Alternative Methods: Part 2 – Changing the Game

With my last Alternative Methods article being a solid success, and my wanting to continue reminding players that the game is about fun, I will begin the next installment of Alternative Methods. With the Prerelease well and done, it’s time to talk about things you can do aside from playing competitive Modified. This article is going to discuss some alternative rules, and basic strategies for them, so that you can add a lot of spice to your local league.

Bonus Rules

The first topic to mention, and the simplest change, is the official one: the Bonus Rule given for every Pokémon League season. As much as most players frown upon using them, they can add a very interesting dynamic to the game. Play with them, enjoy them, and see how the metagame shifts with these rules changes. Many of them start off as development suggestions, and as league players rarely touch them, never receive any feedback.

Give them a try, and write Play! Pokémon about them and tell them what you feel about the bonus rules! Maybe some of the feedback will reach the developers, and we’ll get more useful rules changes, instead of things like the new first turn rules from Black & White.

Strategy for Bonus Rule games tends to be played very much by ear; most of them favor come from behind play, so if you’re looking to optimize, play a deck with at least some late-game power. The best way to play Bonus Rule games, however, is with fun decks, not competitive ones.

Break out Steelix, or some crazy Rube Goldberg deck that ends in Lost World. Seriousness is really not the point here, otherwise we would see these rules as shake-ups in tournaments.

Double Battles

The rules for Double Battles can still be found on the ‘net, from the EX Ruby & Sapphire expansion (look here, page 20). Double Battles play much like single battles, but because two Pokémon can be active at a time, Poké-Powers, Poké-Bodies, and Abilities requiring a Pokémon to be active are considerably stronger.

pokebeach.comWith one Pokémon attacking and the other free to just provide an effect, Pokémon such as Spiritomb AR, Krookodile EP, Gothitelle EP, and the upcoming Chandelure from Noble Victories will all be powerful assistants to a main attacker.

Specific Doubles decks will likely follow with this theme, as there are few cards that can counter the Ability based secondary actives without just Knocking them Out. While many players avoid this format, it is a very different metagame, and one that I believe should be considered for at least local tournaments, to shake up the game.

Triple Battles

New to Black and White on the DS, Triple Battles take Double Battles and add more emphasis on multiple-Pokémon madness. They are not an official format, but my suggested way to play one on one Triple Battles is to impose a rule that no Pokémon may attack twice in a row – if one Pokémon attacks, a different one must attack on the player’s next turn.

This may be the same Pokémon retreating and replacing itself, or a different one of the previous Active Pokémon using an attack. This reduces players’ ability to lean on non-attacking Pokémon when they can simply attack repeatedly with one of their three actives. The other option is to use 8 Prizes, and each player must declare two attacks per turn.

Triple Battles, using either rules change, can be played with similar decks as Double Battles. Using Pokémon that cover weaknesses and provide supporting Poké-Powers and Abilities while active is usually the best use of resources, though trying to promote two attackers as quickly as possible is usually the best first move.

Rotation Battles

Rotation battles are another fun addition to the handheld games with the release of Black & White. Though unpopular by the competitive community, there is considerable strategy in the format, simply very different from the existing metagame. My attempt at making Rotation Battle rules in the TCG follows the same premise: the metagame would be nothing like Pokémon as you know it.

Rotation Battles follow the basic rules of Triple Battles: three Active Pokémon, three bench slots. The difference is, only one of your Active Pokémon is treated as the Active Pokémon at any one time. The others are referred to as Rotated Pokémon, and for the purposes of attacks, Poké-Powers, Poké-Bodies, Abilities, and Trainer cards, they are considered on the bench.

For the purpose of launching their own attacks, however, they are considered Active, and may be “rotated” into the Active Spot at any time during the current player’s turn. This may only happen once per turn, and is NOT the same as retreating; once per turn, one of the Active or Rotated Pokémon may retreat to the bench and be replaced, as normal. Rotating acts completely separately, and has no cost. Only the Active Pokémon in the opponent’s lineup may be hit by attacks, and only one Pokémon attacks per turn.

While this is not the best simulation of Rotation Battles in the handheld games, the other approaches (including double blind rotations and coin flips every turn) were more difficult to play with children. Pokémon is a simple game, and should remain that way so that adults and kids can enjoy the game together, whatever the rules being used.

With that said, decks for Rotation Battles should take advantage of the ability to easily retreat. MegaZord is the most obvious deck that can benefit, being able to rotate Donphan out of the Active Spot with ease. Decks with Poké-Powers, Poké-Bodies, and Abilities that take advantage of being active also benefit from the ease of retreat, so expect more of Krookodile, Gothitelle, and soon Chandelure, just like in Doubles. All in all, the above formats are quite similar in deckbuilding.

Building Decks for Doubles, Triples, and Rotation Battles

youtube.comFor these formats, there’s generally one Active Pokémon not being used to attack; ideally, this Pokémon is providing some form of offensive or defensive support. Poké-Bodies and Abilities that reduce damage (Abomasnow SF, Glaceon MD), deal damage (the upcoming Chandelure from Noble Victories), lock Trainers (Spiritomb AR, Gothitelle EP 47), or disrupt your opponent (Krookodile EP) are all excellent choices.

These Pokémon should ideally not share a weakness with your main attacker. Given the breadth of weaknesses these utility Pokémon have, finding an attacker to go with them is hardly an issue. Doubling up on these utility Pokémon can also be huge, as you can further reduce damage, or do nasty things with Poké-Powers, like drop 6 or more damage counters a turn with a revolving swarm of Chandelures.

This only gets worse in Triple Battles, so consider bringing some Power lock! In Modified, the only option is Grumpig, but if older sets get brought in (as well they should in such a casual format), Gardevoir SW’s “Psychic Lock”, Mesprit LA, and others are great helpers.

Having a utility Active Pokémon means less room for utility Bench-sitters; Pokémon like Magnezone Prime may be forced into the Active Spot by way of losing a weak Pokémon filling the hole while you set up an offence. Because of this, some of the best Pokémon to use as main attackers are fast, bulky basics like Reshiram, Zekrom, and Tornadus, so they can take hits while you set up your bench. There is still the omnipresent threat of Pokémon Catcher, though.

The other approach to be taken in Doubles is weakness coverage, especially with high retreat attackers. Donphan’s best friend Zekrom comes in VERY well here, with Donphan setting up future Zekroms using “Earthquake”, and Zekrom hitting water Pokémon for weakness. That said, once your opponent’s setup has been figured out, it’s rare that both need to stay active, so it’s best to go get some utility in your second active once you know the matchup.

Once Noble Victories comes out, it’s almost imperative that every deck have the ability to hit a Dark weakness to quickly remove Chandelure or its previous forms. Absol Prime is the shoe-in for this job, but while Zoroark doesn’t deal enough damage to net a KO, it causes some nasty status effects, and still resists Chandelure’s attack.

Beyond that, the normal offensive types are generally good; Water gets Krookodile as a popular new target, and Blastoise UL gives it lots of energy flexibility. Donphan has a smaller bench drawback for Earthquake, at least in doubles and triples, and still hits key Pokémon like Zekrom and Magnezone Prime. Machamp just offers even more retreat shenanigans with Fighting Tag.

Multiplayer Double, Triple, and Rotation Battles

Any format with multiple Active Pokémon is a perfect excuse to invite your friends! Multiplayer battles are a lot of fun, and add an interesting dynamic by forcing players to design their decks with synergy in mind. Typically, in a multiplayer battle, play progresses in a zig-zag pattern down the table; see the diagram for a better explanation. Use dice, rock-paper-scissors, or multiple coin flips to determine which player starts.

Triple Battle Diagram
Assume Player 1 goes first. Play proceeds to the opponent across from him, then in a zig-zag down the table. A team never has two turns in a row.

In a multiplayer double battle, each player gets 2 bench spaces; in a triple battle, each player only gets one. Effects that count or place effects or damage on your Pokémon also work on your partners’; this includes effects such as Donphan’s “Earthquake”, as well as Trainers and Supporters like Max Potion.

You may also play Trainers and Supporters that normally only help yourself on a teammate; for example, if your partner is desperate for a new hand, and you don’t really want to play your Professor Juniper, you can throw it at your partner. Limited bench space usually prevents the double Supporter play from leading to massive combos, but it can definitely get a player back in the game.

Note that Seeker only affects each side, rather than each player; the players choose between each other which Pokémon gets picked up. Finally, you cannot play Energy, Pokémon Tools, or any other permanent attached effect to your partners’ Pokémon. This does not include cards like Defender, which are temporary.

Each team has 6 Prizes; each player places three in a double battle, and two each in a triple battle. When a team takes a prize, the players decide which of them will take the prize. Players should quickly figure out if anything they need is prized – if not, just give the prize to whoever needs an extra card.

One bit of strategic advice: in pick-up multiplayer doubles and triples, don’t play Vileplume! Your teammates will nominally hate you for it, and it will often jam up your side as much or more than it jams up your opponents, especially in triple battles where you only have one bench spot to work with.

Finally, remember than in triples, Pokémon Circulator is Pokémon Catcher so if you ever felt like running eight, now’s the time to try it! Overall though, try to come up with some cool team combos, but remember: your opponents get turns in between.


Emperors is a variant of Multiplayer Triple Battle, where one of the players on each team is the Emperor, and the other two his guards. Each player has a full six bench spaces, and usually 4 Prizes, but any number from three to six works. Giving the Emperor 6 Prizes and guards fewer is also a workable way to play, but it leads to more focus on the Emperors.

Like in Triple Battles, players may play cards and use effects on each other, but only next to you. This means an emperor can play cards on either guard, but the guards cannot affect each other at all. Finally, effects that count benched Pokémon, and Pokémon in play, only count the player using the effect and the player being attacked, if any.

This prevents Jumpluff and Cinccino, among others, from dealing hundreds of damage with ease. Guards can only attack the guard across from him or her; Emperors may attack either guard, but not the Emperor himself. When a guard is defeated, any player who could attack that guard may instead attack the Emperor. When either side’s Emperor is defeated, the opposing side wins the game!

The concept of Reverse Prizes is introduced in this format; when one of your Pokémon is Knocked Out, you take a prize. When all of your prizes have been taken, you are eliminated from the game.

A guard without Pokémon is not defeated, but instead “stunned”. A guard may continue to draw cards, and can at any time play a Basic Pokémon into the Active Spot to return to the game. Without an Active Pokémon, a guard cannot do anything but draw or end the turn. When a guard does play a basic to recover from stunning, his turn can be played out normally – including playing Trainers, Energy, and attacking. An Emperor without Pokémon is defeated, and the game ends normally.

pokebeach.comThe turn order in Emperors can be somewhat complicated. It’s best to think of each pair of players (emperor vs emperor, and each guard vs his counterpart) as separate games for turn order. An emperor always goes first – flip normally to determine which one. Then, flip to determine which pair of guards acts next; the guard next to the emperor who went first then goes.

While going first is an advantage, consecutive turns is a bigger one, and having multiple attacks in a row against a guard ends games. The final pair of guards goes next; again with the guard of the emperor who went first beginning. Guards being stunned or eliminated can lead to consecutive turns from one side; keeping all three players alive is very important!

Competitive Emperor games are very strategic, and teams must decide carefully how best to play the roles of emperor and guards. Guard decks need to set up fast, and ideally not run out of Pokémon; decks like Rush, ZPS, Mew Box, Donphans & Dragons, and Reshiram variants do very well in this role. Another option is to have a guard play an aggressive setup deck, such as MagneBoar or even straight combo like Vileplume/Reuniclus, with the help of his Emperor playing additional Supporters.

Emperors themselves have the luxury of not being attacked for a while, letting them set up huge victory fleets of Pokémon. They must beware disruption, however, because while they can’t be attacked, cards like Weavile, Judge, and Team Rocket’s Trickery can still disrupt their hands.

This makes MagneBoar a very attractive Emperor deck, and it can even allow a 2-2 line of Rayquaza & Deoxys LEGEND, letting the Emperor pound down the opposing guard and go right through to the enemy emperor quickly. On the other hand, a focused strike between a guard and an emperor both playing ZPS is a sight to behold – especially when it leads to a donk!

Melee Battles

Melee battles are an insane free-for-all between as many players as you can seat around a table. More is generally better, though I find this format a lot less fulfilling in Pokémon when compared to a more interactive game like Magic. In the latter game, this is my favorite format; in Pokémon, I find it gets too political, and the cards lack a lot of the chaos that offset the politics. This is not a format intended for any kind of competition, unlike the formats above.

Reverse Prizes are used here, just like in Emperors. In addition to Reverse Prizes, there is also Immunity. Immunity is granted to a player as soon as one of his or her Pokémon is Knocked Out, and lasts until that player’s turn. This is used to prevent multiple KOs from taking a player out of the game before he can move.

Originally, the rules also gave Immunity to every player until their first turn, preventing donks and first turn strikes, but it generally meant the player going immediately before the Zekrom player starts down a prize, and is often donked. Preventing attacks on the first turn entirely is a potential house rule, but will lead to setup decks becoming more popular, and ZPST is fun in Melee.

Strategy for Melee battles is mostly political, and I leave that as an exercise to the reader. Deckbuilding, on the other hand, is best done as an exercise in silliness, insanity, and generally zany fun. Defence is all important, especially against spread and snipe; while players cannot Knock Out more than one of your Pokémon in a turn, they CAN gang up to snipe your most important card, or take your whole field out with spread. In Modified, making sure your key cards are hard to remove generally means running multiples, and running big bodies.

Running a typical Modified deck is also a bad idea, because in a big Melee, all it takes is one player with a silver bullet to your deck to take you out of the game “because he can”. Many of these decks are also built to take exactly 6 Prizes; Magneboar being the biggest and most obvious of these – facing down even a five player melee will likely lead to you running out of gas with such a deck. A deck with a lot of longevity, such as Typhlosion, is usually the best play.

Also, for the sake of fun and interest, bring a few cards that affect all players; Seeker, Judge, Tyranitar Prime, and Vileplume all come to mind as fun ways to mess with people and create more chaos. If Seeker gets popular as a way to quickly remove a player, consider adding a rule that gives a player Immunity if Seeker has been played and he only has one Pokémon left, as getting tossed out of the game by several Seekers and a donk is no fun. The point of melee battles is not to win, but to create as much insane chaos as possible!

Everybody do the metronome!

Metronome is a format whose rules cannot be explained; the only rule is that the rules change every game. Metronome rules can be added to any kind of game, including any of the above. Generally, dice are rolled at the start of each game to determine the rules used; how many special rules are played is entirely up to the players. Some sample Metronome rules follow, but don’t take these as the only ones – make up some more! Any of the Bonus Rules also make good Metronome rules.

  • Pokémon come into play with damage counters on them equal to the opponent’s number of remaining prizes.
  • Players may discard benched Pokémon at any time.
  • Players may choose to (or must) pay a Pokémon’s Retreat Cost in damage counters instead of energy. (interpret this as healing or hurting as you want, all are good rules)
  • Whenever a player retreats, the other player must switch his or her Pokémon with a benched one.
  • A player may discard energy equal to the opponent’s Pokémon’s Retreat Cost to make it switch.
  • At any time, a player may make each player draw a card. The other player may choose to not draw.
  • Weakness becomes Resistance, and Resistance becomes Weakness.
  • All Pokémon have 10 HP.
  • All Pokémon have double HP.
  • All Active Pokémon are always Poisoned
  • Special Conditions and effects are not removed on the bench or by evolving
  • Between turns, place 1 damage counter on all Pokémon
  • Evolving removes all damage counters
  • Play with Reverse Prizes

There are a lot of fun things to add to Metronome, and the rules can be applied to any format. It’s one of my favorite casual games, just because of how silly it can get, and how much players have to adapt to the new rules every game.

Using it All

Mark A. HicksThe best way to use a lot of these rules is to throw them into your local league! Get a bunch of people playing with them, and even more will come over and ask what you’re playing. Share the rules, and just keep spreading the fun! Doubles, Triples, Rotation Battles, and Emperors make for excellent tournament formats, as well, including team tournaments.

Seeing who can work together and build winning decks in a totally different format is a great way to put players to the test. Sure, you’ve memorized everything in Modified, but are you flexible enough to apply it to a 3 player Triples match?

Next time, I’m going to put together a Custom Tooled on another competitive deck that’s really been receiving a lot of bad press lately. It’s straightforward to play, complex to build, and its techs have more impact on its performance than the main body. If you know me, then you know what I’m talking about…

Reader Interactions

15 replies

  1. Anonymous

    Some of the things you say, are, just kind of odd. Emperor is rather confusing too.

  2. Anonymous

    I have really enjoyed your alternative articles!

    They bring me back to the golden olden days. When I first started playing the game (when it first came out) the card shop that I played at regularly held unsanctioned alternative rules tournaments.

    • Tyler Odom  → Anonymous

      I remember when I was at league at Wizards of the Coast way back, and we got 16 people to do an 8 on 8 battle. Of course after the first turn of everyone, it became 5 on 4 or something like that, but it was pretty interesting.

  3. n1ghtmare90

    Ive tried playing melee with my friends, the only thing is the second you set up a large pokemon everyone attacks it until its knocked out and youve wasted all those turns

  4. stephen shirley

    at league i already did double battles with two players butwe did have alot of trouble with jumpluff

  5. Curtis

    In melee battles, its best to ignore the other players’ bickering about who you should attack because “they have the bigger threat” and just attack who will give you the prizes you need. The player whose setup you destroyed is going to hate you for it, but you took 6 prizes before anyone else, right?

  6. Steven Nilsen

    Thanks!  Now I’ve got a way to play with both my kids at once, that might work.  We hadn’t quite gotten a satisfactory 3 player Pokemon game to work…. yet.

    • Aron Figaro  → Steven

      Well, it’s a bit difficult to play doubles against two players…I’ll work on that, and add an addendum to my next Alternative Methods.

  7. Julie B.

    really enjoyed your article! Thanks for the tips, maybe I have a chance at beating one of my friends now

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