Backtrack two or so years ago: Sun and Moon was coming to a close in the TCG with the truly stunning Cosmic Eclipse set. True, I had begun to despair at the size of the recent Pokémon sets that had become all but impossible to collect (gotta catch ‘em all? Very unlikely) but this set, THIS SET, had a new trick up its sleeve: character rares…
For all those unfamiliar with the way Pokémon TCG booster packs are laid out, here’s a quick summary: each pack has ten cards and one basic energy; eight of the cards are a mix of commons and uncommons; one card is a reverse holo; one card is at least a rare.
This rare card could be a standard rare, which was usually a bit meh; a holo – slightly less meh; a GX card – getting a bit interesting; a full art – you have my full attention now, or a rainbow rare or gold card – MAX LEVEL EXCITEMENT.
The surprise could be spoiled somewhat though, as each pack also contained a code card – if it was solid green you were destined for a handful of disappointment, if you got a white background card then it could mean MAX LEVEL EXCITEMENT. Or a holo. Or anything in between.
So Solid Green Was A Bad Sign…
Until the advent of Prism cards, which could turn up in the reverse holo slot regardless of the code card being green or white. They were, however, as rare as Charizard tears and got dropped a couple of sets back. Character rares changed all that.
Now you could get these pretty, pretty cards that featured Pokémon (Pokémon? Is this a Lego thing?) and their trainers in the reverse slot, which could definitely take the edge off getting yet another green card and yet another Heliolisk rare – Heliolisk is NOT rare.
It was also the last set that included Tag Team GXs, overpowered game-breaking cards that were great if you had them… not so good if you didn’t, and Tag Team supporters. In fact, it was the ONLY set with Tag team supporters – I guess this is why Cosmic Eclipse packs are amongst the most sought-after packs now. In summary, as swan songs go, this was symphonic.
Then Came Sword And Shield
And there was more Sword than Shield here. GXs were GONE, replaced by V Cards; Tag Teams were GONE, replaced by VMAX cards (though these needed to evolve from V Cards but were even more overpowered); character rares were GONE replaced by… disappointment. And probably a few more Heliolisks.
We all know what happened then in 2020. Things went a bit stay-in-your-homesy, and a combination of the pandemic and a malaise at the way Sword and Shield was heading (even BIGGER sets! Even MORE, power creep! Even LESS chance of pulling something decent!) made me take my leave of the Pokémon TCG following Rebel Clash and turn to less disappointing forms of entertainment such as Below Decks (don’t judge me; these were difficult times).
Shine Bright Like a Drampa…
Brilliant Stars is the ninth set from Sword and Shield, but I wouldn’t call it just a Sword and Shield set. True, it has a Zamazenta V, which is one of the poster ‘mons from Sword and Shield, but I think that this set is more of a bridging set between Sword and Shield and the recently released Pokémon Legends: Arceus (the Trainer Box, sleeves and one of the pack arts feature the legendary god pokemon so, yeah, there could be a connection). The set itself brings together large portions of the start Deck 100, VMAX Climax and Star Birth sets from Japan – not in their entirety, but certainly the majority.
Brilliant Stars also sees firsts for a couple of card types introduced in these three Japanese sets – VSTAR cards and Trainer Gallery Cards. This may not sound like much, especially seeing as there are only four VSTAR cards introduced here, but their arrival is going to be game-changing.
The VSTAR cards are evolutions of individual V cards – in this case, Whimsicott V, Shaymin V, Charizard V, and Arceus V, which all feature in this set – in the same way, that VMAX cards have done in previous sets. What they have that puts them apart from VMAX cards is the VSTAR effect. This is a one-off attack or ability that can be used on the holding player’s turn at some point during the game. Yes, this is something we’ve seen before – GX Attacks! Oh, how I have missed you!
Okay, they’re not quite GX attacks because not every V card has them, only VSTAR cards, but the upgrade is that VSTAR effect is not limited to attacks – they can now be abilities too. And let me tell you – this is going to make a huge difference because abilities can be used BEFORE the end of a player’s turn and don’t necessarily have to be on the active Pokémon.
See What I Mean? Game-Changing
Trainer Gallery cards are not so game-changing unless you consider persuading people to get back into the game game-changing… so yeah, maybe they are (do I get extra points for putting that many game-changings in the same section? No? Oh well…).
Trainer Gallery cards, of which there are 30 in this set, appear in the reverse holo slot and are alternative arts, full arts or gold versions of cards seen in previous sets. These include trainers (two types of Mustards), basic, evolution, V and VMAX cards, and they all look LOVELY (at the time of printing, I’ve only pulled the Single Strike Houndoom but it is a pretty, pretty card).
And just like that… we’re back to the good old days of Cosmic Eclipse and, to a certain extent, Hidden Fates (a set which I was not a fan of as, though you could get some very shiny cards, most of them were non-standard i.e., you couldn’t play them) only now the stakes were even higher, the cards were even fancier and the artwork even nicer.
So, something old, something new, something definitely borrowed (GX Attacks, I’m looking at you) – what reason for me to be blue?
My Gosh… It’s Full Of Cards…
There are some definite big-ticket chase cards in this set. Charizard always pulls a big crowd and the V, VSTAR, full, rainbow and alternate arts are no exception – ka-ching. The golden Galarian birds are also much in demand too.
But that’s about the bling – what about the play?
Top of the list is yer god-boy Arceus. The VSTAR is already getting a lot of play in tournaments due to its standard attack which does 200 damage whilst accelerating three energy – like Pika-rom on Steroids – and its VSTAR ability to search your deck for any two cards at a point of your choosing. Very good, very nice. Very pricey. And the Lumineon V is also all the good things – play it to your bench, go fish (it’s a fish) for a supporter card. For all those who remember, let’s say a big old ‘welcome back’ to Tapu Lele GX! But there are also a lot of other cards and paired up cards that are worth a mensh.
Suicune V is a good card, and in this set, we get the other two legendary dawgs, Entei and Raikou V. They have the same attack and ability as Suicune (two energy doing 20 plus 20 for every benched Pokémon and an ability to draw a card once per turn if in the active), but now come in fire and electric flavours – these bork bois are the best!
And whilst talking about electric types, kudos have to go to Raichu V, with a first turn attack for charging up and the main attack that does 60 damage per electric energy discarded from all your Pokémon – it’s Blacephalon GX but better.
There’s also a Honchkrow V, which has a full and alternative art, whose ability that allows it to have up to four tools attached to it doesn’t look much but… I’ve got big plans for him.
With The Power-Creep Being What It Is
The single prize basic and evolution Pokémon often get overlooked in sets, but there are some real doozies in this one. First up, put this date in your diary – BIBAREL GETS A GOOD CARD! Not for the attack, but its supportability is very good: once per turn, draw cards until you have five in your hand. Very helpful.
Talking of support, Liepard gets good too – in fact, it has an ability that is the same as the soon-to-be-cycled-out Cinccino from Rebel Clash – dump a card, draw two.
Finally, in the support bracket, comes Manaphy – a regular rare that provides bench protection. Handy defence against all those Intelleon decks out there.
Is Defence Or Offence Better?
Defence is good, but offence is better, and there are a couple of cards that have definite potential here. A card that could be a winner if you play a fast game is Moltres – 20 damage for one fire energy, which is poor, but if it has taken any damage this becomes 90. When played with Magma Basin (more on this later), this could work.
Another one that could work is the trio of Wormadons (grass, steel and fighting) which for two energy do 30 plus 10 for each Pokémon in the discard pile. Two energy may seem costly but… we’ve got something for that, and we’ve seen this attack working many times before.
On another trip down memory lane, we see a Lucario which more than a passing resemblance to an old Charizard has – take two damage, find and attach fighting energy and for two energy discard all fighting energy for 60 damage each plus 10 for good measure. With Arceus’s weakness in fighting, this has the potential to be a god-killer. Literally.
Then there are some interesting cards and my personal favourite from this set. Torterra has always had a place in my heart (hey, I like Pratchet too, giant tortoises are my thing) and this version and its line could prove interesting, despite it being a stage two.
Grotle has an ability that allows you to search out any grass type Pokémon from your deck – a nice set-up for your Torterra if nothing else. And Torterra has a two energy attack that does 50 for each evolved Pokémon you have. 300 for two energy? Yes, please! Of course, grass Pokémon are usually not the most popular due to the counteractive popularity of fire Pokémon (grass burns – see?) but… I like this. A lot.
Another potential partnership is (mag)mortal enemies Magmortar and Electivire – both these stage ones have attacks that depend on the other’s presence. Magmortar for three energy (one fire, two other) can do 240 damage if Electivire is on the bench and Electivire can do 120 for one electric energy if Magmortar is damaged, and we shall see how this is going to be no problem at all.
Now my personal favourite: not Pikachu, no, but another brand of electric vermin – Pachurisu! The electric nut botherer gets a two energy attack that does 30 damage for each tool attached to all your Pokémon. Right, go back and look at Honchkrow V. Now looks at this again. Oh yes.
It’s not all about the Pokémon though as this set sees the return of two very popular, very useful cards, new must-have stadiums for fire decks and new energy. There are some new trainers in the house (I particularly like Roseanne’s Backup as it puts pretty much one of everything from your discard pile back in the deck, and Kindler, which allows you to pick two cards from the top seven of your deck for the measly price of fire energy), but these four are the standouts.
The stadium is Magma Basin, a card that allows you to attach fire energy from the discard pile to one of your fire Pokémon for two damage – hello Moltres, Electivire and Charizard VSTAR!
The new energy is double turbo: two colourless energy but 20 damage less. It doesn’t have the proviso of not being attached to a V or GX so, for a small price, this is a step up from Twin Energy.
The first oldie but a goodie is a slightly reworked tool – Choice Belt. This now does 30 more damage to V cards, not GX, and will probably end up a staple in every deck.
As will the last oldie: Ultra Ball. This essential pokemon finder is the same as ever: discard two cards, search your deck for any pokemon (why guild the lily?). You know that this will see a lot of play and, for this alone, this set will sell like hot Macargos…
Summary (Is Better Than Winttary)
Spoiler: I like this set. As I said at the beginning, Pokémon seemed to have been getting away from what made it fun – being something that a kid could collect, and kids of all ages could play in lots of different ways. Brilliant Stars seems to come back to this, in a number of ways.
Firstly, it is a lot smaller than the bank-busting previous sets, Evolving Skies and Fusion Strike. FS, in particular, contained an obscene number of cards and I believe the bulk pulls from that set now constitute a small island in the Thames estuary. A set just does not need over 250 cards, most of which are filler.
The core set of Brilliant Stars is only 172 cards and the Trainer Gallery is an extra thirty cards. Having a smaller set gives both the collector and the player a better chance to pull what they’re looking for. Linked to this is the fact that the Trainer Gallery cards are not in the rare slot but the reverse holo, meaning that there is a lot more opportunity for ‘good pulls’. As previously stated, nobody buys booster packs for the Heliolisks. Nobody.
Next, this set has some cards with real synergy. Please don’t hit me for saying ‘synergy’. The fire cards do get the lion’s share of this (again), but just thinking about the Honchkrow V/Pachurisu/Choice Belt combo cheers me no end and makes me want to build a deck around it.
I haven’t been this invested in a concept since Caturday. Pokémon shouldn’t just be about playing the beefiest cards and sneering at your opponent on the first turn, saying: ‘you playing that? You’ve lost already.’ That’s more an MTG thing.
There are some lovely looking cards, some gorgeous pieces of artwork and a new dynamic is always welcome. Sure, they’re still rare as unicorn poop, but there’s always a chance. There are some utterly pointless cards, brought in due to Legends, such as a Snorunt and Cherubi with no evolutions (why? Just… why?) but there are also some fun cards that I haven’t mentioned that you’ll just have to try for yourself.
The bottom line on this though is that the fun is back. If you, like me, got turned off by the switch to V cards in sword and shield, why not pick up a Build and Battle Stadium (good value as you get two pre-release build and battle boxes, tokens galore and 12 booster packs in total) and come on back.
What’s the worst thing that could happen?