There are hundreds of cards in the current standard format for the Pokémon Trading Card game. Many of these cards have similar effects, but a different mechanic to achieve that effect. For example, Professor Sycamore and Professor Birch both allow players to draw a fresh hand of 7 cards. One is a staple 4-of in almost every deck, while the other sees no competitive play. The disparity comes down to the way the cards operate to achieve the effect. These cards really are the epitome of “same, same, but different”. And they aren’t the only cards that can be described this way.
In this article, we’ll compare and contrast some meta-relevant cards in the current competitive standard format. These cards have a similar effect, but a different mechanic. We’ll sort the Meerkats from the markets to determine which cards may be better to use in which situations, and why. In many cases, we answer the question: should you stick with the old staples, or do the new Sun and Moon cards offer a better alternative?
Garbodor vs Alolan Muk
|Ability Targets||All Pokémon||Only basic Pokémon|
|Requirement||A tool must be attached to Garbodor||—|
Ability lock has been a staple of competitive play since the Garbotoxin ability was printed in the 2012 expansion, Dragons Exalted. For several reasons, players have expressed concern that Garbodor is an overpowered card. These include the format’s heavy reliance on Shaymin-EX as a draw engine, plus the rotation and consequent absence of tool removal cards in the format.
Once Garbotoxin is online, there are few splash-able attackers that can remove a tool from Garbodor. This means that the abilities of highly played cards like Shaymin-EX, Hoopa-EX, Volcanion-EX, Greninja Break, Fright Night Yveltal, the Ancient Origins Eeveelutions, Rattata, Giratina, Raikou, and Dragonite-EX are rendered useless until the Garbodor is targetted by Lysandre or knocked out by spread damage. That’s potentially a supporter and one or more attacks spent on a one-prize target.
Clearly, Garbotoxin is a powerful ability that can hinder your opponent significantly. Especially since the strategy of some decks revolve around abilities (e.g. Greninja Break or Volcanion-EX). However, the flip-side is that you’re limiting yourself to playing a deck with few abilities. Some decks like Yveltal or Mega Scizor, are happy to do so.
What if you could do a Hannah Montana and get the best of both worlds? Enter Alolan Muk. Its ability Power of Alchemy allows you to use abilities from your evolved Pokémon while shutting off the abilities of all basic Pokémon. Doing so, it breaks the symmetry of the two decks and gives you an advantage in the match-up. While both are hampered by the fact that they’re stage 1 Pokémon and neither can be level balled, it may appear that Alolan Muk is easier to set-up than Garbodor because it does not require a tool. However, Alolan Muk has a retreat cost of 4, making it a prime Lysandre stall target. Consequently, Alolan Muk would benefit from having a Float Stone attached.
Closing thoughts: Players running Greninja, Ancient Origins Eeveelutions or decks that don’t rely on cards like Hoopa-EX or Shaymin-EX after turn 2 or 3 should potentially consider running Alolan Muk to slow down their opponents.
Wobbuffet vs Silent Lab
|Effect type||Pokémon ability||Trainer card|
|Effect Targets||All non-psychic Pokémon||Only basic Pokémon|
|Requirement||Wobbuffet must be in the active position||—|
What’s that you say? Turn 2 ability-lock is too slow for you? If getting out a Stage 1 Pokémon is not your cup of tea, or you want that turn one early pressure and Shaymin-EX lock, then we have the answer/s for you: Wobbuffet and Silent Lab.
If you’re going second, starting with an active Wobbuffet is the only way to prevent your opponent from benefitting from the set-up ability of Shaymin-EX. They can avoid the ability lock by using Escape Rope or Lysandre, though this isn’t possible if you refrain from benching any other Pokémon. Unfortunately, the ability lock is only effective while Wobbuffet is active. This means that after turn 1 if you want to keep the lock in effect you will be forced to attack with Wobbuffet or with Pokémon whose attacks switch them to the bench (e.g. Umbreon GX’s Strafe).
If you’re going first, your options for denying your opponent’s ability-draw engine also include Silent Lab. It’s a stadium that is splash-able in almost every deck, it doesn’t take up a bench spot, or offer a potential prize for your opponent (like Wobbuffet does). Unlike Wobbuffet, Silent Lab prevents your opponent from benefitting from the ability of Hoopa-EX. A turn 1 Silent Lab can only be countered by another stadium, a Paint Roller (not typically seen in competitive play), or Delinquent (not an ideal starting supporter for your opponent, and typically only played as a 1-of).
Shaymin EX vs Octillery vs Oranguru
|Draw Effect||To a hand size of 6||To a hand size of 5||To a hand size of 3|
|Reusability||When played from your hand onto the bench||Once every turn||Once every turn|
|Prize cards conceded when knocked out||2||1||1|
Shaymin-EX is undoubtedly the most played supportive Pokémon. It has incredible utility. It is the pinnacle of high risk, high reward Pokémon play. Having a low retreat cost means that it isn’t a viable stall target. Regardless, it can attack to get itself out of play and back into your hand. This removes a 2-prize liability from the board and means the Set-Up ability is ready to be reused. It’s even a viable attacking Pokémon via looping if the opponent has a damage ceiling of less than 110.
Octillery, on the other hand, is only really viable in a water or level-ball focused deck. Having a retreat cost of 2 means that it’s a stall target, and the attack isn’t very useful nor is the cost easily satisfied. However, if your deck can get Octillery into play effectively Octillery offers the best effect of these three cards. A draw to 5 effect could be used practically every turn, and Abyssal Hand allows you to do so. This card prevents you from being hit hard by a late-game N.
Oranguru is a polarising card. Many point to how splash-able it is, and how useful it would be when you are N’d to 1. However, if your opponent Ns you to 1 card, you will draw for the turn and have a hand size of 2. Oranguru will net you 1 extra card. Yes, 3 cards are enough for you to utilise an Ultra Ball, but that’s a very niche situation and the card remains underwhelming. It would be best played in a deck that is designed to consistently result in a hand size below 3. This limits it to decks that burn through their hand quickly like Vespiquen, and perhaps Volcanion-EX.
Professor Kukui vs Giovanni’s Scheme
When Giovanni’s Scheme saw competitive play, it was mostly being used for the extra 20 damage. If you were ever in a situation where you needed to use Giovanni’s Scheme for its card drawing function, you were probably sitting on a very poor hand or were too far behind in the game.
The interesting difference between the two cards comes in the timing of when they are played. Giovanni’s Scheme was almost always played directly before attacking. All other actions for the turn were completed, Giovanni’s Scheme was played, attack phase occurred. In contrast, players seem to be taking a bit of a gamble with Professor Kukui. They will play the Professor Kukui and hope to draw into something they need to attack (e.g. an energy or a switch card) or something they need to secure their board state (like a tool or an evolution). This could result in a waste of the 20 damage bonus (at which point you’re playing 2/3 Cheren as your supporter for the turn).
Closing Thoughts: With all the other draw options available in the current competitive format, Professor Kukui is better than Giovanni’s Scheme. However, don’t be greedy. Unless you’re desperate, play Professor Kukui like you would have played Giovanni’s Scheme for damage – as your last action.
Brock’s Grit vs Super Rod
Brock’s Grit and Super Rod seem to continue the tradition of supporter cards being approximately twice as powerful as trainer cards. Consider how Pokémon catcher has a 50% chance of working, while Lysandre is guaranteed, OR how Potion heals 30 damage, while Pokémon Centre Lady heals 60 and all special conditions. Brock’s Grit is essentially two Super Rods in one.
However, there is more to differentiate these two cards. Super Rod is absolutely useless if you start with it early game or you have to discard it before you can utilise its effect, because there are few ways to return trainer cards from the discard pile (and if you’re using Puzzle of Time to get back Super Rod, most of the time you will just want the Pokémon/Energy straight into your hand). In contrast, Brock’s Grit can be recovered using VS Seeker, so it is less annoying to start with it in your opening hand or discard it early.
It is also important to recognise that not all decks would benefit from shuffling in more cards. Super Rod is often an asset because it shuffles in a select few cards that may all be useful when drawn into. Being forced to shuffle in six cards could make a late game N more difficult to draw out of, or make it more difficult to find the specific card that you shuffled back in. Consider how a Super Rod could be useful for a Vespiquen player, but a Brock’s Grit would be crippling.
An interesting interaction for decks that run Hoopa-EX and Shaymin-EX is that a late game Brock’s Grit and an Ultra Ball could result in the acquisition of 4 EX Pokémon from the discard pile to hand. This is particularly useful for decks like Mega Gardevoir and Mega Rayquaza.
Beedrill EX vs Rattata
Beedrill-EX’s Double Scrapper attack and Rattata’s Mischievous Fang ability are two of the few ways that Tool cards can be discarded from Pokémon in play once attached. The ability to remove tools from Pokémon is particularly important for decks that have a damage cap of 200 or less. This allows them to remove Fighting Fury Belts from and achieve OHKOs on big basic Pokémon. They also allow decks like Mega Gardevoir and Mega Rayquaza to achieve OHKOs for fewer resources.
As Beedrill-EX removes tools with an attack and can target any of your opponent’s Pokémon in play, it is one of the only ways to remove a tool from Garbodor when under Garbotoxin ability lock. Even though the attack only costs one colourless energy to perform, the fact that Beedrill is an EX and the only effect of the attack is to remove tools, it is not highly splash-able.
Rattata, on the other hand, is highly splash-able. It does not have to be active or attacking to use its Mischievous Fang ability. However, it only discards tools from the opposing active Pokémon and does not work under Garbotoxin or Hex Maniac. This card thrives in decks that use Skyfield and benefit from having a higher number of benched Pokémon in play e.g. Mega Rayquaza and Mega Gardevoir. Keep in mind that Rattata only has 40HP. Now that spread damage is becoming more relevant in the standard competitive format (see: Umbreon GX and Decidueye GX), Rattata is a prize liability.
There are many cards that achieve a similar effect but through different means. When deck building, it is important to consider how an effect is achieved. It could be through a Supporter, a trainer, an ability, or an attack. Acknowledge that some methods may be more effective in the current standard format than others to activate the effect you desire.
This article is part of a weekly series for competitive Pokémon Trading Card Game players. Never miss an article! Follow me on Twitter here.
Special thanks to fellow Sydney player, David Patane, for his contributions to this article.