– Sword & Shield
March 5, 2020
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is horrible. 3 is average. 5 is great.
Great Ball has been around the TCG for quite a significant amount of time and probably has received multiple errata to either keep up with the times or to do something different; this item card actually did both! Here’s a dated review nine years ago when it was reviewed as part of the errata week.
-First debuted on EX FireRed & LeafGreen, it’s original effect was to search your deck for a Basic Pokémon excluding Pokémon-ex and put it onto your Bench.
-DP Stormfront’s effect of Great Ball removed the exclusion so that you can put any Basic Pokémon, even Pokémon-ex, from your deck onto your Bench. This effect is now identical to Nest Ball from Sun & Moon.
-BW Emerging Powers had printed another Great Ball, but the issued errata was back in Black & White, meaning the new errata was put into effect around April 2011. This effect functions exactly like pre-errata Master Ball; you look at the top 7 cards of your deck and choose a Pokémon you find there and shuffle the rest of the cards in your deck. Multiple prints of Great Ball are made and this effect still applies even today.
To be honest, I don’t know which effect I would like the most. There’s advantages and disadvantages for both effects. While you can immediately put a Basic Pokémon into play from your deck (while slightly thinning your deck in the process), you won’t be able to benefit from coming into play abilities. It’s wonderful to bring out Tag Teams and Basic Pokemon-V/EX/GX, but it would be severely detrimental to Dedenne-GX and Tapu Lele-GX. As for the errata, unless you can somehow manipulate your deck to get what you want – like Magcargo’s Smooth Over and Mallow – you might not find a Pokémon there. Even if you find a Pokémon that you don’t need, you can fail the search, or take it for later use and thin your deck.
Multiple theme decks has included copies of Great Ball and….I kept dismissing them. Maybe it’s because I don’t play strictly Standard or Expanded, so I felt that such effect is underpowered. However, I’m pretty sure it would be a big deal for Standard. Great Ball briefly left rotation five months ago due to being last printed on Shining Legends, and having another print of Great Ball in Sword & Shield means it becomes Standard legal again. Obviously there’s a lot of competition which could outclass Great Ball, but when it’s entering in a format where other option seems less than desirable (like specialized search cards like Cherish Ball and Evolution Incense), then Great Ball might be a good choice to search for any Pokémon albeit with limited range. In that case, Great Ball’s viability is always on and off. You’ll see it when it matters and not see it when it doesn’t.
As Vince already explained, Great Ball has a decent amount of history in the Pokémon TCG. Let’s cover what all printings of Great Ball have in common; they’re Trainer-Item cards, as well as members of the “Ball” family of Trainers. Of course, any printings of it prior to the introduction of the term in Black & White won’t refer to itself as an “Item”, but they were the equivalent at the time (like “normal Trainer”). This means Great Ball has always been a pretty painless play, sometimes having to deal with Item denial, sometimes enjoying Item-support, and on rare occasions “Ball” support.
The first release was EX – FireRed & LeafGreen 92/112. Great Ball’s original effect was Benching a Basic Pokémon from your deck excluding Pokémon-ex. That isn’t a typo; Pokémon-ex were the first multi-Prize Pokémon. Though their name looks like Pokémon-EX, they’re a distinct mechanic and most closely resemble Pokémon-GX without the GX-attack and less 14 years worth of power creep. Great Ball kept this text while being reprinted as EX – Delta Species 90/113 and EX – Power Keepers 77/108.
Being a nerfed Nest Ball didn’t make Great Ball a must-run card, but peeking through the World Championship decks from this time period, we see that Queendom (used by Jeremy Maron to win the 2005 Masters Division) and Suns & Moons (used by Miska Saari win the 2006 Seniors Division). Coupled with hazy memories, I think it is safe to call Great Ball good, but not… great. You can find two reviews of Great Ball from this period.
DP – Stormfront 85/100 was the third reprint of Great Ball but this one came with a text change: Great Ball was no longer a nerfed Nest Ball, but had the same effect. It still isn’t a proper equivalency, though; the last Pokémon-ex rotated from Standard Format play before this change happened but well before future multi-Prize mechanics were introduced. I have very hazy memories of this time and no handy sources for what was being used outside of the World Championship decks from this stretch of time and… none used Great Ball.
BW – Emerging Powers 93/98 is the next printing of the card, where it received its modern effect. This Great Ball was accompanied by a massive errata, overwriting the printed text on all the previous releases so that they function the way it and all newer copies do. Instead of snagging a Basic from your deck, you look the top seven cards and may add a Pokémon you find there to your hand (shuffling anything not selected back into your deck). Which used to be Master Ball’s effect prior to its most recent release as an Ace Spec Trainer.
BW – Boundaries Crossed 129/149, XY 118/146, XY – BREAKpoint 100/122, Sun & Moon 119/149, Shining Legend 60/73 and Sword & Shield 164/202 are the reprints of the current version of Great Ball. Our third review of Great Ball coincided with an Errata Week. I was too generous scoring it as a three-out-of-five card, because I forgot to factor in the many other search options of the time. Speaking of which, about nine months later, Ultra Ball released.
Based on the release schedule, we’ve had access to Great Ball since its original release. There may be some gaps (even sizable ones) depending on exactly when rotation happened, but from the 2004-2005 Standard Format until the start of the present one, we had access to Great Ball before its end (if not from its beginning). So why doesn’t Great Ball see more play? Is its effect that bad?
Nope! It just isn’t that good, either. Instead of having to burn a Supporter usage for the turn, discard cards from hand, rely on coin flips, etc. you just take the chance something you want will be in the top seven cards of your deck. Especially for someone learning the game, it seems like it might be a good intermediary between Poké Ball and Ultra Ball in terms of the learning curve.
Ultra Ball also released nine months after the BW – Emerging Powers release of Great Ball and left Standard at the same time (the most recent rotation). This pretty easily explains why Great Ball saw so little success during such a long span, but what about now? I was ready to label it an “okay” card, but not really a “good” one, until I saw the results from the Oceania International Championship.
I was surprised to find five decks in the top 48 using it, and in multiples! Most of these were mill-based decks, with the highest placing being a Bellelba & Brycen-Man Mill deck that took 4th-place. The deck runs four Quick Ball, a copy of Evolution Incense , and a copy of Pokémon Communication as well. I’m honestly not 100% certain why; I can only surmise that the deck needs a lot of search but trade-fodder for Evolution Incense and not fetching Basics mean Great Ball surpasses them. Also, the self-inflicted mill means seven cards is probably a good chunk of your remaining deck.
I don’t have a good example for Great Ball use in the Expanded Format. While the effect looks solid on paper, in practice, it is probably pretty useless. Expanded not only has everything available in Standard, but Ultra Ball, Nest Ball, and Level Ball… before we get to less general options and/or non-Item options! Maybe I’m missing its niche, but Great Ball seems pretty useless here. Where Great Ball actually is great is the Limited Format; any search is at a premium here.
Great Ball also works well in the Theme Format. I’m not going to worry about those that don’t exist in the PTCGO, but we still have a massive list: Power Play, Toxic Tricks, Fast Daze, Furious Knights, Ice Shock, Cold Fire, Black & White – Basic Blue, Resilient Life, Wave Slasher, Electric Eye, Mewtwo Mayhem, Mental Might, Hidden Depths, Destruction Fang, Rillaboom Theme Deck, Inteleon Theme Deck, and Cinderace Theme Deck.
Power creep has left all these decks except the Sword & Shield ones behind, so Great Ball is technically useless in the older ones. The Sword & Shield Theme Decks each come with four copies of Great Ball, and once again, it lives up to its name! Great Ball fares in the Legacy Format the same as it does in the Expanded Format, just with a slightly different selection of cards. I haven’t been able to enjoy Legacy a while, though. If you know I’m wrong, or just play it regularly, you could always join us in writing CotDs… even if only for Throwback Thursdays!
Great Ball’s history is long and a bit confusing due to how its effect drastically changed over the years, and because it so often is not competitive. It almost always exist alongside multiple options that are better, be they Items or non-Items, deck-specific or general use. Every now and then, though, it seems to find a niche, and apparently, that includes the present Standard Format.
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