Knowing the Odds — How to Optimize Consistency and Avoid Drawing Dead Hands

What’s up, PokeBeach nation? Steve here, and I’m back with a unique new article for you guys today! Before I begin, however, I’d like to wish my son Axel one last Happy Birthday! He turned one-year-old this past weekend. My little buddy lights up my life every day and gives me inspiration to do what I do.

Birthdays are fun!

Anyways, back to business. With Spring Regionals currently going on and the U.S. National Championships less than two months away, it’s time to start looking at the big guns for the 2016 season as we count down to Worlds. Today, I’ll be going over the importance of draw power, its role in building a consistent deck list, and most importantly — how to apply mathematics to improve your deck list and decision-making skills. I will also talk about my number one deck choice as of late for the upcoming National Championships.

Fundamentals of a Deck

When building a deck, you want to make sure it’s as consistent as possible. This is especially important at larger scale events where matches are best-of-three and you’re often playing eight or nine rounds of Swiss to begin with. Consistency is the most important aspect of a successful deck. This generally indicates fewer one-of cards and thus fewer tech cards in a deck.

Space is often tight in deck lists, so you’re forced to cut some cards in order to make room for the necessary pieces. Cutting too many copies of certain cards can hinder a deck’s performance, however, resulting in dead hands and a less consistent setup from game to game. While bad hands are a part of the game and can happen to anybody, you can reduce the chances of drawing poorly by constructing your deck with consistency in mind. How can you make your deck more consistent? I’m glad you asked!

The simplest strategies often prove to be the most effective; setting up the board and executing the given strategy is common to every game. By default, this means that you have a chance to win almost every game you play. Of course, a strategy that requires fewer cards will almost always be more consistent, as it requires you to draw fewer specific cards to get set up to ultimately claim a victory. As an example, let’s take a look at Night March, the deck that dominated this year’s State Championships.


Pokemon (15)

4x Joltik (PHF #26)4x Pumpkaboo (PHF #44)4x Lampent (PHF #42)3x Shaymin-EX (RSK #77)

Trainers (41)

4x Professor Sycamore (PHF #101)1x Lysandre (FLF #90)1x Hex Maniac (AOR #75)1x Teammates (PRC #141)1x Xerosic (PHF #119)4x VS Seeker (RG #100)4x Battle Compressor (PHF #92)4x Puzzle of Time (BKP #109)4x Trainers' Mail (RSK #92)4x Ultra Ball (DEX #102)2x Fighting Fury Belt (BKP #99)2x Acro Bike (PRC #122)1x Target Whistle (PHF #106)1x Startling Megaphone (FLF #97)1x Buddy-Buddy Rescue (BKT #135)1x Escape Rope (PLS #120)1x Town Map (BCR #136)1x Float Stone (PLF #99)3x Dimension Valley (PHF #93)

Energy (4)

4x Double Colorless Energy (HS #103)

You may notice that several cards are being run in fours in this list. This is the essence of consistency — being able to draw and maintain the necessary resources to continually execute your strategy turn after turn until you eventually claim a win. While Night March typically offers enough space for a couple of techs — such as Startling Megaphone and Town Map in this case — the core of this list remains consistent. Having four copies of each Night Marcher is essential for any Night March list, and running a full suite of Professor Sycamore helps the deck maintain resources and continue to draw necessary cards when other options are taken away. This is extremely helpful against Item lock in particular, as Night March players are always reliant on their Item cards and often sacrifice precious draw Supporters in order to make their decks faster. With that said, faster can also mean riskier and less consistent.

Imagine this scenario: You have your attacker ready to go, but find yourself still needing a Double Colorless Energy to fulfill Night March’s Energy cost. Would you rather have an extra two copies of Acro Bike to try and dig for it, or would you prefer to play a Supporter like Professor Sycamore instead? Unless you need to use a different Supporter card that turn, the answer is almost always going to be the Sycamore. What if you miss the Double Colorless Energy off of your Professor Sycamore? Well, there are two points here. First, if you missed on the top seven cards, you were definitely going to miss on two or four cards. However, by drawing seven cards, chances are also greater that you draw into an Ultra Ball or Shaymin-EX, which can draw you even more cards as you continue to dig for your precious Energy. Simply put, the more cards you draw, the greater the odds are that you’ll get what you need.

Different Types of Draw Power


The most basic form of draw power in the Pokemon TCG comes in the form of Supporters. Whether it’s Professor Sycamore, N, or Ace Trainer, Supporter cards offer several unique methods of draw power. Including enough of these Supporter cards in a list is essential to almost every deck in the game, offering consistent access to resources and speeding you along to the cards you need. Many decks are already running four copies of Professor Sycamore, which is generally viewed as the game’s most powerful draw Supporter. With N returning to Standard, we now have a solid secondary draw Supporter to pair with Professor Sycamore. Expanded, on the other hand, has another supreme draw Supporter in the form of Colress.

Professor Sycamore

Let’s start with our ace Supporter — and no, I don’t mean Ace Trainer. Usually you will end up playing most of your hand before using Professor Sycamore, which makes the discarding minimal. Also, Professor Sycamore will always net you seven cards; there are no coin flips or other game-state conditions that can alter its power. Therefore, this is the most consistent draw Supporter in the game. When building the draw engine for a new deck, four copies of Sycamore is typically a good place to start.


Coming in second place for the most consistent draw Supporter is our longtime friend and newly reprinted favorite — N. When compared to Professor Sycamore, this effect could be considered bettor or worse. Since the number of cards each player draws off of N is reliant on how many Prize cards that player has remaining, the power of N varies throughout the course of the game. The variation goes far enough for me to say that N is more of a disruptive Supporter, as opposed to a draw Supporter, during the later facets of the game. It’s also important to remember that N shuffles your previous hand back into your deck, while Professor Sycamore discards it. This often makes N the superior play when you can’t empty your hand before playing your Supporter of choice. Nonetheless, make sure you aren’t giving your opponent too big of an advantage when using it.

Ace Trainer

Third in line, we have Ace Trainer. Why is this card even on this list, you ask? Well, for decks that tend to fall behind early on or aim to win by decking out the opponent, Ace Trainer will almost always be a live card after the first couple of turns. Unlike N, Ace Trainer will always grant you a full six cards after you shuffle your old hand back, and will always leave your opponent with a new hand of only three cards. Ace Trainer isn’t for every deck, but it is definitely something to keep in mind when building something new, as some decks take more time to set up than others. They often yield a Prize or two to the opponent before they get running.


Unfortunately, Colress is only legal in the Expanded format. Colress is a massive draw Supporter that benefits from every Benched Pokemon in play, yours and your opponent’s! While Professor Sycamore will always grant you seven cards, Colress could net you a hand of up to 10 cards! As an added bonus, if Sky Field is in play, Colress gains even more power and can draw you a colossal 16 cards! Talk about a monster draw source!


Of course, not all draw power in Pokemon comes from Supporters. For example, there are Item cards such as Fiery TorchRoller Skates, and even Paint Roller which can offer Item-based draw power. While Item-based draw is typically weaker than its Supporter-based counterparts, there is no limit to how many Item cards you can play in a single turn. Therefore, if you were to flip heads on Roller Skates and draw into another copy, you could play that one too.

The downfall is that Item-based draw cards tend to be situational. Fiery Torch requires that you discard a Fire Energy from your hand, netting you zero additional cards. Paint Roller has a requirement of needing a Stadium card in play. After discarding said Stadium card, you get a measly one card. That’s not much in the form of draw power. Then there is Roller Skates, which can draw you three cards without a cost or prerequisite for use. The catch here is that Roller Skates requires a coin flip, and if the result is tails, you lose the effect altogether. Despite only working half the time, I still feel that Roller Skates is the best of these three cards, as well as the most splashable.


Pokemon-based draw power can come in the form of Abilities or attacks. Since the main purpose of Pokemon is to score KOs against the opponent, this form of draw power is less powerful. A Pokemon’s attack or Ability is rarely effective enough to find you a majority of the cards you need. This is why they work well in conjunction with draw Supporters and Items. Between all options, necessary cards can be found consistently.


While draw power in the form of an attack may look appealing at first, it lacks speed since attacking ends your turn. This eliminates the possibility of using any of your newly drawn cards until your next turn, provided the opponent doesn’t play an N, Ace Trainer, or Judge to send your hand back into the deck first. This makes cards like Kangaskhan-EX and Deoxys look better on paper than what they actually are. Even Lucario-EX, whose Corkscrew Smash attack deals a solid amount of damage while increasing your hand up to six cards, struggles to see much play anymore. Ultimately, attack-based draw power is too slow for the current format, making it mostly ineffective in competitive play.


What about Ability-based draw power? Well, that’s a whole different story than attack-based draw. One of the biggest and most popular draw cards in the game uses an Ability to do so. Yes, I am talking about Shaymin-EX. Ever since its release in Roaring Skies, Shaymin-EX has been a staple in nearly every single deck in both Standard and Expanded. This is largely due to the fact that it’s able to provide a Supporter-like effect without actually using up your Supporter for the turn. The drawback? Well, Shaymin-EX has only 110 HP, and since it is a Pokemon-EX, it gives up two Prize cards when it is Knocked Out. That shouldn’t stop you from playing this incredible card, though; it single-handedly boosts the consistency of almost every deck in the game. For this reason, Shaymin-EX carries a high price tag. Some players still shy away from having a two-Prize Bench sitter with only 110 HP because of how easy it can be for the opponent to pick off at any time.

Fortunately, there are other options when it comes to Ability-based draw. Octillery is probably the next best thing after Shaymin-EX, offering an Ability that lets you replenish your hand to five cards once per turn. The best part is that it is not a two-Prize liability like Shaymin. With N returning to Standard, Octillery will become even better because it negates a late-game N to one or two cards.

Another card with a similar Ability is Delphox, although she is a Stage 2 Pokemon and, therefore, takes a bit more work to get into play. While both Octillery and Delphox’s Abilities are nice, having to bring any Pokemon into play through evolving weaker Basic Pokemon is a bit more of a chore than simply benching a Shaymin. While I do like Octillery and Delphox, I don’t think they’re anywhere near as powerful right now as even a single copy of Shaymin-EX.

Reach and Retrieval

In addition to all the aforementioned draw cards, there is also VS Seeker. With every copy of VS Seeker in your deck effectively acting as another Supporter card, you now have four more draw Supporters, should you need them. Also, using all four copies of VS Seeker on draw Supporters like Professor Sycamore or N means that you won’t be able to retrieve tech Supporters such as Lysandre or Hex Maniac. So what else is there?

Another card that can retrieve cards from the discard pile is Puzzle of Time. Of course, since you have to play two Puzzle of Time at once to gain its retrieval effect, you will only be able to do this twice per game. While the effect is powerful, chances are you won’t be grabbing two draw Supporters at once, especially since you can only play one Supporter per turn. It does provide the advantage of being able to grab specific cards though, as compared to randomly drawing.

Next are what I call reach cards. These cards include Trainers' MailAcro Bike, and Random Receiver as the main headliners, with their ability to reach for Trainers or anything else you may be looking for. Each of these three cards can add one additional card to your hand, whether it’s limited to a Trainer or Supporter card specifically, or any card in the case of Acro Bike. While none of these cards offer much versatility, they can each fetch you something helpful. This creates a chain of resources, eventually providing you with whatever the situation calls for.

Lastly, there is specific reach cards, otherwise known as search cards, that can pull a specific type of card from the deck. Whether you are able to search for the card you need directly or have to search for a source of draw power, these cards can be just as powerful and strong as a draw Supporter itself. A solid example is Ultra Ball; it can fetch you a Shaymin-EX while simultaneously reducing the number of cards in your hand. Shaymin then further increases the chances of you drawing what you need. In Expanded, Jirachi-EX has proven to be as helpful as Shaymin and searchable in the same means. In both cases, you are turning every copy of Ultra Ball in your deck into a viable form of draw power by having access to either Shaymin-EX or Jirachi-EX. How cool is that!?

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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