Level Up Your Game: An Analysis of Starter Decks

Published 4 months ago by Haydair Article Views 960 Estimated Reading Time 10 minutes

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This is your typical theme deck.






For the average player, a theme deck/V battle deck was probably the first deck they ever owned. These are great starter decks for anyone hoping to get into the Pokemon TCG. By playing with these decks, new players can understand the rules of the game and get a feel of basic gameplay. 


Having learned the basics of the game, adventurous players would tend towards building their own decks. Naturally, their decks would be similar in structure to the theme/V Battle Decks that they just played. After all, a pre-constructed deck provided by PTCGi itself would provide a good deck template right…?


I hate to break it to you, but this isn’t usually the case.


Today, we’ll examine some of these starter decks, picking out their main flaws and providing improvements. Afterward, we’ll go through some general principles for deck building. Without further ado, let’s get into it! 


Noivern V Battle Deck Review

First and foremost, here is the decklist:

Let’s start with asking ourselves, what is the main strategy of this deck? I think that it would be to power up Noivern V, then take quick KOs with its Synchro Loud attack. 


Next, let’s move on to the card choices. In terms of Pokemon, Noivern V is the star of the show, with a comparatively high damage output coupled with the ability to spread damage across the board with its Boomburst attack. The Zubat/Golbat/Crobat serves as an engine for this deck, with the abilities of Golbat and Crobat allowing the player to draw cards. Finally, Lugia, Xatu and Alcremie serve as alternate attackers; additionally, Alcremie can provide energy acceleration using its “Decorate” attack.


In terms of Trainer cards, this deck plays 11 supporter cards and 12 item cards. In terms of supporters, Copycat, Hop, and Dan are here to draw extra cards. Sonia + Great Ball + Evolution Incense help with Pokemon search, and Gordie + Energy Search, well, they search out energy. 2 copies of Escape Rope provide switching, while the 2 Potions provide healing. 


Finally, this deck plays 16 energy, with an even split of Darkness and Psychic Energy.


Now that we understand the deck’s composition, let’s evaluate it!


What went well? 


  1. Playing an engine

Wait, what’s an engine?


I would describe a Pokemon card engine as a set of cards that increase the deck’s drawing/searching ability. Logically speaking, drawing more cards increases the chances of finding your attackers, energy, or whatever you need on that specific turn. 


This deck plays 9 draw supporters, which though slightly excessive, ensures that the deck can find the cards it needs to function smoothly. Bonus points go to Golbat and Crobat, which have abilities that allow the player to draw more cards. Most competitive decks play Pokemon engines in tandem with draw supporters to maximise their draw power, since supporters can’t be used more than once per turn.


  1.  Pokemon search cards (Sonia, Great Ball, Evolution Incense)

In any deck, setting up Pokemon is probably the priority. If your attackers can’t get onto the field in time, the opponent will probably overwhelm you before you can even fire off an attack. 


Almost every deck plays Pokemon search cards to increase the probability of finding their attackers + supporting Pokemon. For example, if I’m trying to find a Golbat in a 40 card deck, I will have a 3/40 chance of drawing it off the top of my deck (since I play 3 Golbat). On the other hand, if I play 2 copies of Evolution Incense, I have a 5/40 chance of finding Golbat, since every Evolution Incense can turn into a Golbat. With a higher chance of finding Golbat, this deck can more easily set up and pull off its strategy. 


  1. Copycat!

Special mention goes to the supporter Copycat, which has been included in this deck. Copycat allows both players to have the same number of cards in their hand, thus increasing Noivern V’s Synchro Loud attack damage from 60 to 180. 


When building a deck, remember to play cards that contribute to its strategy, directly or otherwise. Copycat helps directly by increasing Noivern’s damage; but small changes like adding an engine (mentioned above) can indirectly help the deck run more smoothly too. 


What are some areas of improvement?


  1. Suboptimal engine

What makes a good engine? In my opinion, a good engine has two aspects to it. One--it’s a strong engine i.e. draws many cards. Two--it can consistently draw cards throughout the game. 


This deck suffers quite a bit in terms of the first aspect: Hop and Dan are not the strongest draw supporters, being able to only draw 3 cards on average. On the other hand, common draw supporters such as Professor’s Research can draw 7 new cards, twice that of Hop! For draw supporters, Professor’s Research and Marnie are probably the best way to go, although Zinnia’s Resolve, Bruno and Kabu are good options too. 


I think some new players might be hesitant to play cards like Professor’s Research, for fear of discarding cards that could be useful late-game. I myself was one of them. But I soon learned that most decks play at least 2 copies of important cards, so there would probably be an extra copy available even if 1 was discarded. Often, the benefit of the extra cards drawn is worth the small risk of losing valuable cards. 


In terms of the second aspect, this deck doesn’t have too many issues. However, to better reuse Golbat/Crobat’s abilities, this deck can include a copy or two of Scoop Up Net


  1. Suboptimal Pokemon search cards

As explained earlier, Pokemon search cards are a necessary component in almost every deck. However, not all search cards are built equal. For example, Great Ball is rather unreliable as you might be unable to find a Pokemon from the top 7 cards of the deck (that being said, it’s still playable). Rather, cards that guarantee a Pokemon, such as Quick Ball, Level Ball and Evolution Incense are usually better options. 


Supporter cards with Pokemon search effects, such as Sonia, are not particularly common in most decks. Since every deck can only play 1 supporter per turn, and most decks spend that slot on draw supporters, search supporters aren’t common. 


  1. Too many Pokemon lines

This deck plays 4 sets of attackers, namely: Milcery/Alcremie + Natu/Xatu + Lugia + Noivern (I count Crobat as a support Pokemon). Most decks usually play 1 main attacker with support Pokemon, and a few decks play 2 attackers, but 4 is probably too excessive. When deciding whether or not to play an alternate attacker, it usually depends on 1. Are the set-up requirements similar to the main attacker? and 2. Can the alternate attackers do something that the main attacker cannot? In this case, Noivern outclasses these alternate attackers in almost every situation, so there is little reason to play them. 


  1. Too much Energy

Noivern’s Synchro Loud attack only requires 2 Energy; Boomburst costs even less (1 energy). For a deck with such low energy requirements, I would feel quite safe playing 8-9 energy, instead of 16. The issue with playing too much energy is that our hand often gets clogged up with energy that we can’t play down, causing the deck to run less than smoothly. 


So how much energy should be played in a deck? It generally depends on the energy cost of the attacker. Noivern’s attack cost is 2, so I would play 8-10 energy. If I play something else like Zacian V, which has an attack cost of 3, I would play 11-13 energy. If the energy cost is even higher e.g. Rayquaza VMAX, I might play 14-15 energy. 


  1. Inappropriate card counts

Since Noivern is the main attacker, it would make sense to increase the number of copies to 3 or 4. Otherwise, if Noivern goes down, the deck will have to rely on Lugia/Xatu/Alcremie to attack, which is certainly not optimal. For Zubat/Golbat/Crobat, we’ll probably need many of them available to draw more cards. As such, we could increase the card counts to a 4-4-3* line instead of the original 3-3-2 line. To better search out Zubat and Golbat, 4 copies of Level Ball could be included; to find Golbat and Crobat, the deck could play more copies of Evolution Incense.


I mentioned just now that the supporter count was a little excessive. Since only 1 Supporter can be played per turn, 4-8 draw supporters should suffice (4 Professor’s Research with a few Marnies). 


*4-4-3 stands for 4 Zubat, 4 Golbat and 3 Crobat. It’s the convention when referring to Evolution lines. 


Charizard Theme Deck 

Now, it’s your turn to try your hand at improving starter decks! Below is the Charizard Theme Deck from Vivid Voltage; spot the main flaws and think of possible improvements! (Answers down below)


Hint: What is the main strategy of this deck? Which cards contribute/don’t contribute to the main strategy?


Possible Improvements 

We’ll start off by establishing the main strategy, which is what holds the deck together. The aim of this deck is to set up Charizard as quickly as possible, play Leons into the discard pile, then spam Royal Blaze.


  1. More Leons

With 4 Leons in the discard pile, Charizard can hit a whopping 300 damage with Royal Blaze, enough to OHKO multi-prize Pokemon V and VMAXes. Increasing the copies of Leon from 2 to 4 exchanges two deck slots for 100 extra damage each time; in my view, the trade-off is worth it. 


  1. More Charmanders/Charizards + Rare Candy

Since the deck will be attacking with Charizard most of the time, it would make sense to have a higher count of the Charizard evolution line. 


Adding 3 or 4 copies of Rare Candy could help with increasing the speed of set up. Normally, 3 turns are required before a Charizard can enter play. With Rare Candy, only 2 turns are required, as Charmander can directly evolve into Charizard (bypassing Charmeleon). On that note, since Rare Candy replaces Charmeleon, you could cut down to 2 copies of Charmeleon.


  1. Change the supporters

Sorry Hop and Dan, Research and Marnie are probably better in this deck. Additionally, Bruno could be considered since the Pokemon in this deck are likely to be KOed every turn (due to their low HP). 


  1. Improve Pokemon search options

I think Sonia (and perhaps Great Ball) could be swapped out for more Evolution Incense and Quick Ball. Evolution Incense is especially important here to search out Charizards for attacking. Quick Ball is great for getting out multiple Charmanders turn 1, so that they can be evolved more quickly. 


  1. Cut out unnecessary Pokemon lines

I honestly don’t think that Lugia, Magcargo and Yanmega contribute to this deck’s strategy at all, and instead take up valuable deck space. I would recommend keeping Sudowoodo however, as its Double Draw attack can provide card draw in the early stages of the game. 


  1. Add an engine

Since this deck needs to set up multiple Stage 2 Pokemon throughout the game, it’s quite resource intensive. A draw engine such as a 3-3 line of Cinccino SSH could be used to get the necessary resources to set up (Charizard, Rare Candy, Energy), via Cinccino’s Make Do ability. 


  1. Reduce the energy count

Charizard only requires 2 energy to attack, which isn’t exactly energy intensive. I’d probably halve the energy count to 9-10, enough to guarantee the energy attachment of the turn while not clogging up the deck with dead cards. 


In Summary

After going through these starter decks, I hope that you have a better idea of what makes a functioning deck. But in case you forgot, I compiled a list of general principles for deck building.


  1. Play better supporters -- these include Marnie, Professor’s Research and Boss’s Orders

  2. Play good Pokemon search options, such as Quick Ball and Evolution Incense. Great Ball is not terrible but the former two options are usually better. 4 Quick Ball is the norm, as is 3-4 Evolution Incense (but of course it depends on how many Evolution Pokemon you play). 

  3. Play more copies of the main attackers; 3 or 4 copies are best.

  4. Play an engine. I recommend the Cinccino, Inteleon and Crobat V engines. Here’s an article if you want to find out more! 

  5. Play energy acceleration if the attack cost is high, i.e. 3 energy or more. Otherwise, energy acceleration is a bonus, not a necessity. 

  6. The amount of energy played should depend on the attack cost of the attackers.

  7. Finally and most importantly, choose cards that contribute to the main strategy! 

Finally, if you have any questions, ask them in the comments section down below! I’ll try to answer them as best as I can. Thank you very much for reading! 


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