In a surprising number of ways, I have found the Pokémon TCG to be a lot like cooking. This might seem strange to some, but think back to those moments when you felt you had perfected a decklist. I’m willing to bet it took a lot longer than just a handful of games. Like a recipe, you might have found a starting list online and tossed it together, only to find that it could be improved. Even if the list itself didn’t change much, the method with which you approached certain matchups might have. Once again, this is much like cooking. I know now to cook my bacon in the oven rather than the stovetop, and anytime I need lemon juice for something I roll the lemon on the countertop to break up the pulp inside.
In this same way, I recognize the inclusion of a single copy of Brigette in my Durant deck as far superior to previous builds. I’ve slowly managed to justify two copies of Team Flare Grunt in that list instead of three as well. A dash of Tool Scrapper here rather than Startling Megaphone, a pinch of the new Jirachi Promo there, and before you know it I’ve got the perfect recipe — err, list.
At the same time cooking is analogous to the Pokémon TCG in a good way, the same also applies for when everything goes wrong. We just finished Thanksgiving, and for our family get-together I made maple bacon sweet potato soup. Since I had to prepare food for many people I made about three batches of the stuff. For the third batch I accidentally added too much cayenne pepper and made the whole dish spicier than desired. I still served it, but gone were the compliments and inquiries about where I got the recipe. Since “spicy” is not a taste often associated with sweet potatoes, I had ruined the delicate complexity of my dish.
Think back to your own deck-building experience with regard specifically to Supporters. Have you ever added in too much of a specific Supporter (ingredient)? Or perhaps you misjudged and added in too little? Have you ever left a needed component out of your deck completely?
We’ve all been there. My Top 8 finish with a Medicham deck last season garnered some attention because I used two Iris in my build. Sadly, I had to explain in an interview after the tournament that I didn’t think it was actually needed in the deck. I openly admitted that I placed well at States with two dead cards in my deck, and it felt pretty lame. What happened? Long story short, I didn’t test adequately and fell under the impression that the card was needed to win the Seismitoad matchup.
The aim of today’s article is to help keep you from having a similar experience, as well as to look at Supporters (and Items that function similarly) with a critical eye. This is especially important with the newly widened gap between Expanded and Standard. In my own testing I’ve found the proper mix of Supporters/Items to be a challenge — a deck in Standard looks completely different than its Expanded counterpart. In many cases these differences are expressed at the Supporter level. Brigette, for instance, functions almost completely different in Expanded than it does in Standard (more on that later).
We’re going to be looking at Supporter lines for both Expanded and Standard through a microscopic lens, checking out what works, what’s questionable, and what’s absolutely forbidden. I’m going to provide some basic Supporter builds for different decks, covering “engines” such as Maxie’s Gallade and Archie’s Blastoise. We’ll also cover the functionality of Supporters that do something other than draw cards — cards like Giovanni’s Scheme, Team Flare Grunt, and so on.
Supporter Standards (What We Know)
Let’s first look at Supporter trends that haven’t altered much for a while. These are pretty obvious, but I’ll spend some time addressing situations that deviate from the norm (e.g. is it ever okay to play anything other than 4 Professor Juniper/Sycamore?). For beginners, this may provide a rich explanation for why the top decks are built the way they are. Advanced player may want to glance at this section briefly, as I’m sure your decks are already following these patterns.
4 Juniper/Sycamore is a Universal Standard
Since the introduction of Professor Juniper, nearly every deck that seeks to be competitive includes four copies of the most powerful Supporter ever released. The pros almost always outweigh the cons — yes, you may have to discard some useful cards when playing a Juniper/Sycamore, but the threat of not getting your deck set up in the first place is a more pressing issue. Try replacing your 4 Juniper/Sycamore with 4 Shauna (or Professor Birch’s Observations) and you’ll quickly recognize a drastic dip in draw power.
If you’re one of those players who avoid maxing out on Juniper/Sycamore because of unfortunate starts where you were forced to discard useful resources, I have to reiterate the point: Those frustrating situations are going to happen, but not getting your deck set up properly is the larger threat at the beginning of the game. One factor that makes Juniper/Sycamore fundamentally better than N/Shauna/Colress/Birch is the discard factor. By playing Juniper/Sycamore, you’re able to get rid of other cards in your hand. Yes, these may be useful cards, but cutting deeper into your deck to reach cards like Level Ball, Ultra Ball, etc. is better than preserving a fourth copy of VS Seeker for later use.
Is it ever okay to not play 4 copies of Juniper/Sycamore? Yes, actually! I’ll talk about the Acro Bike/Battle Compressor/VS Seeker “speed engine” later, but it’s one in which a 2- or 3-count of Juniper/Sycamore is permissible. Understand, though, that these decks are still preserving their chances of playing a Juniper/Sycamore with such a fast mix of Pokémon (Shaymin-EX/Unown AOR) and Items.
VS Seeker is Also a Universal Standard (Unless You’re Running Vileplume)4
It’s safe to say that VS Seeker has completely reprogrammed the way we view Supporters and has pushed the game one giant step in the direction of consistency. Even with the threat of Seismitoad-EX (which was surprisingly absent with the start of City Championships this past weekend), a full playset of VS Seeker is included with nearly every decklist you’ll encounter, barring Vileplume AOR decks of course.
Up for discussion is whether 3 VS Seeker is okay in decks as opposed to 4. The old argument was that with 4 VS Seeker you have a higher chance of burning one early game by using a Juniper/Sycamore. The math here gets complex, but let’s take a stab at it. Also, 4 VS Seeker makes mathematical sense for any deck running multiple Battle Compressor, so we’re going to dive into decks that don’t run Compressor.
For probabilities on this, check out this nifty article. If we have 4 copies of VS Seeker, the probability that we’ll start with it ranges from approximately 40.5% to 43% (remember, having more Basics actually makes it slightly more probable that you will start with a specific card). At 3 copies our range is approximately 32% to 35%. For decks that don’t run Battle Compressor, generally you don’t want to start with a VS Seeker since you want a VS Seeker to “catch” a Supporter played after Turn 1.
There’s a twist to this problem though, which is that VS Seeker can copy any Supporter. I note this because the chance to copy certain Supporters multiple times throughout the game may override the probability of having to discard one by way of Juniper/Sycamore. Also, in the 57% to 59.5% chance you start with a VS Seeker, there’s a chance you’ll shuffle it away with something like a Professor Birch’s Observations.
If you’re having trouble following this, I’ll give you the summary: 4 VS Seeker is best. Yes, there will be times when you will end up discarding a VS Seeker rather than using it, but the advantages outweigh the alternative. When you avoid discarding VS Seeker in a game, your deck has greater consistency and can capitalize on those “rogue” Supporters (Lysandre, Team Flare Grunt, etc.) mid to late game.
Hex Maniac, Colress, and (Maybe) AZOne-Of Wonders:
The effectiveness of Hex Maniac and Colress rely on a couple of general truths about the Pokémon TCG at the moment. First, there exists a “wall” for nearly every card printed: Pyroar FLF negates Basic Pokémon, Archeops NVI negates evolved Pokémon, Giratina-EX AOR defies M Pokémon-EX, and so on. This makes Hex Maniac a fairly reliable out should you ever face one of these cards. Additionally, Hex Maniac has a multitude of other purposes such as getting around Vileplume AOR and stifling an opponent’s setup by stopping Shaymin-EX.
The second generality about the game is that setup has rarely been easier. Level Ball, Heavy Ball, Ultra Ball, Shaymin-EX, Brigette, Professor Juniper/Sycamore … only during the SP days of Pokémon with things like Uxie LA and Luxury Ball were decks just as easy to set up. I make this point because of the potency a single inclusion of Colress during the mid- to late-game phase. It’s not unusual to witness an opponent fill up their Bench in a single turn — a fact that lends great relevancy to Colress.
AZ, on the other hand, is not a definite 1-of in every deck, but it finds its way in many decks that run high-HP Pokémon. It also features prominently in decks with Crobat PHF. Since its release, it’s been boosted by its synergy with Shaymin-EX and remains an underrated card for pausing the opponent’s momentum. I imagine plenty of games have been lost or won on account of AZ, yet not many players talk about its functionality.
I’m not sure if I’m the only person who’s noticed this odd pattern, but most people just don’t seem to agree on how to play Trainers’ Mail. I’ve seen Night March/Vespiquen lists that exclude it, Evolution-heavy decks that include it, and everything in-between. If there’s a card that avoids needed discussion more than Trainers’ Mail, I don’t know what that card is. Every list that includes this card run 3 to 4 copies, and though Trainers’ Mail is arguably nothing more than a consistency card, I’m surprised there are so few “rules” on how to play this card most effectively.
Here then are those rules:
- The higher up your deck goes Evolution-wise, the less you can afford to play Trainers’ Mail. In a sense, what would be spots for Trainers’ Mail get occupied by Rare Candy or the Evolution cards themselves. Of course, this is why Evolution decks have such an issue with consistency — a Rare Candy in your opening hand can’t get you a Supporter, but something like Trainers’ Mail can.
- Use Trainers’ Mail if you’re running a “speed engine” with Battle Compressor, Acro Bike, etc. With the higher number of Items in these types of decks, Trainers’ Mail has a better chance of grabbing the one Trainer needed to snowball into a promising setup.
- Trainers’ Mail makes more sense in the Standard format. Standard is still a mess when it comes to Supporters with unwanted “staples” such as Professor Birch’s Observations and Shauna. Instead of going with heavy counts of those cards, most players are adopting a leaner Supporter line with a full count of Trainers’ Mail and a bigger focus on utilizing Shaymin-EX.
- No matter the case, less Supporters should generally indicate a 3 or 4 Trainers’ Mail count. When VS Seeker came out, most players finally felt safe enough to drop the N count down to 2 or 3. Trainers’ Mail has amplified that trend. Don’t be fooled if you see a list with very few Supporters — chances are it has a high count of both VS Seeker and Trainers’ Mail.
Like I said before, it’s actually surprising that players don’t talk about this discrepancy. I think it’s because Trainers’ Mail is only so good as the Trainers it’s grabbing and as such gets overlooked. Players have an all-or-none mentality with this card it seems, and when it gets replaced by a heavier Supporter count or a sharper focus on using Shaymin-EX, nobody really notices the difference.
This is quite obvious — every deck can benefit from pulling up a Pokémon sitting on the opponent’s Bench. What I want to stress, however, is the effectiveness of running 2 Lysandre rather than 1, as well as why I think many players only run a single copy of this game-changer.
Here’s a situation many of you will be familiar with: You’re putting together a new deck and have a rough draft of your list — maybe you got it from online, maybe you’re piecing it together yourself — when you realize you need to cut some cards to make space. What cards are first in line for cutting to you? For me, I normally consider cutting a 4th Trainers’ Mail, a 2nd Lysandre, or an Energy if possible. I’m being general here, but those are typically the cards that are put on the chopping block time and time again when I’m deck building.
Here’s the issue though: Lysandre is one of the most powerful cards in the game, yet many players (myself included) feel comfortable knocking it down to a single count time and time again. Why? For a card that can disrupt, buy an extra turn, secure the last 2 Prize cards, and even win a game outright by forcing an opponent to deck out … why are so many decklists running single counts of it?
My thinking is players reason their way to a single Lysandre because they see VS Seeker copying it “when needed.” If we compare Lysandre to the aforementioned 1-ofs, an interesting thing happens: While a single use of Hex Maniac, Colress, or AZ can often get the job done, Lysandre is normally best when played multiple times throughout the course of a game. It’s why 4 Pokémon Catcher was a staple in most decks when it didn’t require a flip.
Does this mean players should up the Lysandre count to 3 or 4? No, since a draw Supporter will usually be played in place of Lysandre. There’s a balance to be preserved here, but I’m pretty firm that 2 Lysandre makes more sense than just 1. It feels like an easy cut from a decklist with little room, and I think that’s why we see many lists with single counts of Lysandre.
How to Play the Newcomers
I have to make a confession real quick: I was wrong to praise Brigette as much as I did in my last article. I still think it’s a great card, but it’s not getting the treatment I thought it would upon release (at least from what I’ve seen with City Championship reports). Of course, part of this goes with the fact that I had not tested Brigette all that much at the time. After getting my hands on these cards, I want to cover the Supporters that just came out in BREAKthrough and look at how they may be played in both Standard and Expanded.
Let’s tackle this one first. As I’ve already said, this card didn’t meet my expectations, but why? What makes Brigette less effective than its predecessors such as Pokémon Collector, Roseanne’s Research, and Holon Mentor? Well, it’s partly context and partly function:
- Context. Simply put, Brigette the Supporter itself doesn’t have much support in our current format. That might sound strange, but just hear me out. When Pokémon Collector was around, so was the indescribably powerful Spiritomb AR. For any Evolution deck, a common play was to Collector for three Pokémon — one being a Spiritomb AR — and immediately retreat and evolve while shutting off Items. It was powerful, efficient, and disruptive. Today, Brigette has nothing like that to round out the combo. Additionally, Pokémon Collector and Roseanne’s Research existed alongside Pokémon SP, some of the most powerful Pokémon at the time. With those cards all being Basic, playing a Basic-grabbing Supporter was pretty huge — akin to playing Hoopa-EX in today’s format. One last note is that we currently have a format rife with Items that grab Pokémon. Level Ball, Ultra Ball, Heavy Ball, and so on … these cards replace the dependency on a Supporter to fill up the Bench.
- Function. Brigette also has some inconvenient parameters attached to it. Since it may grab 3 Basic Pokémon or 1 Basic Pokémon-EX, it’s immediately overlooked in most decks that feature Basic Pokémon-EX. Just run Hoopa-EX to do your dirty work. The other feature unique to Brigette is that any Pokémon you grab from your deck immediately get sent to the Bench, nullifying Shaymin-EX’s Ability (or any other Pokémon that depends on being played to the Bench from hand). Though I think this is a fair stipulation, it easily pushes Brigette further toward the Supporter “fringe.”
So, with that said, how am I running Brigette? Well, Brigette plays much differently in Standard than it does in Expanded. In Standard there’s no dependable way to grab Brigette early game (other than running 4 copies of it), so it really doesn’t feature in most of my decks. I’ll play around with it a bit if my deck is Evolution-heavy, but even then I don’t like running into the card mid to late game — at that point it’s usually just a dead card.
Where Brigette really shines is in Expanded, where we can add in Brigette’s best partner: Jirachi-EX. Think about it: With a solid mix of Ultra Ball, Level Ball, and whatever else, we can often reach a lone copy of Brigette early-game without having to give up three other spots in the deck. This is particularly good for Evolution decks or decks that rely on multiple non-EX Basic Pokémon to operate.
I’m currently using Brigette in my Durant build. Check it out:
Pokémon – 6
Trainers – 46
Energy – 8
It’s not unusual for me to play a Trainers’ Mail on my first turn, grab a Level Ball, use it to grab a Jirachi-EX, use Jirachi-EX to grab a Brigette, and finally use Brigette to grab 3 Durant. It’s a brilliant, multi-tiered combo that enables me to reliably start strong almost every game. Bear in mind this combo can be repeated for many decks, so long as you can fit a single Brigette and a single Jirachi-EX into your deck. In a sense, this seems to be the best utilization of Brigette, as it’s low cost and undeniably powerful in the early game.
This card has slowly been realized as a dud by most players. It doesn’t feature prominently in any decks and is too situation dependent to be seen as a consistency card. Still, I think it has redeeming factors given the right deck.
What decks are these? They tend to be ones that hit hard as fast as possible — decks like Landorus-EX/Lucario-EX/Crobat PHF. These decks master the 2HKO with few resources, and since damage output is first and foremost, Giovanni’s Scheme fits comfortably here. Here’s a Standard list for Lucario-EX/Crobat I’ve been using that capitalizes on Giovanni’s Scheme:
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 31
Energy – 9
With Giovanni’s Scheme, you’re more capable of pumping out the damage needed to either KO non-EX Basic Pokémon on the first turn or land 2HKOs with ease. It can replace a missed Muscle Band or Strong Energy or aid in KOing an Active Shaymin-EX should your opponent start with one (Missile Jab + Muscle Band + Fighting Stadium + Strong Energy + Giovanni’s Scheme = 110 damage). The other advantage Giovanni’s Scheme gives you is it allows you to 2HKO M Pokémon-EX easier. If your initial attack does 70 damage to a Pokémon-EX and your opponent Mega Evolves, you can lay down an impressive 160 damage between damage increasers and Golbat.
I understand that Giovanni’s Scheme won’t always be the Supporter one plays each turn, but it falls in the same realm as our Lysandre discussion earlier where having easier access to it throughout the game can increase your chances of dealing the 20 extra damage needed to pull off a win.
The other way I see Giovanni’s Scheme being used is alongside Medicham. And since Medicham is practically dead in Standard (it lacks Silver Bangle, Celebi-EX, Landorus-EX, and Computer Search), I’ll show you my Expanded list:
Pokémon – 16
Trainers – 35
Energy – 9
Where I once played Iris in this deck (and questionably so), I’m more comfortable playing Giovanni’s Scheme as it can still provide draw power and no longer relies on the opponent gaining so much ground. With the right mix of cards, Medicham can do an uncanny 220 damage with a single Energy. Giovanni’s Scheme also helps you get around one of Medicham’s biggest challenges: non-Pokémon-EX. Without the advantage both Silver Bangle and Fighting Stadium provide against Pokémon-EX, Medicham loses its punch. Giovanni’s Scheme makes up for this in a crucial way.
So, Judge is one of the more difficult cards to understand from the new set. I played Judge back in the day, during the HeartGold & SoulSilver era, but the context for the card back then was different than it is now, though in many ways it’s the same. Back then, Judge was used to either match an opponent’s hand size with minor disruption or purely for big disruption once some conditions were met. These conditions were normally things like ensuring your opponent had played all of their Cyrus’s Conspiracy or Uxie LA. Because of this some players played a single copy of Judge in their deck, hoping to capitalize mid to late game on an unsuspecting opponent.
I can’t say that method was reliable, but playing 4 Judge in one’s deck alongside cards like Steelix Prime or Yanmega Prime was. This is because the minor disruption from Judge would sometimes stick and create enormous problems for the opponent. Use Judge a single time in a game and you might not find results, but use Judge repeatedly and eventually the opponent’s strategy may fall apart.
Today, Judge differs because of the context — with practically every deck running 4 Juniper/Sycamore and 4 VS Seeker and Shaymin-EX, there’s a good chance the opponent will bounce back without issue after Judge is played against them. There are, however, some notable differences in how Judge operates between Expanded and Standard. In Expanded, consistency reigns supreme. Most efforts to catch an opponent off guard with Judge will be futile unless it’s played repeatedly throughout the game.
In Standard, however, Judge shines for one simple reason: It can shuffle your opponent’s hand away. Any time I play the Standard format I sorely miss N, as it offered a dependable way to slow my opponent down when they’re drawing through most of their deck. Judge steps in here as a substitute, and though I won’t play 4 copies of it in my deck, I’ll rightly consider 1.
The other thing Judge does is ensure you don’t fall prey to decking out. I’m not sure if other players are experiencing this, but I often find myself with a large hand late game and very few cards left in deck. I know the threat of decking out changes from deck to deck, but if you run a speedy deck you might consider adding in a copy of Judge for insurance against running out of cards.
Start Your (Supporter) Engines!
Now that we have a clear understanding of Supporters and how they function between Standard and Expanded, let’s look under the hood of some of the more popular decks out there, noting why these Supporter “engines” are so effective. Note that I will include Items that can operate like Supporters (VS Seeker, Trainers’ Mail, etc.) as well as cards that can lead to the use of either Shaymin-EX or Jirachi-EX (Ultra Ball, Level Ball, etc.). I’ll provide just the skeleton for these engines so we can get a good look at what’s going on and what it takes to get things running.
The Fast and the Furious (Speed Builds)
For the most part, Supporter engines like these seek to move quick and hit hard. Think Night March or Vespiquen — decks that meet a condition by flying through the deck and then do incredible amounts of damage. Naturally, to pull this off these decks rely heavily on Item cards for draw support, cards like Battle Compressor, Acro Bike, and the like. Let’s look at this type of Supporter engine:
Pokémon – 3
Trainers – 26
Energy – 0
Total: 29 cards
Maxie/Archie Builds)Does It Run on Fuel or Water? (
In a sense, these Supporter engines are not too different than the speed builds we just looked at. It’s part of the reason Empoleon DEX featured so prominently in Night March builds from last season. The reason is pretty simple: While speed decks want to get through the deck quickly with Item cards as draw support, Maxie/Archie builds want to use those Items to whittle the hand down to a single Supporter. Here’s an example of a Supporter engine that uses Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick:
Pokémon – 3
Trainers – 26
Energy – 0
Total: 29 cards
The Bulldozer (Energy Disruption Builds)
Here’s what I know about this type of Supporter build: It clears a path to victory when facing Seismitoad-EX, Giratina-EX, M Rayquaza-EX, and other cards that depend on Energy so much. It can also help break an opponent’s momentum enough that it puts you back in control. Oh, it also busts up any deck that depends solely on Double Colorless Energy and a couple of Basic Energy (Night March, Vespiquen, etc.) … well, provided they don’t run Bronzong PHF or Blacksmith, which many of them do.
Still, the strength rests in being able to cut into your opponent’s Energy resources and slow them down if not render them absolutely useless. I’ve had many games against Seismitoad-EX decks using this kind of Supporter build where I don’t even attack before my opponent concedes. Without Energy, they’re deck becomes useless:
Pokémon – 2-3
Trainers – 27
Energy – 0
Total: 29-30 cards
The Earth-Friendly Hybrid (Vileplume Builds)
I’ve tried Vileplume out a number of ways, and one thing I can tell you is that supporting it sufficiently is ridiculously difficult. It reminds me a lot of the old Darkrai-EX/Garbodor DRX deck that seemed so counterintuitive. There are moments when the different moving parts in a Vileplume deck work together — all is well while the opponent suffers the wrath of Item lock. At other times, nothing seems to click, or you run out of steam way too early. As we all know, Vileplume is not the best card in the format, so I must issue some warning along with this engine: It’s not incredibly consistent, but would we expect a Vileplume deck to be so anyway?
For this I want to actually show you a deck I was working on at one point. The engine itself will be italicized:
Pokémon – 18
Trainers – 32
Energy – 10
Total: 32 cards
The fact that it takes 32 cards to make Vileplume work (while not including Vileplume itself) should underline the issue that Vileplume has in today’s format: Basically, you have to put all your eggs in the single basket of trying to get Vileplume in play Turn 1.
With this season’s format rotation we have seen a significant shift in what the Standard and Expanded formats represent. Both are more complicated in their own right: Standard suffers from consistency issues while Expanded has such a large card pool it’s nearly impossible to metagame appropriately. My hope is that this article has presented some solutions to at least one facet of the game, Supporters. If you’re a beginning player you should now understand with greater clarity what it takes to get a deck off the ground, and if you’re an experienced player I hope I’ve given you some food for thought.
I always enjoy discovering the functionality of new Supporters. I initially thought Brigette would take the game by storm, but looking at it now proves it needs to be played with more finesse. Meanwhile, cards like Trainers’ Mail and Judge have seemed to perplex nearly everyone. Looking at Jimmy O’Brien’s Vespiquen list from his recent article, for instance, shows the wild discrepancy that he doesn’t run Trainers’ Mail! This threw me for a loop, especially after seeing time and time again Vespiquen decks that did run it.
Be sure to share your own thoughts in the comments section and let me know what you think. Also, if you liked the article or thought it contained good info, be sure to give me a “like;” it always helps to know from readers what is working and what isn’t. Thanks!
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