anyone.

At one point soon after XY was released, players started sneaking in copies of Evosoda into certain decks. This, of course, was after they had maxed out the Ultra Ball and Level Ball counts in their deck (Trevenant XY/Accelgor DEX is a good example of this). This is a good example of that general rule for Trainer cards. When you wish you could run five to six copies of a card but you can’t, try finding another card with a similar effect.

Again though, a general acknowledgement here is that “1-ofs” are cards we wish we did not have to include, but it’s usually a safe option that cannot go ignored. This should be true of nearly every “1-of” you include in your deck.

Notable Examples

Reshiram LTR in My Deck for US Nationals

With our general rule from before, we can reason that I would rather not have to put Reshiram LTR into my deck. Given its effectiveness against Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX decks, however, I felt its inclusion to be warranted. A 1-of that can single-handedly win me games against a deck I expected to see? Yes, please.

Super Rod, Professor’s Letter, Mr. Mime PLF, Startling Megaphone, etc.

These are those “safe options” I mentioned before, cards that provide recovery or serve a function that is only needed once a game or against specific decks one might not expect to be played. The tendency players have is to drop these cards. Professor’s Letter is the exception here, since it’s a great choice in nearly any deck that runs primarily Basic Energy.

Wartortle PLB, Dusclops FLF, Frogadier XY

The inclusion of a single copy of a Stage 1 when running a Stage 2 actually fits a couple of our general rules. If a player could run five or six Rare Candy, believe me they would. They cannot though, so throwing in the Stage 1 makes sense. Also, it’s a bit of a safety measure against decks that attempt to lock Trainer Item cards.


ash pikachu ritchie

The choice to run two copies of a card is an interesting one, and it happens for a number of reasons. In my decklist for US Nationals I ran two Bicycle because, well, I already had in place my Supporter line, but I needed something a little extra. Should I have run three copies of Bicycle? I did not have the space, so no. What about a single copy? That just seems silly, since the one moment during a game that I would run into Bicycle I might not even need it.

General Rule For Running Two Copies of a Card

So when will two do? It’s a tough question, complicated by decklists that seem to get tighter and tighter. Given that, I think the following general rule applies. Again, Pokémon and Trainer/Energy cards have different properties with this, so I’ll split them up.

For Pokémon Cards: Run two copies of a card (or a 2-2 or 2-x-2 line) when that card is a significant part of the deck that will serve you well in many matchups. Also, consider running two copies when having that card in the Prize cards would dramatically reduce your deck’s effectiveness.

For Trainer/Energy Cards: Ideally, you would run more copies of the chosen card if you could, but the same applies for other cards in your deck. After weighing your options, two copies of a card should be used for those cards that fall on the bottom of the list of importance.

Whew! Hopefully, my general rules here are not too muddled. Running two copies of a card is a difficult decision to make, especially because – in a perfect world – we would have 61 or 62 cards in a deck, the perfect number for bumping those 2-ofs up to 3-ofs. We live in the world of 60 card decks, however, and so those important cards have to stay at a count of two to make room for more important cards.

Bicycle, Random Receiver, Lysandre, Enhanced Hammer, Startling Megaphone, “Switch” cards… these are all cards that typically fall into “2-of” land. They are great cards, but they cannot compete with the space needed for other cards. If we could run more of them, we would, but we cannot. And so, they get chopped down to two copies while something like Colress or Muscle Band tends to take up three spots.

On the Pokémon side of things, a 2-2 Raichu XY line will always be seen as superior to a 1-1, and not just because it’s more of the same card. Rather, a 1-1 line runs the risk of being Knocked Out before its able to do its job. A 2-2 line has a better chance of sticking. Also, think about what a decent opponent will do the moment you play down two Pikachu XY – they are already preparing to alter their strategy and attack with Darkrai-EX or other attackers, potentially making their deck’s strategy less effective.

Notable Examples


Both decks in the top 2-of US Nationals Masters ran two copies of this card, and I do not think it’s a coincidence. A single copy does not seem right, given the importance of the card. Yet between actually drawing cards/setting up and bringing up an opponent’s benched Pokémon, setting up is much preferred. For this reason, a card we would all love to have three copies of gets only two spots in the final list.

Two Pokémon Catcher over One or Two Lysandre

You may note that my Yveltal-EX list ran two Pokémon Catcher in place of any Lysandre – this is no mistake. Since Yveltal-EX/Raichu XY takes a bit of setting up, I wanted to run through draw Supporters while flipping for my Pokémon Catchers. Brandon Salazar’s deck seems okay with two Lysandre instead because it puts up a great deal of pressure early game anyway – the set up is not as important.

Two Stage 1s in a Stage 2 Deck in Certain Formats

“Trainer lock” – that is, using a strategy to keep your opponent from playing Trainer cards – always seems to come and go in cycles. Right now, Trainer lock is not overwhelmingly popular. When it is, every Stage 2 deck opts for two copies of that Stage 1 rather than one. It is a safety measure that pays off big time when locking up an opponent’s usage of Trainer cards is a popular strategy.


pidgey three

Running three copies of a card instead of two or four can be a really good play depending on the situation. In some cases, it can help to solidify a certain matchup. My decision to run a 3-3 Raichu XY line in my US Nationals deck was based off this idea – I wanted very much to win my games against the mirror match. In other cases, it can open a spot in your deck that can be used for something else. Running four Ultra Ball, for instance, is often a mistake if instead you can get by with three.

General Rule for Running Three Copies of a Card

There are some pretty good reasons to run three copies of a card in your deck, and I think they can generally be explained with the following rule:

Bump the card count from two to three if it’s sometimes okay to start with the card, consider dropping the card count from four to three unless it’s absolutely necessary that you start with it.

I know this does not cover every instance, especially since cards like Stage 1s cannot normally be played on the first turn anyway, but it does cover a lot of ground in explaining why players add or cut the cards they do.

In looking at my list for US Nats, I decided to go with two Colress instead of three. I really did not like starting with Colress, and so keeping it at a count of two made sense. Other decks – such as Plasma decks, Trevenant XY/Accelgor DEX, and Weavile PLF/Lopunny FLF – might do better with a three count on Colress, simply because they get a tremendous amount of Pokémon in play within the first two turns

On the other hand, consider Ultra Ball. Before playing Yveltal-EX/Raichu XY for Nats, I was testing a speed Yveltal-EX deck. Since that deck did not run as many Pokémon, I found three Ultra Ball to work just fine. In fact, I even toyed with the idea of playing only three Dark Patch (especially since I used the regular Yveltal XY). So many times, I see players running four copies of a card when three would do just fine. The space you save can go a long way in helping secure other matchups or maintain consistency.

Notable Examples

Pyramid Pokémon Lines

No, I do not mean running a 3-2-1 line of something. Rather, I am referring to the practice of cutting a 4-4 or 4-x-4 line down to a 4-3 or 4-x-3 line. Given the speed of the game and the presence of cards like Pokémon Catcher, it became common practice to go from a 3-3 line of something to a 4-3 line, essentially being willing to forego a Basic Pokémon. Especially if you run recovery cards like Super Rod or Sacred Ash, you should be comfortable taking one Pokémon off the top. Players commonly do this with Accelgor DEX, Flygon BCR, and Raichu XY lines.


Would you like to start with a Blacksmith? Sometimes, it’s not too bad a card to start with. Running four copies of it, however, feels like a mistake, as you’ll probably find yourself discarding it with Professor Juniper too many times. Lists that utilize Blacksmith commonly go back and forth between two copies and three copies of the card, precisely for the reason I already stated: it’s a great card to have mid to late-game, but rarely that great early game.

Ultra Ball

Unless you’re running one of those decks that like to discard things and have a high count of Pokémon, you should definitely try running your deck with three Ultra Ball. If you’re running Pokémon that evolve, a blend of three Ultra Ball with other Balls seems to do the trick. And if you’re running a small amount of Basic Pokémon and that’s it, three Ultra Ball can work well there too.

Three Trainers with Dowsing Machine in mind. So, I really like Dowsing Machine. It’s a brilliant card that turns every 3-of into something more like “three and a quarter-of.” If I run Enhanced Hammer and face Plasma, for instance, I will focus my Dowsing Machine on being my fourth Hammer. If I run two Pokémon Catcher in my list, I will almost inevitably run Dowsing Machine as a backup Catcher. Dowsing Machine, in my mind, lets me run 3-ofs without worry.


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The decision to run four of a card means that card is an absolute staple in your deck (and probably in the game in general). Some people try to tamper with this pattern, but in many cases go back to their 4-of count.

General Rule for Running Four Copies of a Card

There’s one rule of thumb that generally sticks out when deciding on when to run four copies of a card, and it’s this:

Run four copies of a card if you would run five instead (given the choice).

Again, there are probably exceptions to this rule, but I think it helps clarify the reason people play four copies of a card: because that card is the best at what it does and would be welcome at any point during the game. Consider Professor Juniper, a card so powerful that people continue to try and find a draw engine that utilizes more than four copies of Professor Juniper (by using Random Receiver, Pal Pad, Dowsing Machine, and so on).

Even “quad decks” such as Quad Sigilyph DRX and Quad Terrakion NVI would have welcomed a fifth copy, if only to reduce the number of mulligans they produced. And for main attackers that evolve (not thinking about Basic Pokémon for the moment), wouldn’t a 5-5 or 6-6 be awesome?

Perhaps the greatest pitfall here is playing four copies of a card when in fact one would not care for a fifth copy. This goes back to cards like Ultra Ball, Dark Patch, Colress Machine – the threat of discarding those cards early game with no benefit seems too risky.

Notable Examples

Professor Juniper

While some have tried, nobody has been able to produce a consistent reason to not run four copies of this card in their deck. Time and time again, winning lists feature four of this card for a reason: it’s simply the best at what it does.

Four Basic Pokémon to an Evolution Line

In the current format, the ability players have to bring something up from the bench still exists as a threat. For this reason, it’s a good idea to consider running four Basic Pokémon in your attacking evolution line. Think Greninja XY, Flygon BCR, Accelgor DEX, and even Pyroar FLF for this one.

When You Want to Counter the Counter with No Counter

Michael Pramawat placed 2nd at US Nationals in the Masters division with a deck that seems very simplistic on the surface: it was basically Pyroar FLF with a Mewtwo-EX and a Charizard-EX FLF 12. It ran no Startling Megaphone, which many players might see as strange considering the threat of Garbodor DRX. Instead of running a “counter” to Garbodor DRX, Pramawat simply maxed out his Pokémon Catcher line and added in two Lysandre – enough to ensure that Garbodor DRX would no longer be a threat because it would get Knocked Out.

Special Energy

Special Energy are generally more powerful than Basic Energy, and because of this it’s very common to include full counts of these types of cards. Decks like Plasma are notorious for maxing out these Special Energy lines.


Here’s a quick reminder on all the stuff I just talked about: card counts largely depend on the context in which those cards exist. We are talking about the format here. Take a quick glance at the Ross Cawthon list I posted earlier. Do the same rules apply here as they do for the current format? They kinda do, but things are muddled because of the huge differences between the two formats. Cawthon’s list is littered with single copies of cards, his Tyranitar RR and Electrode ex lines are symmetrical (3-2-3 and 2-2, respectively), and his Supporter line features a lot of 2-ofs and 3-ofs.

What’s going on?

Simply put, the game was much different back then. Both Pidgeot RG and Magcargo DX 20 were support Pokémon, so Supporters were geared toward getting those Pokémon in play first and foremost. Decks also took a lot longer to setup back then, so the Tyranitar RR and Electrode ex lines are relatively safe. If we look at the only two cards that received counts of four – Celio’s Network and Pow! Hand Extension – I am quite sure Cawthon would have run five of those cards if he could.

So these rules bend a little with the differences in formats, but they also bend as new cards are released. For a long time, players ran four Professor Juniper and four N, no questions asked. While Professor Juniper is still maxed out at four, N has seen a reduction to two or three copies. At the same time, other Supporters (Colress, Shauna?) have served to make up the difference a little.

Try not to get too comfortable with card counts, as each set introduces something new that, if left unchecked, could mean an advantage some other player is getting that you are not. Roller Skates, anyone?


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I know that card counts seems like a pretty easy thing to understand, but I can’t tell you how many lists I see here and there that do not look tested rigorously – that is, it seems the deck creator did not challenge his/her choices in any way.

For those who are attending Worlds, see if you can tighten your list up a little more and definitely explore what you can do without. Dropping a card here or there might just open you up to the opportunity to play something truly unique. For those getting ready for the new season, I hope this has encouraged you to be a little more brutal with your deckbuilding.

It always amazes me when players find new ways to gain an advantage. The use of Roller Skates, for instance, was refreshing, especially after so many players had discounted the card. While I haven’t been able to test much lately, plays like that make me want to try new things out all the time. Hopefully, this article gave you a bit of a framework to do just that.

Remember to catch me in the Underground discussion. I’ve been extremely busy lately, so I have not been able to keep up with some of your comments, but rest assured I’ll be back in the swing of things come August.

…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.

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