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Pokemon: Astral Radiance Review

Astral Radiance

Apologies for the delay on this, but it’s been a busy couple of months.

Wait.… three months? And Lost Origin is out in TWO WEEKS?!?

Okay, I guess I have been busy. Better get on with this, so here goes: ASTRAL RADIANCE: THE LOST SET.

‘Why the lost set?’ you ask, ‘surely Lost Origin is the Lost set.’ Yes, sorta, kinda – I mean, the lost zone is back, but AR is the lost set because Pokemon Go! Happened in July and after that… nobody cared about AR. Which is a shame, because there are some legitimately good cards in there. Fo’ def.

Crusty Space Jugglers…

As with all the UK/US/Euro Pokemon sets, Astral Radiance is a combination of a number of Japanese sets, in this case Time Gazer, Space Juggler, Battle Region (not Battle Styles – bleurgh!) and VMAX Climax. The last set is the source of most of the Trainer Gallery.

Yes, like the set before, Brilliant Stars, this set has a Trainer Gallery. For the uninitiated, this means that the reverse holo slot (the one before the rare) may also contain alternative art rarities such as Kingdra, Flapple, both flavours of Calyrex V and VMAX and the utterly adorable Starmie V alt art. The Calyrexes also have their own gold card versions, which don’t look like Spanish Fakemon at all. Oh no. This is not the only treat that can occupy the reverse holo slot as there is a new (well, not so new now) type of card, with at least one that has now become a deck staple.

Astral Radiance is slightly bigger than Brilliant Stars, with 189 listed cards, 27 secret rares and 30 Trainer Gallery cards, but it is still not up there with the likes of Fusion Strike’s absurd 284 card set size. Also, with the possibility of drawing something in the reverse holo slot, the dreaded white code card is not so dreaded anymore. Which is hopeful.

Zipping Up Ma Boots… Going Back to My… Origins

The poster boy for Brilliant Stars was very much Arceus V and Vstar, which have gone on to become a bit of a big deal in the TCG. The lead on this was taken from Pokemon Legends: Arceus, and Astral Radiance picks up the baton on this. With the names ‘Time Gazer’ and ‘Space Juggler’ assoxiated with this set, there could only be two pokemon leading the pack in this set – Origin Forme Palkia and Dialga. Both have V and VSTAR cards, with Palkia VSTAR just nudging past Dialga VSTAR in terms of playability. This is due to its VSTAR ability that allows players to charge up their pokemon with three discarded energy and an attack that is like Suicune V on steroids – 60 plus 20 for each benched pokemon in play. Dialga VSTAR has an expensive attack that allows a player to take two turns in a row, which is also very good, but hasn’t seen as much play. Yet.

Other VSTARs include Liligant VSTAR, which has an ability that allows you to grab grass pokemon and energy from your deck, Darkrai VSTAR, which does lots of damage for lots of darkness, and VSTARS for the Hisuian versions of Decidueye, Samurott and Typhlosion. Yes, that’s right. Move over Galar – Hisuia’s in the hood.

It’s Not Me, It’s Hisuia…

Astral Radiance really doubles down on the Pokemon Legends thang by introducing us to pokemon from the Hisuian region. Like Alola and Galar, the names of the pokemon may be familiar, but the types have often changed and they’ve got some new tricks. Hisuian pokemon are more like pokemon from the Alolan region than the Galar region, because a beloved mechanic has returned – the free attack.

Back in the day, there wasn’t a deck around that didn’t play Alolan Vulpix because of its free attach that allowed you to search your deck for two basic pokemon and play them to your bench. Well, now we’ve got Hisuian Basculin, which does pretty much the same. It also gets an evolution, in the form of Hisuian Basculegion, a spooky fish with a neat line in revenge attacks. Qwilfish also gets an evolution, with the inspiringly-named Overqwill. There are two versions of this (and Qwilfish) in the set, but I am particularly taken with the one that has a free big poison attack. Lemmy would approve. Stantler gets an evolution too, with Wyrdeer and a draw ability, and we also get a Sneasler for Sneasel. Sounds like a Dr Seuss book.

As said before, the Hisuian stage 2 starters get Vs and VSTARs, but they also get evolution lines too. I know Stage 2 pokemon are not exactly feasible in a VMAX and VSTAR-dominated game, but Hisuian Samurott gets an honourable mention for its discard and draw three ability (seen on a recent Swampert) and all the energy/all the damage attack. As for you, Hisuian Typhlosion, and your burn n confuse for a discarded psychic… I’ve got plans for you…

The Hisuian VSTARS are the starring (get it) players here though, with some very nice attacks and abilities. Decidueye gets a discard and damage attack, which is okay, but has a VSTAR ability that allows you to draw up to 8. Typlosion does 180 to active and 3 damage counters to anywhere on the bench, but also has a VSTAR attack that allows you to knock out a pokemon with exactly 4 damage counters on it (yes, I know, Yveltal GX) but Samurott gets first prize with an attack that does 220 for two darkness energy if your opponent’s active pokemon has any damage on it. It also has a VSTAR ability that does 4 damage counters to any pokemon which… kinda matches up with Typlosion but… can’t be done at the same time…


Shiny And Bright…

But Hisuian Pokemon are not the only new kids on the block. Though I have mentioned them elsewhere, Astral Radiance is/was the first set to introduce Radiant Pokemon. And they’re not a bad bunch, depending what you want from your Radiant.

First off, though, a caveat: you can only have ONE Radiant Pokemon in your deck – this isn’t like Prism Star, sadly, where you could have more than one Prism Star as long as they were a different Prism Star; this is one and done.

The least popular because… well it’s Radiant Heatran because it’s Radiant Heatran. It has a beefy 160 HP and a nice attack though – three fire energy and 60 damage for every damage counter on it. Can you say Magma Basin FTW?

Next in Astral Radiance is Radiant Hawlucha, which has a pointless attack but a great ability – all attacks to 30 more damage to VMAXs. Great for pushing your attacks into OHKO (one hit knock out) territory.

The best of the bunch, though, is unquestionable Radiant Greninja. It has an attack that for two water and a colourless does 90 damage to two pokemon, though you do have to discard two energy, which is not bad at all. It’s the ability that makes it essential: discard an energy and draw two cards. Great for putting energy in your discard pile for Magma Basin and Palkia; great for drawing cards. What more could you ask for?

How about the return of a favourite?

Welcome Back, Energy Lotto

Okay, it is back, but no-one really cares about that. You do? Well, you do you. No, what I am talking about is the awesome Dark Patch. In Brilliant Stars, we got back Ultra Ball and Choice Belt, both absolutely vital cards, but Dark Patch was just as/is a big deal.

It allows you to attach a dark energy from your discard pile to one of your benched pokemon. If you cast your eyes back up, you will see at least a couple of pokemon that work around having lots of dark energy hanging about, but I can see this making a lot of energy-hungry pokemon more viable.

Dark Patch is not the only energy accelerator in this set. Both fighting and grass type decks get a boost in the shape of Gutsy (I preferred Gritty) Pickaxe and Gardenia’s Vigour respectively. Gutsy Pickaxe is an item that allows you to reveal the top card and, if it is a fighting energy, attach it to a benched pokemon. Gardenia’s Vigour is a supporter that allows you to draw two cards then attach up to two grass energy to your pokemon if you drew any cards. It’s Welder for grass, and we saw what happened with Welder, right kids?

This isn’t the only familiar trainer card of note in this set. Irida is a bit like Volkner for water, allowing you to search for a water pokemon and an item; Switch Cart is like Life Belt for basic pokemon, allowing you to retreat and heal; Hisuian Heavy Ball is like an item version of Gladion, allowing you to look at your prize cards and exchange it for any pokemon you find there. The most interesting double-take card though is the stadium Gapejaw Bog. When in play, Gapejaw Bog will put two damage counters on any basic pokemon that are played to the bench from your hand. It’s Team Magma Hideout for a new generation and looks like a bit of a double-edged sword, but there are sometimes benefits to taking damage. It will also make some decks in expanded absolutely ridiculous.

It's not just about reruns though. Grant is a supporter card that will make all fighting decks very indomitable – 30 damage added to fighting pokemon attacks, then discard two cards to put it back in your hand. Trekking Shoes allows you to draw and keep, or discard and draw again. Spicy Seasoned Curry allows you to heal your active but burns it too – this one seems completely daft but... wait and see. Unlike Wait and See Turbo which is completely daft and an almost useless energy accelerator. Almost.

By Royal Appointment…

So if you’ve got this far, you’re probably thinking ‘this is a whole lot of stuff’ and you would be right. But there are still a couple of honourable mentions to put in. There’s a Mightyena that does 160 damage for free if your opponent has a VMAX in play (hint: it OHKOs Mew VMAX). There’s a Magnezone that allows you to look at the top six cards of your deck and allows you to attach any metal energy you find there to your pokemon (hint: this makes Dialga VSTAR work. Possibly). Miltank takes no damage from V Pokemon. And then there’s the Regis. Oh, the Regis…

Not only do we have the regular Regis, but also Regileki and Regidrago, and they are led by the biggest of big boys Regigigas. Only this time he’s good. Not only does he have an attack which for 5 energy does 300 damage to VMAXs, but it also has a rather nice ability. If all the Regis are in play, you may attach 3 energy from your discard pile. Not just basic energy – any energy. You can imagine the mischief that this is capable of.

It’s not just about the Regigigas though – each Regi has its own speciality. Registeel hits the quick pokemon; Regileki bench snipes; Regice messes up Vs and Regidrago refills your hand and hits hard. I would go as far as to say that this could be a legitimate deck. (checks Pokemon Worlds) Is a legitimate deck.

Per Ardua, Ad Astral…

Brilliant Stars set the bar very high with regards to quality over quantity in a set, but was still a tentative move into new mechanics and new card sets. Astral radiance goes all in, with more VSTARS, more Trainer Gallery cards and more fun to be had with Radiant Pokemon. And with these new cards in new spots, this represents more value for money for the player and the collector. True, there are some cards that will be in demand, but there’s a lot more wriggle room in the game now – it’s still very much a V card game at the moment, but it’s not so cut and tried anymore – there is room for single prize decks and cheaper decks. The future looks bright. In fact, it looks positively radiant.