If you are relatively new to the game, you may have noticed a peculiarity when talking to other players about either Gardevoir or Gallade. For players who have been in the game for a long time, those two Pokémon have a special significance in that they basically ruled an entire season. “Gardevoir/Gallade,” “Gardelade,” “GG,” “Plox”… these are the names attributed to the deck that ruled the majority of the ’07-’08 season of the Pokémon TCG.
Veteran players who played during that season are largely split on it. Some enjoyed the intense mirror matches such a singular format offered while others look on those days with decisive reluctance, claiming it as one of the most boring moments in the history of the game. Still, others tried their best to counter this dominating force, including one Jimmy Ballard.
For those unfamiliar with Jimmy Ballard, he is one of the most creative deck builders this game has ever seen. While many of his decks have not won huge tournaments, they normally play very well, something that can seldom be said of rogue decks. Moreover, the sheer number of rogue decks he has been behind point to a mind that is constantly trying to push a square peg through a round hole – he is, in certain fashion, the “competitive player’s rogue builder.”
Among the decks Ballard has masterminded are Pidgeot RG/Eeveelutions, “Ambush” (Empoleon DP/Marowak DS), “The Sausage” (Banette SW/Blissey MT), and “Arithmetic” (Banette SW/Gyarados MT/Cresselia LV.X/Claydol GE). The first in that list led Ballard to a 2nd place finish at the 2006 World Championships, while the last led to my 2007 Southeast Regionals win and will be the focus of today’s article.
With that splash of context, let’s get started! Today I will focus directly on Arithmetic, including what it was, how it worked, and what we can learn from it today. I plan on explaining the deck card by card as well as offering an explanation for why many players tend to overlook effective, obvious counters to popular decks.
Remember to click on the link in the table of contents to go directly to that part of the article.
Table of Contents
SO, WHAT IS ARITHMETIC?
In all honesty, I don’t know where Jimmy Ballard comes up with the names for the decks he expertly crafts. I faced an entire day of slight embarrassment at the 2007 US National Championship when I played another Ballard deck oddly named “The Sausage.” No matter though – I would gladly play a deck named “Droopy Glowworm MAX Propellor” if it gave me the best chance to win a tournament. Also, “Infra Turbo Pigcart Racer” by deadmau5 just popped up on my playlist. So, you know, titles for things.
As far as Arithmetic is concerned, I once heard that it was aptly named because performing the deck’s basic strategy required nothing more than – you guessed it – arithmetic. Looking at the cards the deck is comprised of, that seems to be the case.
Banette SW, a speedy counter to Gardevoir SW/Gallade SW, can place damage counters early in the game with Ghost Head or do damage with Spiteful Pain, an attack that could do either 40 or 80 damage depending on whether or not there was a Banette card in the discard pile. Gyarados MT, a deadly wall against Magmortar SW decks at the time, operated off its Poké-Body that allowed it to use Magikarp MT’s Flail attack for 30 more damage. Addition!
Meanwhile, Cresselia LV.X allowed for the convenient displacement of damage counters, subtracting them from one side of the field and adding them to the other with the Full Moon Dance Poké-Power. This could be used to add more damage to the opponent’s Pokémon or power up Gyarados’s attack. Either way, addition and subtraction!
Claydol GE existed as the binding agent to these various cards. Many players are no stranger to Cosmic Power, one of the best Poké-Powers this game has ever seen. For those unfamiliar with the card, Claydol GE was a support Pokémon that allowed decks like this to get set up. As such, decklists during the time Claydol GE existed look very different from the way they look today.
BREAKING DOWN THE DECK
In short, Arithmetic operated successfully by countering the two most popular decks at the time: Gardevoir SW/Gallade SW and Magmortar builds (some utilizing Blaziken GE). While both Gyarados MT and Banette SW were not terribly powerful on their own, consider that these cards were often doing more damage when facing those two decks.
Here is the list I used to win Southeast Regionals back in 2007:
Pokémon – 21
Trainers – 25
Energy – 14
Note: For those who have not been playing for long, note that both Master Ball and Great Ball functioned completely different back then. Master Ball back then had the same text Great Ball does now: look at the top seven cards of your deck and choose a Pokémon you find there, reveal it to your opponent and shuffle the remaining six cards back into your deck. Great Ball, on the other hand, let a player search their deck for a Basic Pokémon (excluding Pokémon-ex) and put it on their Bench. Also, Warp Point back then did what Escape Rope does today.
In my list above, I ran three Shuppet CG and one Shuppet PK. While the Power Keepers Shuppet does have a good attack, I would have chosen to run all Shuppet CG. The reason I didn’t? I only owned three Shuppet CG! Aside from Call For Family, Ascension is one of the best attacks a Basic Pokémon can have (provided, you know, that it evolves). It’s the perfect attack for going aggressive with a Banette SW on the second turn.
Banette SW is in here for one reason and one reason only: to slaughter Gardevoir SW/Gallade SW decks. With a Double Rainbow Energy, a Lake Boundary in play, and a Banette in the discard pile, Banette SW can hit for 140 damage, enough to Knock Out any Gardevoir SW or Gallade SW in play. Against “GG” decks, you win nearly every time on the basis that setting up a Stage 1 Pokémon is much easier than setting up a Stage 2 Pokémon. Plus, Banette SW operated off fairly minimal requirements to 1HKO Gardevoir SW and Gallade SW – even if an opponent was able to use Psychic Lock to disable your Poké-Powers, you were still fine.
These two cards worked in tandem to do great amounts of damage for a single Energy. Also, they were a perfect counter to Magmortar SW. Dragon DNA, Gyarados’ Poké-Body, allowed Gyarados to do Flail for 30 extra damage. This might seem small, but when pitted against Magmortar SW, the damage starts adding up real fast. And remember, this was all Gyarados MT was really needed for, as a counter against Magmortar SW. Enrage was a possibility with Double Rainbow Energy, but Gyarados MT was normally fine doing Flail the entire game (especially when combined with Cresselia LV.X).
I wish I could say I used Cresselia LV.X’s attack at some point, but it just never happened. Being a Basic Pokémon, Cresselia LV.X was incapable of using Double Rainbow Energy, meaning it would require three Energy cards to use its attack. No, Cresselia LV.X was best used for its Poké-Power to manipulate damage on the field, putting things within knockout range and generally frustrate the opponent.
Of note, I will say that getting two Cresselia LV.X in play happened more often than one might think. Since the deck is designed to move in expected directions (get Banette SW in play if playing against GG, get Gyarados MT in play if against Magmortar SW, etc.), it usually opened up the opportunity to focus on setting up two Cresselia LV.X.
These Pokémon were here for nothing more than helping to set up the deck. As I explained before, Cosmic Power totally changed the game for the better, allowing players to reliably get in play the Pokémon featured in their deck. Normally, players would focus first and foremost on getting Claydol GE in play, largely because it acted like a Supporter card every turn. It also gave players a chance to put unwanted cards on the bottom of the deck. This didn’t last forever, of course, but consider its synergy with cards like Master Ball PK or TV Reporter – cards placed on the bottom of the deck aren’t cards you risk running into again.
Another important thing to note here is that Claydol GE was largely the target of Gardevoir SW’s Psychic Lock attack and little else. Later on in Claydol GE’s “career,” players would use things like Luxray LV.X’s Bright Look Poké-Power to pull it up from the Bench and KO it. With very little of this going on, a 2-2 line was both reasonable and effective. Remember, if Gardevoir SW is the main thing keeping Cosmic Power from happening, and you’re breezing through Gardevoir SW with Banette SW, you will reliably use Claydol GE throughout the game.
1 Mew SW
In looking for a suitable analogy, I used Mew SW in much the same way players used to use Cleffa HS. After playing everything I could in my hand, I would send Mew SW up and use Psychic Balance to refresh my hand. I didn’t use it in every game, but it provided me with a reliable out in case I opened with a bad hand.
When I pulled my decklist up for this article, I was actually shocked at the Supporter line. Primarily, I was confused with the inclusion of only two Holon Mentor, a card most players would have automatically maxed out at four. While I think this might have been a mistake on my part, I want to attempt to provide an explanation for why I might have run the deck that way.
One of the main goals with this deck is to set up the correct Stage 1 Pokémon to do the job, not necessarily get all your Pokémon in play. While Holon Mentor would certainly be nice on the first turn, I could use something like a Great Ball PK instead to get a Basic Pokémon in play while still maintaining my Supporter for the turn. With Holon Mentor and Great Ball PK grabbing Basic Pokémon, Bebe’s Search grabbing any Pokémon, and Master Ball PK grabbing something at random, it felt like the right mix for getting to my most-needed Stage 1 Pokémon as soon as possible.
Another thing to consider is that back then the game moved at a much slower pace since decks centered around Basic Pokémon didn’t exist. People who played while Pokémon Collector was legal would be quick to up the Holon Mentor line to four, but remember that the game moved much faster while Pokémon Collector was available. Not only that, Pokémon Collector could grab Uxie LA for a player, which meant immediate draw power. Without that and without the bulk of the Holon Engine (this tournament was HP-on, after all), the desire to max out Holon Mentor falls significantly.
Oh yeah, where’s Roseanne’s Research? You’ll notice the same thing going on here as the decision to play TV Reporter over other Supporters: I want to discard cards with this deck. With cards like TV Reporter and Holon Mentor, I had a way to get Banette SW into the discard pile to power up Spiteful Pain. Roseanne’s Research doesn’t allow for this to happen, so it got axed.
This card made a lot of sense in this deck, and so it got maxed out. It helped get Cresselia LV.X in play and often forced an opponent to bring up something from the Bench for an easy KO. It also helped out against decks that tried to trap something in the Active Spot (very possible for this to happen with both Claydol GE and Gyarados MT boasting two and three Retreat Costs, respectively).
Many players will recognize Great Ball PK (old effect, remember) as a solid play, yet question the Master Ball PK. I personally stand behind Master Ball PK for its ability to help me dig deep into my deck for getting Banette SW. A common play for me would be to play a Master Ball PK, hopefully draw into a Banette SW, then discard it by playing either a TV Reporter or Holon Mentor. If Master Ball PK didn’t get me there, the TV Reporter often would. It was just an additional way to draw into Banette SW.
This card was commonly used to get Pokémon back from the discard pile. One neat thing about Banette SW is the way its attack Spiteful Pain shuffles a Banette back into the deck. This made a single copy of Night Maintenance more effective.
The most important card in this is arguably Lake Boundary, a Stadium card that resets Weakness to x2 rather than the “+30” found on Gardevoir SW, Gallade SW, and Magmortar SW. This was critical in securing wins against decks with those cards. While I heavily considered using the Crystal Beach Stadium card as a counter against decks that used both Double Rainbow Energy and Scramble Energy, I opted instead to cut right into the Weaknesses of the most popular decks at the time.
Later on, Banette SW/Blissey MT decks would utilize Crystal Beach, so it’s not a card that lacks consideration entirely. Lake Boundary helped me immensely throughout the tournament, though, so it seemed the right call.
The Energy line here is fairly straightforward with the exception of the Holon Energy WP. When attached along with a basic P Energy, Holon Energy WP protects a Pokémon from any effects of an attack (not including damage). This combo was used along with Gyarados MT to force an opponent to do damage to Gyarados MT. While this doesn’t seem game breaking, it was another measure against Gallade SW’s Sonic Blade attack. Since that attack does an effect rather than damage, it forced an opponent to use Psychic Cut to Knock Out Gyarados MT, expending most of Psychic Cut’s power.
There are times in the game when the most obvious counter to a deck (or number of decks) is, well, the most obvious counter. I know that statement seems incredibly evident, but players often overlook the simplest answer to a problem for a few reasons. With Arithmetic, Banette SW and Gyarados MT were both obvious counters to popular decks, yet few people arrived at the same place Jimmy Ballard did. I can say the same of the Steelix Prime deck I played at the 2010 World Championships.
How does this happen? When the answer to beating grass is as simple as playing fire – yet nobody chooses to play fire – there’s something else going on. I’ll outline some of these reasons I think this happens here:
They may have a bias against the counter, especially if the card has received negative attention from other players. Many people have the tendency to “theorymon” – that is, think about the game in abstract terms rather than actually playtest. A player may note the strength of a card like Seismitoad-EX, only to have another player immediately proclaim, “Yeah, well Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX will keep that card in check.”
In the back and forth that happens here, it’s common for certain cards to be deemed by the Pokémon TCG community as “unplayable.” Think about Team Flare Grunt, a Supporter that can have a crippling effect against Seismitoad-EX decks. What thoughts come to mind concerning this card? For me, I remember it being revealed only for the entire Pokémon TCG community to deem it a bad card. Personal bias is something many players need to get over if they want to find some really effective counters.
Sometimes, a card seems much too situational or “gimmicky” to be an effective counter. At the World Championships this year, Igor Costa nearly won the whole tournament with Shaymin-EX, a card that many players (myself included) saw as too situational for most matchups. The single addition of “Fliptini” (Victini LTR) into old Rayquaza-EX/Eelektrik NVI decks was revolutionary; I would wager that many players overlooked the combo because it seemed too much a “gimmick.”
There are times when a player is right to overlook an obvious counter. If you secure a good matchup against one popular deck, you might face disaster against a whole category of other decks. This perceived ineffectiveness can at times be a correct assessment; at other times, however, it might cause a player to give up on an effective counter too soon.
For this, I don’t have any reassuring words. The truth is, there are times when a really good counter just cannot hold its own against other popular decks in the format. The best thing I can really say is to find a way to leverage those other matchups as best as possible. The original idea I had of combining Banette SW and Gyarados MT was something I gave up on. The inclusion of Cresselia LV.X and Claydol GE, however, made those two cards work.
Sometimes, There Simply Isn’t An Answer
Not to be all doom and gloom, but there are times in this game when there just isn’t a simple answer for what’s going on in the format. While Arithmetic led me to my first Regionals win, the rest of the season saw Gardevoir SW/Gallade SW decks continue to rise in popularity. Arithmetic eventually became defunct, and guess what won US Nationals and Worlds that season? Yep, Gardevoir SW/Gallade SW.
Before arriving at this conclusion, however, I want to encourage you to pass the idea along to someone else. Perhaps you overlooked something that another player will find, or perhaps your testing was not truly representative of your deck’s power. Whatever the case, let someone else take a fresh look at your idea before you hang it up.
I hope you enjoyed this article about a deck that saw very limited play in a tough-to-crack format. If you want to check out the original tournament report I did for this deck, you can find it here.
As we move into the new season, it wouldn’t surprise me if players at some point feel the game is growing stale. There are some wicked combos out there that seem tough to beat, but don’t give up! Try to find your own counter to the popular decks of the time, even if it’s as obvious as slapping a Team Flare Grunt down to break your opponent’s tempo (full disclosure: I’m not a fan of that card). Where many will fail, you may just succeed!
Perhaps the last good lesson that can be gleaned from this article is the power of community. Without Jimmy Ballard’s help, I would have failed miserably at the Regionals I attended. His friendly gesture led to a big win for me. If you aren’t a part of the Pokémon TCG community, remember that it’s very open and friendly to pretty much anyone that’s interested. The sharing of information and ideas is a powerful component of the Pokémon TCG community – do not let it pass you by!
If you have thoughts on this article, feel free to comment. And as always, thanks for reading!