Every three months or so, Pokémon releases a new expansion with over a hundred cards to add to a player’s collection and, more importantly, to their decks. The ninth Sword & Shield set, Brilliant Stars, will be released this month, introducing powerful new Pokémon VSTAR. But in Gym Leader Challenge, we’re much more interested in the single-prize Pokémon due to the depth and variety pitting them against each other creates. Brilliant Stars is a well-balanced set for its size, giving a new option for every type as well as some Trainer cards that should be considered across the board. Let’s take a look at some standout cards from the new set that GLC players will want to consider as new inclusions in their decks or new threats to watch out for!
Grass: Grotle & Torterra
Grass, which is already a top-tier type in GLC, gains an incredible new support Pokémon in Brilliant Stars. Grotle has the Sun-Drenched Shell Ability, which has the same effect as the Grovyle and Shiinotic that Grass players already include. With these three Stage 1 Pokémon, it’ll be easy to search out any Pokemon in your deck as early as turn 2, allowing you to set up overwhelming board states early, even without the recently-banned Forest of Giant Plants. Or, trainers may replace the Shiinotic line entirely, freeing up deck space while keeping the deck running fast and powerfully.
If that wasn’t enticing enough, Grotle evolves into an absolute behemoth of an attacker. Torterra’s Evopress attack is efficient and powerful –it can be powered up quickly with other Grass support Pokémon like Rillaboom or Cherrim– and with the help of the Grotle it just evolved from to search out evolution Pokémon, this new Torterra will certainly be dealing massive damage. Coupled with its gigantic 190 HP (rivaled only by format titans such as Wailord and Steelix), Torterra is sure to take charge of any battle where you can get it into play.
Fire: Moltres & Magma Basin
Experienced TCG players will be familiar with cards such as Zapdos TEU and Hoopa DAA who can do big damage on the turn they come into play for a single energy. Moltres is a new member of this card family, with the ability to do 90 damage “out of nowhere”, giving Fire a much needed low-maintenance attacker that can even score some donks. Like those other cards mentioned above, Moltres does not get the benefit of hitting for Weakness, so Fire players must be careful not to overextend.
The condition on Moltres’s attack might be difficult to satisfy without Magma Basin, the new Stadium card from Billiant Stars. This Stadium powers up Moltres, but it can also charge an energy onto any of Fire’s powerful-but-energy-hungry attackers. Magma Basin enables some explosive plays for Fire-type trainers that can run opponents over when they least expect it.
Currently, Colorless is the only real option for players to try a Control archetype in GLC. But with the new Floatzel from Brilliant Stars (in combination with Cryogonal UNM), Water might be able to contend as an alternative Control deck. For just a single Energy, Floatzel can recover two items from the Discard, a surprisingly powerful and rare effect in the Pokémon TCG. Players will be able to recover items like Rescue Stretcher and Super Rod to loop their Pokémon, Pal Pad to recover disruptive Supporters like Hex Maniac, or the powerful Chip Chip Ice Axe to keep your opponent from drawing into necessary cards. While Floatzel certainly won’t be the easiest card to utilize, in the hands of a skilled player it may be the key piece of a new archetype going forward.
Luxray is one of those Pokémon with several good prints that players will have to decide between when deck-building. With the release of Brilliant Stars, Lightning players will have yet another powerful Luxray to consider. This new Luxray punishes Energy flood decks like Grass and Water ramp, easily dealing 200+ damage if your opponent has set up an Energy accelerator. Even if your opponent only has three Energy on board, Luxray’s first attack is doing 150 damage for a single attachment, which is a great tradeoff even for a type as fast as Lightning. Its second attack is also very efficient, easily knocking out many Basic or Stage 1 Pokémon. Combined with Evolutionary Advantage Shinx and Disconnect Luxio, this new Luxray can be a great tool for Lightning players to surprise and overwhelm their opponents.
Psychic has a reputation for utilizing tricky Pokémon with disruptive powers like Dragapult’s Infiltrator or Blacephalon’s Fireworks Bomb. But there’s a lot to be said about playing explosive attackers like Claydol to overwhelm your opponents, too. With Coinciding Figures, Claydol can deal 180 damage provided that both players have the same number of Pokémon in play. There are quite a few ways to do this; cards like Parallel City, Avery, or the new Collapsed Stadium can force your opponent to whittle down their Bench, and Psychic’s search options like Mysterious Treasure and Fog Crystal can nab additional Pokémon to grow your own bench to your opponent’s level when necessary. Players who can construct consistent, versatile decks will see great success with Claydol and its strange but powerful attack.
One of the biggest problems that Fighting trainers have is Energy acceleration. The existing energy acceleration methods like Bea and Coalossal are mediocre at best, leaving the type to favor low-energy attackers, which can have some nasty drawbacks. But Lucario provides some much-needed breathing room for Fighting trainers, allowing them to recover from bad beats or start charging up other attackers simultaneously. Its ability and attack synergize well, allowing you to turn a zero-energy Riolu into a “magic number” 130-damage attacker in one turn. Or, Roaring Resolve over multiple turns to explode if your opponent can’t deal with it first. Lucario will definitely be a card for any Fighting trainer to consider, providing them with some versatility and speed that the type’s been aching for.
Much like how Fighting currently lacks reliable Energy acceleration, Darkness lacks reliable draw power. The Crobat line, which many trainers play now, is a reasonable option, boasting a free retreat cost and decent attack when fully evolved. But without a Scoop Up Net and multiple search outs, the bats can falter when it matters most. With the release of Brilliant Stars, Liepard is here to patch up the Darkness consistency engine. With an ability taken straight from Zoroark-GX, Liepard will help Darkness continue drawing into powerful combo cards, like Beast Ring for Guzzlord or Galarian Weezing to shut off your opponent’s Abilities. While Liepard is regrettably not searchable by Level Ball, Darkness trainers will absolutely appreciate this new way to make their gameplans smooth and consistent.
Unfortunately for Metal players, they seem to have drawn the short straw with Brilliant Stars, with some of the deck’s biggest weaknesses like draw power and explosive damage potential remaining unaddressed. But Metal does have a pretty unique ability to resist and nullify damage, with Pokémon like Aegislash and Dugtrio, and tools like Metal Frying Pan and Metal Goggles significantly reducing damage received from attacks. Klinklang may be an additional piece of this damage-reduction puzzle, allowing big Basic attackers like Dialga, Duraludon, or Cobalion to survive additional turns and whittle the opponent down further. While the Stage 2 Klinklang is not as “splashable” as many of the other cards on this list, it could take Metal players all the way to a new and exciting archetype.
Dragon: Garchomp & Druddigon
Previously, Dragon players only had one viable option if they wanted to play the Mach Pokémon Garchomp: its Ultra Prism print. This card is versatile, with free retreat and an efficient 50-damage snipe attack, but its powerful Royal Blades attack leaves something to be desired with its high cost and difficult-to-satisfy condition. The new Brilliant Stars Garchomp might play to different strategies but is arguably more effective and a welcome addition to the Dragon-type deck. Its Sound Slip Ability is incredible, guaranteeing it survives through at least one turn as your opponent cannot remove the immunity with Hex Maniac. And for just a single Double Dragon Energy, Garchomp deals 160 damage, which KOs many Stage 2 Pokémon —although trainers should be careful to play around whichever of their own cards they mill. Considering Dragon players may play as few as five lines of Pokémon in their deck, it’s crucial that each of them satisfies their role(s) to their fullest, and Garchomp absolutely pulls its weight.
But the excitement for Dragon players doesn’t stop there; because they’ll be receiving another absolutely incredible card in Druddigon, first revealed over four months ago in Japan’s VMAX Climax set. This Basic attacker fills a similar role to Drampa and Ultra Necrozma by utilizing Double Dragon Energy (or an activated Counter Energy) to deal an explosive amount of damage, often out of nowhere. If any of your Pokémon were knocked out the turn previous, Druddigon does a whopping 160 damage, enough to knock out all but the biggest of Pokémon. This can be especially powerful when your opponent takes an early game KO; without powering up a second attacker, they can be run over in return by a Druddigon which entered the field that turn. Its second attack is serviceable as well, allowing you to take smaller knockouts on turns when your Revenge attack isn’t fully activated. With these new additions, Dragon goes from an outdated type lacking in depth to a powerful contender that can pull off some of the most insane plays in all of GLC. Other trainers beware!
Despite being “normal,” Colorless is one of the most versatile and interesting types in GLC, being able to pull off Special Energy-, Control-, or “Rainbow”-based strategies. In all of these decks, on-board draw support is necessary to continue seeing cards. Colorless now has the option of playing Bibarel alongside Pidgeotto and Cinccino, restoring low hands and keeping you from dead drawing and stalling out. Players may pick and choose between these Stage 1 draw support Pokémon depending on their strategy and play style: more options means more consistency. We can look to Water as a type which utilizes this same Ability, in the form of Octillery’s Abyssal Hand, to great effect. These Industrious Incisors are sure to keep Colorless players operating at full power throughout the game.
In addition to Brilliant Stars’ powerful cast of Pokémon across all types, it’s also bringing many Trainer cards into the foray for trainers to consider in their decks.
In a format where players have to take their six prizes one at a time, cards like Raihan and Teammates, which are activated upon Knockout, can turn the tide of a game in a single turn. Cynthia’s Ambition may be another powerful dimension to this strategy, drawing up to eight cards after sustaining a knockout. This rivals the strongest draw Supporters, like Colress, while still having a decent baseline effect if you need to unjam an early, slow start. Time will tell if Cynthia’s Ambition will stand up against other Draw Supporters in an ever-evolving format.
For many powerful GLC cards, trainers may wish that they could play multiple copies in their decks. While the rules of GLC aren’t changing, the card pool always is. The new Gloria card follows in the footsteps of Brigette and helps players set up fast and consistently. Failing to set up support Pokémon and follow up attackers early can leave a player stranded and lead to quick losses. So supporters like Gloria are vital for ensuring you can execute your strategy every game. Despite the obvious benefits of Gloria, its relative uselessness in the late game will make players think twice about simply auto-including this card alongside Brigette and Sonia.
An under-discussed aspect of the GLC metagame is Tool meta —how trainers utilize Tools and Tool removal to tip the scales in their favor. While Basic attackers have some obvious choices in Cape of Toughness and Fighting Fury Belt, evolution Pokémon generally want more than what Muscle Band or Big Charm have to offer. The new Pot Helmet Tool could be what they’re looking for. This Tool reduces damage done to non-rulebox Pokémon (that is, all GLC Pokémon) by 30, which can turn many OHKOs into 2HKOs. Where Pot Helmet is superior to Big Charm —and arguably, Cape of Toughness— is that your opponent cannot remove it after doing damage to steal a mid-turn knockout. Previously, trainers had to be careful using Capes of Toughness to sponge hits, as their opponents could follow up with the ubiquitous Field Blower to cheat two knockouts in a single turn. Now, your Pokémon can remain bulky while also removing some of your opponent’s counter-plays, making Pot Helmet a serious consideration for most decks.
While many of the cards discussed so far provide new ways to do common actions like drawing cards or knocking out opponents’ Pokémon, Roseanne’s Backup provides recovery functionality that only a handful of cards ever printed can do. It can recover cards that are generally thought to be permanently used up in a game. Imagine a Dragon player recovering Ultra Necrozma, Fighting Fury Belt, Silent Lab, and Double Dragon Energy all at once, enabling one of the most powerful combos in GLC to be reused. While shuffling these cards into the deck is slower than, for instance, Lusamine recovering cards to the hand, the unique strategies unlocked by this card can seriously reward players who know the exact right time to play it for maximum value.
And that’s Brilliant Stars! The set releases on February 25, 2022. To view all the cards (including some powerful additions which didn’t make the cut for this article like Double Turbo Energy and Manaphy), check out these translated scans by TaloniteX. Make sure to check out Tricky Gym on Twitch – on February 27 you can see these cards in action at the Full Grip Games GLC $1K cash prize event all day long!