It’s a big time for Pokemon! With two new games in recent months, there’s a lot of energy and attention around the franchise. The Sword & Shield: Brilliant Stars expansion of the Pokemon Trading Card Game looks to capitalize on that with high-power cards, visual flair, and a focus on the progenitor Pokemon itself, Arceus.
By far, the biggest draw for Brilliant Stars is its Trainer Gallery subset. These cards feature a Pokemon and an accompanying trainer. With cards that feature Eevee romping around Bill’s office or Urshifu training with Mustard, they offer a more active view into the world of Pokemon. The Trainer Gallery is a bit rarer than we’d like, though! It’d be cool to have more fun art in common or uncommon tiers, rather than crossing our fingers for a chance to see one every few packs.
Brilliant Stars marks the debut of the VSTAR mechanic, the latest variation of top-tier power in the game. VSTAR cards evolve from V, and each has a “VSTAR Power” in tow. It can be an ability or move, but either way, you can only use one of these each match. It feels like a rework of the GX idea from the last generation of the game, with a bit more flexibility on function with included ability options that don’t end your turn to use.
Arceus VSTAR is the poster child for the set, and for this new mechanic too. Its Star Birth power lets you search your deck for any two cards! As a one-time-use power, it can set up whatever combo you want, and you’ll probably lose if you let your opponent use it. Given that both forms of Arceus V can load your other fighters with a bunch of energy, too? And with the flexibility of colorless type? Honestly scary to face! Which feels right for Arceus.
On its face, it does seem a little weird that the Pokemon TCG is still in the Sword & Shield era. After all, we just got two new full entries in recent months! And though Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl were remakes, Arceus was a full new game with lots of mechanical experiments. But the TCG? Not ready for a bunch of new ideas yet. VSTAR has some promise, but it’s definitely iterative! The Trainer Gallery looks cool, but it’s not a gameplay innovation. Perhaps we’ll see a true new era in the near future, but The Pokemon Company isn’t ready to hit the reset button just yet.
Still, centering Brilliant Stars around Arceus is a clear attempt to associate it with Legends. And there are a few scraps of ideas here and there that feel like a nod to the game’s new mechanics. Take Double Turbo Energy, for example! The new, weakened version of Double Colorless Energy lets you attack a turn faster at the expense of damage. We might get a more explicit version of Agile Style in the future, but this seems like a good approximation of how that could work.
Brilliant Stars feels most geared towards the players who want to buy a whole pile of cards and open ’em, hoping for a big find. The physical equivalent of shiny hunting, perhaps? Or, you know, gambling, we guess. However you want to look at it, the big finds in this set are cool to see. That’s true whether it’s the Trainer Gallery collection, gold Galarian legendary birds or a host of other gems. We’d really love to one day see more value in the lower rarities. Such a move would help the game’s variety, and also make draft play a bit more doable for a game that’s always struggled with that format. But today? Today’s not that day.