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Ole Stognief

"Don't call it Junk!" - Integrating the Discard Pile into your Strategy

Get an overview about the most important cards that deal with the discard pile and improve your strategy!

12/22/2015 by Ole Stognief

1 Introduction

When preparing for a tournament, the first thing to do is building a deck to play there. A legal deck needs to meet some requirements, like consisting of exactly 60 cards and containing at least one Basic Pokémon. Okay then, how do we get from worrying about the deck to thinking about the discard pile?

Some decks include the discard pile into their main strategy, e.g. Night March or Vespiquen / Flareon. If you want to play such a kind of deck, you are forced to think about ways to get the respective cards into the discard pile. In case of Night March and Vespiquen, you want to discard a certain amount of Pokémon cards to deal enough damage for one-hit knock-outs. It seems to be an easy task: just grab the Pokémon from your deck, use a Professor Sycamore and start attacking.

So far, so good, but problems are certain to arise. What will you do if you run out of Night March attackers? Or if you discard other important cards on a Professor Sycamore? That is the point where you have to focus your strategy on the whole discard pile, not just the Pokémon or your attackers.

In this article, I am going to sort and systematize the most important cards that deal with the discard pile. I will start with the cards to build up the discard pile and then proceed to those cards which use the discard pile to get their resources from. You will be surprised how many different kinds of combinations and strategies result from this!

2 Using the Discard Pile

2.1 Discarding Cards

Discarding certain cards is not as easy as it seems to be. Without the support of other cards, there are only a few ways to send Pokémon, Trainer or Energy cards to the discard pile. Pokémon get discarded when they are knocked out, giving up a Prize card. Trainer cards go to the discard pile after their effect has resolved – e.g. when a Supporter card was played or a Stadium card was replaced. It would take a while if you tried to build up a discard pile of Supporters or Stadium cards by just playing them down turn per turn because you only get to play one of them every turn. Energy cards are usually discarded as an effect of an attack – which also happens just once per turn at a maximum. As you can see, we need the help of specific cards to speed this up!

  • Battle Compressor
  • Acro Bike
  • Ultra Ball and Computer Search
  • Professor Sycamore/Professor Juniper
  • Scorched Earth
  • Paint Roller
  • Tool Scrapper

Battle Compressor

The most versatile card to perform this task is Battle Compressor. It allows the player to search his deck for three cards and discard them. There are no restrictions which cards to discard or in which combination – it has to be at least one card, though. Battle Compressor is a special card because it is the only card to discard specific cards right from the deck. The options are diverse: discarding Pokémon for stronger attacks, Supporter cards for VS Seeker, Energy cards for recycling… but I will go into detail about that later in this article.

Another card which discards right from the deck is Acro Bike. Unlike Battle Compressor, you cannot choose which specific card to discard. When playing Acro Bike you just get to choose from two random cards from the top of your deck (of course you could manipulate the top cards of your deck to make it less random, just an idea here). I think that this card is played for drawing cards rather than discarding them, but it should not be left unmentioned.

Let us talk about discarding cards from hand next. As said before, getting cards into the discard pile by just playing them down could be too slow in many cases. There are a lot of cards which require discarding other cards, especially Items and Supporter cards. I just want to list the most used ones.

Ultra Ball

A four-of in almost every deck is Ultra Ball, which discards two cards from hand to search the deck for a Pokémon. Those two cards can be anything you want to discard – they just have to be in your hand when playing Ultra Ball. Since Ultra Ball is the best card to search the deck for Pokémon, players should include the force of discarding into their strategy or tactics instead of considering it a disadvantage. Many strategies rely on the discard pile anyway – but even if it does not, you can still build up your discard pile with Supporters like Lysandre or N to prepare your VS Seeker. In Expanded, the ACE SPEC Computer Search features a comparable effect.

We go from specific to random again. Professor Sycamore is not completely random because you know all cards you are going to discard. It is hard to build up the perfect hand to discard, though. In most situations you are forced to discard at least one or two cards which you would have liked to keep. Since we can't change these circumstances, we should adapt our play to them.

To close this chapter, I would like to mention Scorched Earth (a Stadium card that discards Fire or Fighting Energy from hand), Paint Roller (an Item that discards a Stadium card in play) and Tool Scrapper (an Item which discards up to two Tool cards attached to your or your opponent’s Pokémon) as three additional options. Keep those in mind – there could be a future strategy relying on them!

2.2 Getting Cards Back From Discard Pile

In this chapter, I am going to introduce the most relevant cards that return cards from the discard pile either to the deck, into your hand or into play. The table below provides an overview about those cards.

Recycling Cards From The Discard Pile

2.2.1 From Discard Pile to Deck

Shuffling cards from the discard pile back into your deck is useful if you want to recycle certain cards to access them later. Most often the disadvantage of not having a direct access to those cards is compensated for by the benefit of returning multiple cards instead of just one. This is true for every card in the list below except for Max Revive (which places a Pokémon on top of your deck – accessing this Pokémon seems easier).

  • Bunnelby PRC
  • Sacred Ash
  • Super Rod
  • Max Revive
  • Eco Arm
  • Pal Pad
  • Energy Recycler 

Bunnelby PRC

If you can afford using an attack to return cards into your deck, Bunnelby from Primal Clash is the best option. This bunny is already included in many decks because it allows deck manipulation on both players’ sides. You could either return any card from your discard pile into your deck or discard the opponent’s top card of his or her deck. Thanks to Bunnelby’s Ancient Trait you could even do both in the same turn, or just return or discard two cards.

Sacred Ash is used in decks which focus on setting up a lot of (evolved) Pokémon, e.g. Crobat PHF. It shuffles five Pokémon back into the deck. There is no other Item card that recycles more cards.  

Super Rod is a little bit more versatile as it can also return basic Energy cards – you are limited to three cards in any combination of Pokémon and basic Energy. Decks like Night March (if using basic Energy) feature this card because they need to fight the late-game shortage of both attackers and Energy.

If you just rely on basic Energy cards you could use Energy Recycler. This card is not used widely, though. There are too many other ways to recycle Energy cards and it is more convenient in most cases to return Energy into the hand or into play directly. Energy Recycler could see play in a deck that provides Energy acceleration from the deck (similar to Virizion-EX – there is still the more versatile Super Rod, though).

Eco Arm and Pal Pad both recycle Trainer cards. Eco Arm is for Pokémon Tools and Pal Pad is for Supporter cards. While Pal Pad is outclassed by VS Seeker, Eco Arm can be useful if you really need a lot of Pokémon Tools. “Tool Drop” Trubbish is an example for this in the Expanded format.

2.2.2 From Discard Pile to Hand

If you want to use a card immediately after you returned it from the discard pile, then you are looking for options to get those cards into your hand without any detours.

  • VS Seeker
  • Sableye DEX
  • Dowsing Machine
  • Buddy-Buddy Rescue
  • Superior Energy Retrieval & Energy Retrieval
  • Fisherman
  • Exeggcute PLF 

VS Seeker

The most popular example is VS Seeker. I cannot think of a deck that does not include at least three of them. Reusing Supporter cards is very important in a format of useful one-ofs like N, Hex Maniac, Xerosic or Pokémon Center Lady. How many games have been decided by VS Seeker for Lysandre?

When proceeding with Trainer card recycling, Sableye from Dark Explorers comes to mind as well as the ACE SPEC Dowsing Machine. Sableye’s attack “Junk Hunt” lets you grab two Item cards from your discard pile. Thanks to VS Seeker, Supporter cards are also easy to access this way. Only Stadium cards remain inaccessible. If you want to recycle those, you should think about choosing Dowsing Machine as your ACE SPEC in Expanded. It is the most practical card to return all kinds of Trainer cards.

Milotic PRC

Another versatile card for discard to hand is Milotic from Primal Clash. Milotic’s come-into-play ability “Sparkling Ripples” (funny name, huh? /offtopic) gives you any one card from your discard pile back into your hand. It is used in Night March to return Double Colorless Energy which cannot be recycled in another way. Downside of Milotic: it is a Stage 1 and that 30 HP Feebas is somewhat weak.

Buddy-Buddy Rescue is an interesting choice if you need to return single Pokémon for direct access. Other than the well-known Revive card, Buddy-Buddy Rescue does not put the chosen Pokémon into play. This allows the use of come-into-play abilities when played from hand. Read the deck examples part of this article – I will explain the use of Buddy-Buddy Rescue in detail there.

Energy recycling is quite easy in every way – discard to hand is no exception. Superior Energy Retrieval and Energy Retrieval are two Items with similar names and also similar effects. Superior Energy Retrieval can be considered… yeah, superior. It returns four basic Energy cards instead of just two for a light drawback. The Supporter card Fisherman returns four basic Energy cards without any drawback besides being a Supporter card. Is that even a drawback in times of VS Seeker?

Exeggcute PLF

Okay then, last but not least, there is Exeggcute from Plasma Freeze. This is a very special card because it recycles itself with the “Propagation” ability (this always reminds me of Baron Munchausen pulling himself out of a swamp). Exeggcute is often used as a card to discard on Ultra Ball or Superior Energy Retrieval to save resources.

2.2.3 From Discard Pile into Play

Let’s proceed to the third kind of recycling: from the discard pile right on the field, right into play. Try to think of two things which need a lot of time to set up… Evolved Pokémon and Energy cards come to my mind. They are hard to get into play because they subject to rule restrictions. The following cards are going to break those barriers!

  • Archie’s Ace in the Hole & Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick
  • Revive
  • Gothitelle FFI
  • M Manectric-EX, Thundurus-EX, Yveltal XY, Landorus FFI
  • Bronzong PHF, Eelektrik NVI, Smeargle BRT, Milotic FLF
  • Dark Patch
  • Mega Turbo
  • Blacksmith 

Archie's Ace in the Hole Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick

Archie’s Ace in the Hole and Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick represent a shady duo in the Pokémon TCG. Unexperienced players, who are doing their first steps in this game, have to understand that they must not put a Stage-2-Pokémon right into play and start attacking with it. Different to the Video Game, those strong Pokémon have to be evolved to come into play (thanks TPCi for those “evolved basic” EXs – as if it wasn’t hard enough to explain anyway). Archie and Maxie do not conform to any rules, though. It does not really matter against those monstrous EXs anyway, does it? Of course it does. Unfortunately, those nifty rule breakers only exist for Water and Fighting Pokémon at the moment.

Compared to those, Revive is just… boring. Puts a Basic Pokémon from your discard pile onto your Bench. Needless to say that this is quite useful sometimes. Skipping most come-into-play abilities is a disadvantage, though.

It was hard to find a card that puts Trainer cards from the discard pile into play. I found Gothitelle from Furious Fists which discards a Stadium card in play in order to replace it with another Stadium card from your discard pile. Can you think of more cards that recycle Trainer cards this way? Feel free to post them in the comments!

Bronzong PHF

There are multiple ways to systematize all Pokémon that provide Energy recycling. As I do not want to go into detail (there are enough articles about Energy acceleration), I am going to suggest two different approaches here: recycling done with Ability / Attack and recycling by Energy type.

Abilities: Bronzong PHF, Eelektrik NVI, Milotic FLF, Smeargle BRT

Attacks: Landorus FFI, Yveltal XY, M Manectric-EX, Thundurus-EX

I do not want to list up every single Energy type. That is why I’ll just distinguish between recycling of any Energy type and recycling of a specific Energy type.

Any Energy type: Landorus FFI, Thundurus-EX, Milotic FLF, Smeargle BRT

Specific Energy type: Bronzong PHF, Eelektrik NVI, Yveltal XY, M Manectric-EX

Mega Turbo

If you do not want to rely on Pokémon for Energy recycling, then I recommend Dark Patch, Mega Turbo and Blacksmith, two Items and a Supporter card. Dark Patch works with Darkness Energy on Darkness Pokémon and Blacksmith provides the doubled effect for Fire type. Mega Turbo can only be used with Mega-Pokémon but is not restricted to an Energy type. It has to be a basic Energy card in all cases, though.

3 Three Deck Examples

3.1 Pokémon Recycling: Gyarados

Cards from this article: Professor Sycamore, Archie’s Ace in the Hole, Blacksmith, Battle Compressor, Ultra Ball, Acro Bike, VS Seeker, Buddy-Buddy Rescue, Sacred Ash

I admit that Gyarados is rather a fun strategy than a competitive deck – it is still a very good example for a strategy that requires recycling Pokémon. For those who do not know what Gyarados does: the damage it deals depends on the amount of damage counters on the player’s Benched Magikarp. 30 HP make Magikarp literally the worst Pokémon to stay alive, especially when it already takes 20 damage when it comes into play because of Team Magma’s Secret Base. The Gyarados player has to find a way to keep as many Magikarp in play as possible while there must always be a Gyarados Active and ready to attack.

The most important cards to recycle Pokémon in this deck are Buddy-Buddy Rescue, Sacred Ash and Archie’s Ace in the Hole. I think that Sacred Ash and Archie do not need further explanation - but Buddy-Buddy Rescue does not look familiar on a deck list. This Item card from the recent BREAKthrough expansion features a strange but interesting effect as it allows both players to take a Pokémon from their discard pile and put it into their hands. Wait, there is that unwritten rule that you never give your opponent extra cards for free. Well, in this case the benefit outweighs the risk. It does not really matter which Pokémon your opponent might take back as long as you score the KOs fast enough. This card works just perfect in combination with a turn-one Battle Compressor to find Magikarp, Shaymin-EX or Mr. Mime. Later in the game, Buddy-Buddy Rescue helps to stream Gyarados and Magikarp. This deck has to put as much pressure on the opponent as possible – I already managed to constantly beat M Manectric-EX decks with this (I didn’t really expect it to work that well, though).

3.2 Trainer Card Recycling: Sableye / Garbodor

Cards from this article: Sableye DEX, Bunnelby PRC, Professor Sycamore, Battle Compressor, Ultra Ball, VS Seeker, Tool Scrapper, Super Rod, Eco Arm

This deck is quite popular in Expanded at the moment. Sableye’s "Junk Hunt" in combination with Garbodor’s ability lock and many disruptive Supporter and Item cards like Team Flare Grunt and Crushing Hammer shall prevent the opponent from attacking and collecting Prize cards until they either lose by decking out or running out of Energy cards.

3.3 Energy Recycling: M Manectric-EX

Cards from this article: M Manectric-EX, Professor Sycamore, VS Seeker, Ultra Ball, Battle Compressor, Mega Turbo

M Manectric-EX

M Manectric-EX is the best Energy acceleration in Standard format right now. It deals 110 damage and attaches two basic Energy cards from the discard pile to a Benched Pokémon. There are a lot of possibilities: you can just focus on M Manectric-EX and stream those while trying to heal as much damage as possible, or you set up other attackers to collect your Prize cards quickly. I will not provide a list for this because I have not played Manectric for a while and I do not want to post untested lists here.  

4 Conclusion

This article was meant to show how important the understanding of the discard pile can be for your strategy. I hope that I provided a good overview about the most relevant cards that deal with the discard pile. Take this article as a basis for new deck ideas and strategies! Thank you for reading and until next time!

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