June 18, 2020
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is horrible. 3 is average. 5 is great.
For a moment, I thought this card was almost 2 years old, but it actually is much older than that; it’s actually over 15 years old! Friend Ball (Skyridge 126/144, SM Celestial Storm 131/165) is another one of those cards which had major text change. The Skyridge version has you choose one of your opponent’s Pokemon, and you search your deck for a Baby Pokemon, Basic Pokemon, or Evolution card of the same type (color). The Celestial Storm version does exactly what the older version does, but also expanded to the point where you aren’t restricted to Baby Pokemon (though they’re still technically Basic Pokemon as well), Basic Pokemon, or Evolution card; it can be any Pokemon card of the same type as 1 of your opponent’s Pokemon in play, be it both ongoing or retired mechanics such as Pokemon Lv.X, Pokemon LEGEND, Mega Evolutions, BREAK Evolutions, and even Pokemon V-Max…becuase some of those mechanics doesn’t specify if they’re evolved Pokemon or not (specifically Lv.X and LEGEND).
As this is another card that had returned after a extremely long absence, maybe it was worth trying again to see how good this card was……though a quick Ctrl-F search of Pojo.com’s COTD archives didn’t seem to find anything because this card was never reviewed even when it debuted or reprinted. But I guess that back then it might have seen some play due to Professor Oak not being modified legal at the time, so it leaves room to niche cards. But now, with the Celestial Storm printing about to leave rotation, we should know by now how Friend Ball has fared. Sadly, I still don’t think Friend Ball would be a competitive card.
The reason for that statement is that this is an unreliable search card, even after Ultra Ball left rotation last year BUT before Pokemon Communication got reprinted. Because it only lets you search a Pokemon of a specific type based on what your opponent has in play, you won’t get exactly what you need. Say if you’re up against a Lightning deck that has PikaRom, Zeraora-GX, and/or Dedenne-GX, you’re going to find just Lightning Pokemon from your deck and no other type, assuming you even have one depending on what you build. ReshiZard mostly plays Fire Pokemon, so even that won’t be as much help. There’s just not enough decks that uses all 11 different TCG types of Pokemon for Friend Ball to be worthwhile; The only time Friend Ball would be reliable is if you are facing an opponent who plays the same kind of deck that you do, in other words, mirror matches. Against everything else, Friend Ball won’t help you as much. One could argue that some of the staple cards fit into various decks such as Dedenne-GX, Air Mail Pidgeotto, and/or Jirachi, and they would have to play one on the Bench or Active in order to get their deck going, and while that may be somewhat true, you’re still not getting enough range regarding type diversity in a single deck.
Friend Ball did not make it to my personal list of top 15 cards lost to the end of the 2019-2020 rotation due to those reasons. Plus, Pokemon Communication, despite having a cost of putting a Pokemon from your hand into your deck, is perhaps one of the most reliable Pokemon searching cards on Team Up-on format because it lets you search for any Pokemon, so I wouldn’t worry about losing Friend Ball. I can see now why this card was never reviewed before, though now it may have its due because of tournament results from recent decks and one World Championship deck from 2004.
Vince isn’t the only one who thought Friend Ball (Skyridge 124/144; SM – Celestial Storm 131/168) was actually a new card, only old relative to the latest releases. Which means we’ve got a lot to discuss, even though Friend Ball has only been released twice over the history of the game: once back in 2003 and again back in 2018. Friend Ball is a Trainer-Item that lets you snag a Pokémon from your deck that is of the same type as one of your opponent’s in-play Pokémon. Don’t forget to show your opponent before adding it to your hand, and shuffle your deck afterward. Oh, and since it is an Item with “Ball” in the name, Apricorn Maker can fetch it from your deck.
I’d actually forgotten that Friend Ball dates back to when Wizards of the Coast was licensing the Pokémon TCG from Nintendo/GameFreak. Skyridge was last full set released by Wizards of the Coast. It was also the last set of the e-card series. The e-card series sets (Expedition, Aquapolis, and Skyridge) featured a dot code that the Nintendo e-reader (an add-on for your Game Boy Advance) could scan. Besides Pokédex data, many featured added bonuses like a “coin flipper” app or minigames. In the case of Friend Ball, the code along the bottom of the card contains a brief card summary, while the longer code along the side contains part of the Construction: Action mini-game.
Since most of you probably only know about it thanks to the Pokémon TCG, you should have already worked out that the e-Reader was not a success for Nintendo. It is a shame; if Nintendo had utilized the technology earlier, for a pre-Game Boy handheld or waited until more recent times, when their systems have cameras already built in, this could have been the TCG equivalent of Nintendo’s Amiibos. Well, assuming there’s nothing about the tech that precludes such a thing: I know just enough to know that I don’t know.
Friend Ball was legal for the very end of the 2003 Standard Format (“Neon Modified”) and the entirety of the 2004 Standard Format (Ex-On or E-On, depending on who you ask), as well as being Standard and Expanded legal since a few weeks after its SM – Celestial Storm re-release in 2018. How much was it used back in the day? Apparently, not enough for me to clearly remember it, but with my memory jogged, I think it saw some success back then. We didn’t have anything remotely close to Ultra Ball back then, though we had several more specialized “Ball” cards. I remember relying more on Supporters or attack effects to snag my Pokémon back then…
…but I can check the 2004 World Championship decks for a snapshot of the competitive metagame. This was the first year we had them, so nothing for the previous Format, I’m afraid. Still, we find a single Friend Ball in Blaziken Tech, the deck Chris Fulop used to take 2nd-place in the Masters Division. In the present, I was surprised to see Friend Ball popping up in some of the decks making the top cut, at least according to Limitless. Azul Garcia Griego ran a copy in their Zacian V deck, finishing in third-place in the 2020 Limitless Invitational. Taketo Seki also included it in their Zacian V deck, but they took first-place in the Limitless Online Qualifier Series #4 tournament!
They weren’t alone, though Friend Ball is far, far from a staple, (even staple TecH). Why use it? Probably for the same reason that single Friend Ball managed to see play originally: Friend Ball is not the best option, but because so many decks have overlapping Pokémon Types, it is a great deal when it works. Any Pokémon (though the original wording makes it sound like that isn’t the case), and the only Type restriction is it has to be something your opponent already has in play. If you’re running a deck built around a type heavily featured in the metagame – even if your deck is something different – or you just want an out to some commonly run supporting Pokémon, Friend Ball could be right for your deck.
Let me give some examples. Jirachi (SM – Team Up 99/181; SM – Black Star Promos SM161) and Dedenne-GX are two commonly played supporting Pokémon. Zacian V variants and Pikachu & Zekrom-GX variants make up a good chunk of the metagame, though more recent decks (like Dragapult VMAX) have eaten away at their dominance. So, even if the rest of your deck isn’t likely to be Friend Ball legal most matches, it can snag those two. Oranguru (Sword & Shield 148/202) is another solid example: whether because of itself or any other Colorless Pokémon your opponent may have in play, Friend Ball has a good chance of being able to snag it. After the next set, it is likely Crobat V will join this list.
For the Expanded Format, Friend Ball still has some potential, but only if you’re not better served maxing out on Ultra Ball and/or Quick Ball, and even then, if you’re also not better served by a different specialist Poké Ball like Dive Ball, Level Ball, Repeat Ball, etc. I don’t have any recent Expanded Format results to consult, and the slightly older ones show no signs of Friend Ball… but this is enough potential it’ll avoid a 1/5, but only barely. In the Limited Format, of course Friend Ball is a welcome inclusion for any deck. Hopefully you’ll be able to snag something, but even if not, it is another chance to peek at and shuffle your deck.
Friend Ball offers versatile and affordable Pokémon search… so long as that target share’s a type with something your opponent already has in play. Friend Ball originally made the “To Review” list simply because it was showing up in enough decks that had made the top cut and that the metagame is very friendly to Friend Ball. I then realized it was a reprint, so it became our Throwback pick for this week. Friend Ball isn’t the kind of deck search upon which I want to rely, but if I’m playing a deck of a Type I expect to see frequently or have enough commonly run supporting Pokémon, it can still be a nice deal.
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