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DjJoe's Rants

Balancing out Cards

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One of the many (many many) things I don't understand about the Pokemon cards are their overall balance.

Simply put, some cards are overpowered in comparison to others.


Let's look at Cleffa from HGSS and CL. This is a card in perfect balance. I know, in terms of gameplay it's simply broken and can hold a game up. But the card itself is balanced. You have a low HP Pokemon (which means basically anything can knock it out) that has a defensive shield in the form of a Pokebody. The Body, too, is balanced in that Sleep is determined by coin flips, and can end up beneficial or detrimental depending on what is flipped at what point. It's attack deals no damage, but has an effect that is respectable in relation to it's 0 cost to activate. Additionally, it does put Cleffa to sleep, which as explained before generates balance within itself. It's 30HP also reflects Weakness, Resistance, and Retreat cost, such that there are none.


Now let's look at a card I don't find particularly balanced; and I'm not going to select something ridiculous to start a war, such as Donphan Prime or Zekrom. No no, the card I'm going to pick on today is Smeargle from HS Undaunted or Call of Legends.


Smeargle, if anyone recalls correctly, was big- it was so big that nearly every deck that could afford to run one, did. Why? It's Pokepower. And therein lies the problem. Smeargle, when disected looks like this: A Baisc Pokemon with 70 HP, Fighting Weakness, and a 1 retreat cost. It has one Pokepower, and one attack, and Smeargle does not Evolve. First off, 70 HP is decent- not the best, but on a Basic with no evolution it is acceptable. Granted, it's no Reshiram or Zekrom, but it manages. A Fighting Weakness isexpected, as it is both colorless and a normal type pokemon. One retreat cost, again, is acceptable on a low-HP basic. Now let me glare at the other redeeming qualities of Smeargle- the Textbox. First I see it's Pokepower, Portrait. The power itself is balanced- You get to look at your opponent's hand and play a supporter from it. It's balanced in that you have to play a supporter if there is one (Professor Juniper becomes your enemy versus Pokemon Collector which you could always just use as a free shuffle if necessary) and you can only use the power while Smeargle is active. Smeargle doesn't have to stay active, and a Retreat cost is manageable. Is it too low? As a card, no. When it came out? Perhaps- Unown Q solved that problem, allowing you to play a supporter with Portrait and then retreat to the bench for free. Now while this looks like a fairly balanced card, let me get right to the chase- it's not. Allow me to introduce Smeargle's attack, Tail Rap. For 2 you can flip 2 coins and deal 20x the number of heads. THAT'S HORRIBLE. Not in that nobody would ever use it, but in the sense that nobody in their right mind would ever want to use it. Let's face it- there are 59 other cards in your deck, and you know that you put Smeargle in there for it's Power. Nothing else. And that is where Smeargle is unbalanced.


See, when I look at a card, I need it to be useful in every scenario. Smeargle, is not. Cleffa, is. The Pros and Cons cancel each other out with Cleffa. Smeargle, not so much. If Smeargle is stuck active you want to retreat it ASAP. You don't want to commit two energy to deal 0 damage. You'll waste the first energy to retreat Smeargle, but that second one you know is better off somewhere else.

Now while some may argue that Smeargle is balanced because such an awesome power overshadows a horrific attack. I'm hear to tell you those people are wrong. As I said, Portrait is balanced- you either use it or your don't, you have to use the supporter, and Smeargle needs to be active. Maybe the supporter is useful, maybe not, but do not forget you also get a free shot at looking at their hand built in as well. Tail Rap, however, is out placed, it is already a con, in the 0 damage is never good. You always want a positive outcome to be an equal possibility, and while it may seem so with coin flipping, you have to also figure mathematically that you're spending 2 energy to deal at most 40 damage and it only goes down from there. How would I change this? Well for one, 30x would be much more reasonable. MUCH more reasonable. If not the damage base, then at least make it cost one less. the fact that Smeargle can not only end up dealing 0 damage, end up not having a successful Portrait, and expending one energy to retreat just proves one thing only- if you're not using Portrait, you're not using Smeargle, end of story.

When you have to completely ignore an entire (and important, mind you) portion of a card, it is unbalanced. To me, every part of the card, needs to be useable in a generic situation to be useful. Smeargle's 0 damaging Tail Rap for is just not going to cut it anywhere unless you clearly have no other remaining options...
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  1. Prime's Avatar
    So if Smeargle had an attack worth using, he'd go from imbalanced to balanced in your eyes?

    It's definitely an unique stance because I feel others would feel the opposite way.

    I look back at Pidgeot from Fire Red/ Leaf Green. He had an amazing Poke-Power, Free Retreat, 120HP (which was decent back then) and an attack that for 2 of any energy, could lock the opponent's active in the active position and deal 40 damage (again, decent back then). Pidgeot really had no downside, minus it being a stage 2. Because of that, most decks played it. Decks that didn't function that well suddenly functioned just peachy with Pidgeot in it.

    When I think about cards that drastically alter a metagame, that demand the attention from a majority of decks, I don't think balanced. I guess that is because I don't think competitive players look to balanced cards; I think they look to overpowered or imbalanced (in a good way) cards so that they can have the biggest advantage possible in their games.

    Smeargle did see heavy play at some point but it has died down completely. Cleffa's popularity has died down too. But cards like Uxie were integral components to most decks during the times they were legal and in my eyes, I consider the imbalanced; too many advantages, not enough disadvantages to balance it.
  2. djjoe227's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Prime
    So if Smeargle had an attack worth using, he'd go from imbalanced to balanced in your eyes?

    It's definitely an unique stance because I feel others would feel the opposite way.

    I look back at Pidgeot from Fire Red/ Leaf Green. He had an amazing Poke-Power, Free Retreat, 120HP (which was decent back then) and an attack that for 2 of any energy, could lock the opponent's active in the active position and deal 40 damage (again, decent back then). Pidgeot really had no downside, minus it being a stage 2. Because of that, most decks played it. Decks that didn't function that well suddenly functioned just peachy with Pidgeot in it.

    When I think about cards that drastically alter a metagame, that demand the attention from a majority of decks, I don't think balanced. I guess that is because I don't think competitive players look to balanced cards; I think they look to overpowered or imbalanced (in a good way) cards so that they can have the biggest advantage possible in their games.

    Smeargle did see heavy play at some point but it has died down completely. Cleffa's popularity has died down too. But cards like Uxie were integral components to most decks during the times they were legal and in my eyes, I consider the imbalanced; too many advantages, not enough disadvantages to balance it.
    I take the cards out of their respective formats to determine balance/imbalance. If you can look at a card and come up with a use and have to, essentially, ignore any part of the card, it is imbalanced to me. I feel Uxie is imbalanced- you don't run Uxie for the attack, you run it for the Pokepower. The same would go for the SP Bronzong. With Cleffa, you can't ignore any part of the card- every piece is taken into consideration.
  3. jjkkl's Avatar
    I strongly disagree. I've been playing Smeargle as a starter over Cleffa for the longest time because Smeargle nets two Supporters most of the time. It's an effective equalizer: the more consistent your opponent is (and likely the bigger the threat they are), the more choices and options you have. Portrait is simply too good of a power to pass up within the first 1-2 turns of setup, especially if you're going first, because playing 4 Supporters in 2 turns is not only possible, but probable and expected when you're playing against a stronger opponent.

    Smeargle, of course, has some issues when your opponent does not have supporters to exploit, but c'mon - does it really matter? If you have no TSS in your hands to get your own support draw, then you should be paying more attention to putting in more draw into your deck.

    I play a topdeck-reliant draw engine: I run multiple Sages and Juniper's, with Research Records and Legend Boxes. I run only 1 Collector and 1 PONT. Smeargle becomes crucial against certain matchups, because a Double Juniper (my own and theirs) on the first turn is not only possible, but happens frequently. That's 14 cards I burn through on my first turn. That's 27 cards I burn through my deck (with hand and prizes). I'm halfway through my deck on turn one.

    T1 fully stacked legends become a feasible reality, all because of Double-Juniper / Double-Sages from Smeargle. Need more Pokemon? Chances are they'll have Collectors. Smeargle, in essence, fulfills the role of multiple clutch Supporters.

    And that's not to disparage the prediction of your opponent's move and deck type either. Seeing your opponent's opening hand is absolutely broken to a player who can analyse and deconstruct an opponent's deck and strategy type quickly and effectively. If I see my opponent has a basic in his hand, two catchers, some draw supporters, and some deck-telling cards (like Energy Retrievals, or Vulpixes, or a Pachirisu, or an Oddish), I can change my strategy immediately on the fly from my first turn. I can prepare and watch for Catchers. I can be mindful and very, very diligent with my opponent's playstyle to ensure that they don't get the upper hand.

    Plus, like I said, I can use their supporters. Juniper? Pfft. I thrive off enemy Junipers, because that's the risk I take, and took effort to mitigate.

    So, in my disagreement, I state my claim: Smeargle is extremely balanced, because he hasn't become less playable, but rather more difficult to implement and exploit. He fulfills a crucial setup role that has taken a bit wayside - he controls information and can mimic an opponent's competency and luck. He can use a consistent deck against itself. Smeargle invaluable if you have a deck that can handle him. I think that's the real balancing act there.
  4. djjoe227's Avatar
    You missed the enitre point, jjkkl. Im not saying the card is not useful, or underpowered, or anything else when it comes to deckbuilding.

    What I am saying, is that the card itself is unbalanced. There's an attack on the card, Tail Rap, that does not get used. A card should be printed to have full functionality.