10 Things That Could Make This Format Better

Mark A. HicksHello SixPrizes. Lately, we’ve mostly been seeing tournament reports, deck analyses, and one very awesome article about the Japanese metagame by Esa Juntunen that I recommend you read if you haven’t yet (small chance). So I’m going to be doing something completely different: I’m going to be talking about our format in general, what it’s lacking, and what would improve it.

Of course, such an analysis would be very subjective and opinionated. Everyone has a different idea of what exactly constitutes a healthy, enjoyable, or fun format. This has to do with playstyle, personal preferences, and of course experiences with previous formats.

One thing I want to get out of the way is that I am not trying to vent about how bad this format is, or any of the previous ones. I want to avoid the whole “grass is greener on the other side” syndrome, where you point out all the bad stuff of what you currently have, and all of the good stuff about what other formats have. I also want to mention that I don’t find the game unfun as it is, just that it could be a whole lot better.

Esa’s article did mention that things might change for the good as there seems to be some sort of connection between the Japanese players and designers. But I have no hopes of this article, or any article like it in the English community, having a direct impact on the way the game’s rules and cards are set up. I do think it can be fun to dream, as well as to discuss what exactly makes the game better or worse.

So, let’s establish what exactly makes or breaks a format. The first terms people will throw around to show how good or bad a format is are those among the lines of versatility, variety, centralisation, etcetera, whether this is about how many different cards or different decks are being played. Last season, the Majestic Dawn-on format, was considered to be dominated by SP decks, and the tail end of it even moreso by Sableye and the first turn rule.

pokemon-paradijs.comBut, we can see that within SP decks, there was a huge amount of different archetypes, and then those also had very different lists. We had Luxchomp (Luxray GL/Garchomp C), Sablelock (Sableye/Garchomp C), and Dialgachomp (Dialga G/Garchomp C), and sometimes these builds even merge with each other (such as the Wittenkeller’s Loxchomp variant, which put Luxray GL in a Sablelock deck) or with other decks (such as Tommy Robert’s Gengar/Garchomp C build).

So even within a somewhat stale format, there was a huge amount of variety not even taking into account the rest of the field (Gyarados, Vileplume/Gengar, Machamp, and Magnezone). Regardless, lots of complaints were voiced about the format.

My personal concerns with the MD-on format can be summed up about the following:

– High amount of “donking” power – being able to run your opponent out of Basics on turn 1 or 2, often before they can even draw a card. Even before the horrid BW rules were introduced, Uxie donk (aka Quad Uxie, Solitaire, etc) was already built to do just this, and Sableye builds had a very good shot at it as well.

At fault here are the cards that allow you to do damage through ways besides attacking (Crobat G, Poké Blower +), and the many, many cards that allow you to through your deck without using a Supporter or attack (mostly Uxie, but also Victory Medal, Poké Drawer +, etc).

Even without a dedicated donk deck, turn 1-2 wins are all too common through the very cheap but relatively powerful attacks of Donphan Prime, Kingdra Prime and Machamp Stormfront.

– Even if both players are still alive and breathing after turn 2, games could very easily be “stolen” from players, especially by SP players. This is due to the ease of stopping an opponent from setting up with Luxchomp’s access to Power Spray and enormous sniping power. It was too easy to deny someone a proper set-up.

– On a similar note, Vileplume and Spiritomb made the game too harsh on players relying on Trainers to set up quickly. This is less of a pressing concern as there were definitely ways to make your deck “Lock-proof) by putting in your own Spiritomb, or substituting Trainers for Supporter equivalents (e.g. using Bebe’s Search over Pokémon Communication). But this often comes at the cost of a lot of speed.

– Extending the above, there seemed to be a tad too many “all or nothing” locking cards. Dialga G LV.X stops all Poké-Bodies with “Time Crystal,” Mewtwo LV.X stops all Basic Pokémon with “Psybarrier,” Machamp SF 1HKOs all Basic Pokémon with “Take Out,” Mesprit stops all Poké-Powers with “Psychic Bind,” and so on and so on.

Decks that rely entirely on any of these are all at a disadvantage. This does have its good sides as it forces deck to incorporate more than one game plan, but I found that generally, this wasn’t really possible without losing a lot of consistency of your main plan.

So basically, the main problem with MD On from my end is that it seems to be too easy to stop people from playing the game, either through locks or sheer force on the early turns. Don’t get me wrong: it was still a very playable format before the BW rules. I personally loved playing SP mirror matches because of how much was going on at a time.

Nonetheless, when a HGSS On rotation was announced, nearly the entire community (including me) breathed a sigh of relief. A clean slate, a new game, hopefully a much better one.

But unfortunately, a few months later, I’m already missing my precious SP builds. While the rotation cycled out a lot of “evil” cards that arguably did more wrong than right (Uxie, Sableye, Crobat G, Power Spray), it also got rid of a lot of cards that I considered to increase the health of the game. In addition, some cards that were rotated out a while ago never made a proper return while they are oh-so-missed. And I could even think of some things that the game could use that haven’t ever been properly introduced.

Mark A. HicksWhat kind of cards do I consider healthy for the game? Personally, I think that having options when deck building is very important. Different kinds of engines to fuel your main plan. There are a couple of cards at fault here for making it too hard to make an elaborate setup possible, limiting players to very “short” combos of two lines at the maximum. The obvious exception to this would be “The Truth” by Ross Cawthorn, but look at how hard this deck is to play and what it has to do to get going.

For a better example, look at your basic Reshiram/Typhlosion list. There are two 1-of “techs” in airhawk’s latest list (Cleffa and Professor Elm’s Training Method), there’s a 2-2 Ninetales, and pretty much everything else is some very light variation. That’s not a fault of the list or the maker: that seems to be the only way to make it consistent. You could argue that there’s possibilities to make the deck more techy, like putting in Magby for the Gothitelle matchup, but let’s compare that to some Gardevoir/Gallade lists of the past.

There were actually three different Stage 2 techs getting thrown into that (Machamp SF, Dusknoir DP, and Nidoqueen RR), for starters. The only kind of Stage 2 teching that happens nowadays is a thin Magnezone line because we’re just that desperate for drawpower, or a Kingdra line in Yanmega/Magnezone.

Furthermore, there were just countless variations on which direction to take the list in. Do you want Gardevoir LV.X? Which and how many pixies (Azelf, Uxie, and Mesprit, LA or MT, each with a very viable LV.X)? Are you insane enough to use Poké Healer +? Do you want Broken Time-Space, Moonlight Stadium, perhaps both? And so on, and so on.

Disclaimer: I’m actually not the most knowledgeable on formats before Majestic Dawn-onwards, having very little testing experience with those. But I do think I have a decent enough grasp on them to get a general point across.

Right now, we are so short on options that we have to cram the same kind of cards into every deck, in large enough amounts that we hope they’re in our hands when we want them. You can summarize all our decklists as follows (with exceptions):

pokemon-paradijs.com4 Pokémon Collector
4 Pokémon Communication
1 Cleffa HS/CL
8-10 Draw Supporters (Professor Oak’s New Theory, Professor Juniper, Sage’s Training, Cheren)
4 Rare Candy (if Stage 2)
4 Pokémon Catcher (if not a Trainer lock deck)

And then you usually put very, very thick lines of your Pokémon. If you are playing a Trainer lock deck, then substitute some of these with Twins so you can get the Rare Candy more easily as you inevitably fall behind.

If the card pool gave us more options, then what should automatically follow is more complexity. It would be harder to build a consistent deck that also deals with various matchups, and it would also be harder to keep track of everything that could be going on during a game. Right now, you only have to keep track of things at a very basic level. What your opponent plays and doesn’t play, what is in his discard, and what’s on the board. But this could be so much better.

Why is complexity a good thing? Because it allows better players to distinguish themselves. The more linear the game is, the easier it is to figure out the very optimal play. To refer back to the Luxchomp days: that deck pretty much always had the option to take a prize against any deck. However, only the best players can always figure out how exactly to take that prize on a turn, in a way that they will also be able to take prizes during subsequent turns. How to take out that piece of your opponent’s set-up that sets him back the most, while using up the least resources?

One mechanic that carries a lot of complexity with it is Evolution. The latest developments have done nothing for the game to encourage Evolution at all. Spiritomb and Broken Time-Space were rotated out, Rare Candy was nerfed, Pokémon Catcher allows almost any deck to fish weak Basics and KO them before they can evolve, and then there’s the introduction of two Basics stronger than most Stage 2s we’ve had so far (Zekrom and Reshiram).

And on the horizon we have the release of the Eviolite Item as well as even more ridiculous Basic Pokémon such as Mewtwo EX. Saying we could use some new life for Evolution decks would be the understatement of the year, and that’s what a lot of these ideas will be centered around.

So what is it exactly that we could use to get out of this rut? What kind of cards would make the format more healthy? I present you, a list of ten things that I would like to see (re-)introduced into the game that would give us a better game. At first, I was just going to list cards, but I think “ideas” covers the load a lot better.

Some ideas are going to be individual cards, some are going to be some kind of card, or a group of cards conveniently grouped together. Sometimes they will be card ideas that do not even exist yet, but could potentially do a lot of good for us.

Now, I do think that most of these actually would have such a huge impact on deck building and the way the game is played that introducing them all at once or even more than one or two at a time could actually have an adverse effect. But individually, I believe they are good ideas.

1. Scramble Energy and Double Rainbow Energy

pokebeach.comThese two very versatile Energy cards are very, very different in how they work, but their positive effects are similar enough to group them together. Both of these cards are stronger versions of the currently legal “Rainbow Energy,” and would be utterly broken if they didn’t have a huge amount of text on them that lists their drawbacks.

Having a good card with a significant drawback is, on its own, a good thing for the game. It forces you to make decisions about whether to put the card in your deck, and then whether to play it or not. A good card with no drawback just ends up in everyone’s deck in huge numbers.

I don’t mean that every card should have a drawback of sorts, but a nice balance between both straightforward and “do I want to use this” cards by itself gives players more choices. Do you go the safe route, or the risky route with high payoff?

These individual cards have an obvious pay-off over your basic kinds of Energies, or even Rainbow Energy and Double Colorless Energy. Double Rainbow Energy pays for two units of Energy on its own, and Scramble Energy even gives you three. Not just that, but they can be any kind of Energy card you need them to be. What keeps these in check?

First off, they only work for Evolved Pokémon. By itself, this is a great requirement. By limiting this insane Energy acceleration to Evolutions, the developed Pokémon will be more readily available to combat their low-resource opponents. Pokémon with enormous Energy costs such as Conkeldurr NV 64, Gigalith NV, Gothitelle EP 47, etcetera have much better odds at setting up in time, without also opening the door for something like a Zekrom Bolt Striking for one Energy, or even Rayquaza & Deoxys LEGEND Ozone Bustering on turn 2.

It’s also interesting to note that the old versions of these cards did not work for Pokémon-EX, not even Evolved ones. While right now we only have Basic Pokémon-EX, the return of Evolved ones seems inevitable. Whether they need the nerf of not being able to use these Energy cards remains to be seen, of course, but if you look at how ridiculous the Basics are….

In addition, the versatile nature of both of these cards opens the door for those complex mixed Energy costs. Right now, I don’t believe there’s any Evolved Pokémon with a cost like RWLC, but this kind of cost was actually somewhat common and even playable in the EX days. But even the fact that you can fuel the costs of various Pokémon types at once makes deck building that more interesting. Right now, having more than one type of Basic Energy is already considered pretty daring, which heavily limits what you can put in your deck and how much you can cover your weakness.

pokebeach.comWhat makes Double Rainbow and Scramble Energy so great is that they can backfire very badly if used poorly. Double Rainbow has the additional drawback of reducing your Pokémon’s damage output by 10. That’s not just damage to their active Pokémon, by the way: it also weakens your snipe, and it also doesn’t have that side effect of reducing recoil damage (à la Defender/Eviolite on Zekrom). It’s actually a very well thought out straight drawback that can very well force you to take an extra turn to KO your opponent’s Pokémon.

Scramble Energy is stronger than Rainbow Energy, and its drawback is (in my opinion) even more interesting. Like Twins and Black Belt, the only time Scramble Energy really works out is if you are behind in prizes. Not only does this do a nice job toward negating the terrible first turn setback problem, but it also puts less of an emphasis on a Prize trade, and more on being able to properly evaluate and manipulate the board.

Back in the day, there was a deck based around Empoleon DP and Bronzong MD. This deck’s game plan: spread damage. Spread damage takes quite some time to actually KO anything, so inevitably you’ll be behind in prizes…allowing you to make full use of Scramble Energy.

The thing about Scramble Energy is that unlike Twins, once you tie up the prizes, your advantage from being behind melts. Scramble still provides C, so you can use it to finish up a normal attachment series with it, but it’s no longer your entire attack. On its own, it can’t make for ridiculous comebacks, but it does make it easier to keep both players in the game.

I’d be fine with more cards like this as long as they’re as balanced as these are. I do realize that they were staples for a reason and that you can argue they were too good, but at the same time I think they even things up rather than creating an imbalance. Plus, I suspect that the sudden return of these cards would make Lost Remover a lot more popular than it currently is.

2. Warp Energy and Warp Point

pokemon-paradijs.comFor the first time in ages, we are stuck using Switch to get heavy or locked Pokémon out of the Active Spot. I believe there was one format in the EX era that had no Warp Point, and of course before its first print back in the Gym sets one was forced to use this card as well. It feels as if we’ve been warped back to the stone age, really. Switch has literally no purpose other than to get a stuck Pokémon to the bench. Warp Energy and Warp Point, however, are both versatile cards that would be so very convenient to have in several decks.

In our current format, we have a popular deck called Mewlock, which aims to trap an opponent’s Pokémon in the Active Spot for as long as possible. I’m not going to get into the fine details, but basically Mew utilizes a Lost Zoned Muk’s “Sludge Drag” to bring up a heavy retreat benched Pokémon, while a Vileplume on the bench stops the opponent from playing Switch. While they are stuck active, a Yanmega comes buzzing in and starts sniping the opponent’s vulnerable bench with “Linear Attack”.

This strategy was pioneered with success by Jason Klaczynski in the Top Cut Invitational, and people have been copying it since. All of that would not have been possible, or at least not as easy, if Warp Energy had been in the format. Warp Energy is a great way to get a Pokémon out of the Active Spot under a Trainer lock. Not only that, but it also actually works as Energy. What does that mean? It would give Magnezone/Emboar (also known as Red Zone or Magneboar), a premiere Evolution deck, a much easier time. Warp Energy would double as a Switch and an extra 50 damage with Magnezone.

I’ll admit this might not seem like a clearcut “healthiness” advantage as Warp Energy would make Mewlock almost impossible to work…but on the other hand, Mew could try to utilize Weavile to discard the Warp Energy in time, or attempt to Sludge Drag so often until the opponent runs out of Warp Energy. It turns a very uneven matchup in a rather even one, and adds an extra layer to the game.

Warp Point is less complex. It does not work under Trainer lock, but it does double as a Pokémon Circulator. It’s one of those cards that you don’t really “need” in your deck, but that gives you an extra dimension, an extra way out of very odd situations. Baby walls, high retreat Pokémon stuck active, or your opponent’s only buff Pokémon is in the Active Spot? Warp Point helps you out.

To bring up the Magnezone/Emboar example again, 2011 World Champion David Cohen chose not to run Pokémon Reversal in his deck to favor consistency, but you can bet he would have replaced at least one Switch with Warp Point if he could have just to have the option available.

pokebeach.comI remember when the format wasn’t as explored as it is right now, Vileplume was pretty much cast aside as a rogue option at best. I have one particular fond memory of playing someone over Redshark. I was using some random Evolution deck (Reshiram/Emboar I think), and he was using Yanmega/Vileplume/Sunflora.

And when he did get that Vileplume out, I thought: “well, this is actually really annoying”. For the first time in a long while, I was hoping I had been packing Professor Elm’s Training Method. And that’s saying something.

And now, Vileplume is more out in the open, and we also have Gothitelle to worry about. But still, we have to run three to four Pokémon Communication to get our Evolutions out, because Elm simply is not good enough and…we have no other options other than trying to draw them into it (through topdeck, or the lottery with Sage, Cheren, or hand refresh).

Bebe’s Search and Celio’s Network both have relatively minor drawbacks, the main one that you have to use up your Supporter for them (though Celio’s drawback, if he were with us, would be huge when we get Mewtwo EX and his other huge HP friends). But they help deck builders so much because you can hardly go wrong with them. They are the “safe” route of cards, compared to the more daring cards like Scramble Energy.

What this helps you do is make decklists a little less tight, and give them room for some more techs, even Evolution-based ones. In addition, it stops that horrible game state where getting a Trainer lock on your opponent practically forces them to draw into their Evolutions (like in my example scenario). And at the same time, it gives you the option to search out that Basic you need to avoid getting donked. These two cards are kind of wildcards, where they can be any piece of an Evolution line you need them to be.

Even getting Roseanne’s Research back would be a huge improvement. It can’t get Evolutions, but it does get you through an Energy drought while simultaneously getting you more Basics on the field.

The main thing I like about these cards: they make for more playable hands. Everyone hates unplayable hands. Best case scenario, you have a way out in your hand, and in this format that’s often going to be a Collector or Communication for Cleffa, which has so many obvious disadvantages. Any kind of improved Pokémon search would improve that.

Thankfully, we have a couple of interesting searching cards coming up (Ultra Ball, Heavy Ball, Level Ball). That’s an improvement, I appreciate those, but they’re still Trainers. They are also the “cards with drawback” option, but what I’m missing here is the safe option.

4. Steven’s Advice and other Supporter-based draw

pokebeach.comThis might look like me being greedy here, considering we do have Sage’s Training, Cheren, and even Professor Juniper (it does draw seven) and Engineer’s Adjustments.

However, what I personally like about Steven’s Advice is that it is particularly effective if your opponent is setting up, and it also makes you think about mindlessly benching Basics that you’re not immediately using. Your opponent only needs a medium-sized bench for Steven to be more effective than Cheren, and during midgame it could very well double your hand size.

Why do I want straight draw so badly? Well, while I would love it if everything was searchable in some way or another, that’s not going to happen. And sometimes what you need or want to get to work is just more cards. Even if it’s just things to discard with Junk Arm.

Plus, straight draw leads to larger hands, which leads to more options. Not just more things to choose from, but more possibilities of series of plays. I also like the fact that you can play straight draw cards before doing anything else, and then decide to make your plays.

Right now, if you need a Catcher plus double PlusPower to KO a Typhlosion, you will likely only have one or two of these in your hand at a time, so you can play them and then discard or shuffle the rest of your hand in and hope to draw the rest.

5. Anti-Catcher that isn’t Trainer Lock


It took me a while to get here, but it had to be mentioned. Pokémon Catcher is a ridiculous card, and it should never have been printed. Neither should Pokémon Reversal. The mere existence of these cards shuts off such a huge amount of future possibilities, no matter how awesome they look, and that is really hurting the game as a whole.

Now, I don’t think these cards take any skill out of the game, and I’m not going to refuse to use them, or complain about them every game. The game is very playable, even with Catcher in the format. But I definitely think the game would have better potential without it.

While Pokémon Catcher is in the format, the potential of “combo” decks is essentially capped. Any deck that relies on two or more Pokémon being out at once gets hampered greatly because Pokémon Catcher allows the opponent to take out the weakest link easily. Even if it has to happen over the course of multiple turns (see: people targeting down Typhlosions with Yanmega even though Sonicboom is a 2HKO), it is generally very destructive.

People are already uncomfortable with the Reshiram/Typhlosion/Ninetales combination, and that is just three Pokémon that don’t necessarily have to be there all at once (Ninetales isn’t essential, Typhlosion can be a back-up attacker, and Reshiram can still Outrage if nothing else). Imagine how hard it is to set something that’s actually very elaborate?

A great example of how Pokémon Catcher is restricting deck building is that Venusaur from Dark Rush that was recently revealed to us. Its Power is essentially the same as good old Pidgeot, allowing you to search out a Pokémon every turn. This could’ve opened the door to quite a few elaborate Stage 2 combos. But because the whole line is so prone to being Pokémon Catchered (Bulbasaur and Ivysaur get KO’d, and Venusaur has a four Retreat Cost and worthless attack), it will never see play. It seems like the higher ups don’t really know what the consequence will be if they print a certain card, and what effect it would have on the game. They kind of see them in a vacuum.

What can you do if you don’t want to deal with Catcher? Well, you can play a Trainer lock deck. But that means that either your deck choice is locked to playing Gothitelle (which is really just as limiting as not being able to play certain combo’s), or you have to fit in a 3-1-2 Vileplume line or something like that. It also means you can’t really play Trainers yourself, so that’s also restricting creativity a lot.

Now, I’m going to make a comparison here between Gust of Wind (which is what Catcher really is) and another card which has a somewhat sort-of-but-not-really similar effect on the playability of cards: Energy Removal. This card, too, had a huge effect on what was playable and what was not, and they actually did something against it (although perhaps not intentionally): No Removal Gym.

While this Stadium was in play, you had to discard 2 cards from your hand if you wanted to play an Energy Removal or a Super Energy Removal. It’s a perfect example of “hate by designers” where a card is specifically dedicated to nerfing another. You don’t see that too often.

They could very well do the same for Pokémon Catcher. Discard two cards from your hand in order to play a Pokémon Catcher (or Pokémon Reversal?), suddenly you could be hurting your resources a lot. Junk Arming for Pokémon Catcher now costs you four cards, plus the Junk Arm itself.

As a side note, I would totally rather have POW! Hand Extension to toy around with. It has an actual drawback (you have to be behind in prizes), but it also brings versatility to the table, since it’s effectively either Pokémon Catcher, or Tail Code.

6. Any good Stadiums at all

pokebeach.comSpeaking of No Removal Gym, what happened to Stadiums? Right now, the Stadiums we have are all situational at best. Lost World is deck-specific, Burned Tower is simply an alternative to Fisherman/Energy Retrieval, and Indigo Plateau could sometimes save your Rayquaza & Deoxys LEGEND from being KO’d, but generally you won’t see it.

Now, we do have Skyarrow Bridge coming up which is actually going to make quite an impact, but that is not enough. For 90% of the decks, this is going to be the only good Stadium, if you want any at all. Why do I want more? Because of Stadium wars. Once again, I want to refer back to the EX days and why complexity is a good thing. Instead of talking about it as if I know what I’m talking about, I’m just going to quote Adam’s comment on this one:


Back then, there was a lot more emphasis on Stadium cards, which may sound kind of trivial, but it made a HUGE difference in gameplay. There were a lot of powerful Stadiums out back then, so deck strategies would revolve almost solely upon different Stadiums. It was common for decks to dedicate 4 or 5 spots Stadiums, whether they be offensive or counter-Stadiums.

Take Battle Frontier for example. Most decks depended on Pidgeot RG for consistency, and Battle Frontier turned it off. So there would be decks that played four Battle Frontier to shut-down any Pidgeot based deck, and Pidgeot decks in turn needed to play four, sometimes five counter Stadiums so they could keep going.

Think how different decks would be right now if they had to make space for four or five Stadiums! Stadiums battles were really important and they added an extra layer of complexity to the game.

Cursed Stone and Desert Ruins were two other powerful Stadiums which would punish the really powerful decks and give less-intrinsically strong cards a chance to thrive.

A good example of such deck would be LunaRock which used Lunatone DX and Solrock DX + LM. If you look at those cards now, they seem awful, but with Cursed Stone and Desert Ruins they made for a deadly deck at the time.


7. Better Starting Pokémon

pokemon-paradijs.comBefore the HGSS-On rotation, we were very, very spoiled with starting Pokémon. The best two (Spiritomb AR and Sableye SF) are the ones that ended up constraining the game the most, though, so it’s clear to me that we shouldn’t go overboard with these. However, right now, I do believe we have the right to complain. Our best starters are Cleffa, Manaphy, and then a whole bunch of Pokémon that got a little bit of love way back when people were still experimenting that completely fell of the surface.

I’m talking about the likes of Stantler UL, Farfetch’d HS, Mantine HS, etc. The only other real starter Pokémon that deserves some praise is Relicanth CL, but he’s clearly only proven to be worth it in decks that profit from having cards in the Lost Zone (namely, those with Mew Prime and/or Lucario CL).

What I’d like from a starter Pokémon is something like Sableye’s “Impersonate” (and without the other, rather broken aspects). It makes for an immense consistency boost, allows you to run a lower amount of Supporters you want to draw into (e.g. Pokémon Collector), and it could even do emergency cameos during a game after the initial set-up phase where it Impersonates for just that card you need to use.

However, the rerelease of Impersonate might also bring more imbalance to games where one player starts with Sableye (or his equivalent) while the other doesn’t, especially if the other starts without a Supporter. Something like a “You can’t use this attack if you played a Supporter during your turn,” drawback wouldn’t be too bad, as it stops you from gaining a massive card advantage – it just makes the Pokémon serve as a way to use your Supporter.

But I would also be fine with something around the levels of Chatot MD. It might not seem all that much better than Cleffa and Manaphy, but the lack of an Energy cost while still having reasonable HP, the ability to copy an enormous hand that’s been filled with straight draw, and the possibility of a Chatter lock really make it all that more functional.

The main issue with Chatot MD is that it’s not always going to get you a large enough hand, and that it still randomizes. But I also think that asking for a really good straight draw or search starter is simply unrealistic. Just give me something that doesn’t get 1HKO’d by Linear Attack or Mischievous Punch and I’ll be happy.

8. Better recovery cards

pokebeach.comNow, this one we can start off with a positive note. We have Super Rod coming in from Noble Victories, and that’s a huge relief. In the HGSS-EP metagame, we are still stuck with subpar options. Flower Shop Lady takes up your Supporter for the turn, and also mandates that you put as much back into your deck as possible.

If you have enough attackers but you ran out of Energy, or vice versa, you’d really rather have the option to shuffle back one kind of card and leave the other in the discard so you have a better shot at drawing what you need. Palmer’s Contribution allowed us to do this, Night Maintenance allowed us to do this, and Super Rod will allow us to do this.

But I would still like a better option to get things from the discard back to the hand. Energy- and even Trainer-wise, we are good. In fact, we are more than good – Junk Arm changes the way we build decks (mostly because of Pokémon Catcher, but it also because it makes 1-of Trainers good), and we are very rich on options to restore Energy. But a replacement for Pokémon Rescue or Time-Space Distortion? We have Rescue Energy, which is nice, but that only works if you attach it before you die.

Nonetheless, this is the part I can complain the least about. We really needed Super Rod, and we’re going to get it. Huge thanks to whoever decided that! (You are probably Japanese though so that might mean you can’t read this.)

9. Better bench-sitting engines

pokemon-paradijs.comRight now, decks are pretty much clinging onto the few engine-like Pokémon we have. Ninetales, Sunflora, Magnezone, and the very occasional Noctowl. When people consider dropping these for draw Supporters, or even a $100 Worlds promo Stadium that might benefit their opponent, you know we are desperate.

Does this mean that I want Claydol back? I don’t know. I like the effect Claydol has on the game, since that he makes pretty much every deck consistent, but I know not everyone shares this opinion. Some think he makes the game too fast, and I can definitely accept that. Uxie is much of the same story, except he tends to open the door to donk decks making a return, and I definitely do not want to see that.

I do think we could do a lot better than what we have now. But this is also one of those changes that would (theoretically) have to be tried separately from the others. It is perfectly possible that, for example, a huge nerf of Pokémon Catcher would cause the draw engines we have right now to be more popular. Or that an improvement of search and draw Supporters would do the trick.

But what I like about the more universal engines like Claydol, Pidgeot, and even Uxie is that they put decks on a more equal footing, and they provide consistency throughout the game. Of those eight to 10 draw Supporters, you won’t use all of them every game, but since each one can only be used once and you need to have them in your hand to use them, you have a lot of them in your decks. A card like Claydol can be put down, and as long as he isn’t removed, you get the benefit of him whenever you want.

The deck space you save can be used to outfit your deck with more consistency or more tech cards, whichever you prefer. Right now you have to dedicate so much space just to being consistent.

10. Less power creep

pokebeach.comCompare a Pokémon from earlier sets to one from later sets, and you’ll notice Pokémon start doing more damage for less Energy. It’s not completely consistent, but overall it’s caused a huge inflation of how much you can expect to do for a single unit of Energy. Around Base set, you could expect 10 damage for a single C Energy on a Basic Pokémon. For a colored Energy, you would get 20 on a good day. As Pokémon evolved, generally their attacks just costed more, but they didn’t really become more efficient.

For example, Charmander’s “Scratch” does 10 for C, Charmeleon’s “Slash” does 30 for CCC. Machop’s “Low Kick” does 20 for F, Machamp’s “Seismic Toss” does 60 for FFFC. One of the only exceptions I can think of is Wigglytuff, whose “Do The Wave” usually dealt 60 for CCC, but it was clearly designed as an attack with variable power.

They must have thought “oh, usually their bench will have about two to three Pokémon on it on average, so this seems reasonable,” and left it at that. Long story short, Evolutions back then mostly increased potential, not really Energy efficiency, and that’s why the game was dominated by the Haymakers and Wigglytuff.

The evolving Basic Pokémon have stayed roughly the same, but their Evolutions and non-evolving requirements have gone through a ridiculous power level increase. There’s the Basic Dragons that deal 120 for three Energy, of course, but I’m also talking about Donphan and Kingdra doing 60 for one Energy, Yanmega doing 70 for free if you match hand sizes, etcetera etcetera.

It’s not even just about attacking costs, but also HP. Evolving Basic Pokémon in the old days had 30-50 HP, 60 if your name was Jigglypuff and they loved your entire line. Then Stage 1s had 60-80, and Stage 2s 90-100 (and then there’s Charizard). But this has been creeping up to the point where we consider 90 HP average for a Stage 1, and 130 HP is the standard for a Stage 2.

BulbapediaNow the new Pokémon-EX are even more ridiculous. Fair’s fair they are meant to be worth two Pokémon at once (since you take 2 Prizes when you take them out). However, if an EX is so dominant that your opponent’s regular Pokémon can’t take them out without losing a whole lot of momentum, that is still a winning trade for the overpowered Pokémon-EX. It remains to be seen how they will really hold up in the American metagame, but in Japan, they seem to be all over Mewtwo EX.

The problem with power creep is that it’s very hard to eliminate from a game altogether. It goes away over time if you stop printing cards that get stronger and stronger, but this stagnates the game for a pretty long time until a rotation finally takes all the strong cards out. A mid-season rotation would take care of it pretty well, but we just had that.

This is the first of my ten pointers that I don’t really have an answer for. If someone gave me the freedom to do anything I want with the game, I’d try my first nine experiments in a heartbeat (again, not all at once), but as for this one, I’m afraid I’d have no choice and to suck it up, and at least try to keep the power level of cards roughly the same.

Closing Out

If you got this far without skipping, I honestly commend you. At this point, the article is at roughly 6700 words, and most of what has been written has been my opinion and criticism. Both were worded as constructively as they could have been, but nonetheless, that’s what this article has been. However, I’ve tried making it as interesting as possible.

On a lighter note, I do think Noble Victories brings great stuff to the table. PlayTCG has implemented the set for the most part (where’s my Hydreigon?), and I’ve encountered a great variety of decks in there. Whether that’s reflective of the metagame we are going to get remains to be seen, but right now lots of people seem to be trying their hands on the shiny new deck possibilities, and my God there are a lot of them.

From a game designer’s perspective, I think BW and EP were both rather depressing. The former introduced Reshiram and Zekrom, and the latter Pokémon Catcher. But NV is very promising, and I hope they will continue the good trend set by it.

Reader Interactions

47 replies

  1. Anonymous

    For the record.  Pokemon USA/TPCI (The Pokemon Company International) gets to decide EXACTLY which cards go into each of our English sets.  PCL (Pokemon Card Laboratories) designs the cards in Japan. 

  2. andrewgn12

    +1 for stadium, warp point, search supporter and double rainbow : Great idea, if we got rotated to BW-on format, we are doomed: no search supporter. Currently we only got useless stadium where in the past we have BTS, moonlight stadium, battle frontier, etc. Skyarrow bridge is quite useful, but not as broken as the BROKEN time space.

    I think we got less broken pokemon in this format, Last format we have even more powerful pokemon power: beedrill-1 energy 120, luxray g: drag and do 60 for 1 energy ( energy gain), gyarados : free 90, expert belt: WOW, Gengar: 1 energy 30 to 60, 2 energy = instant kill with vileplume, poke power=BROKEN.
    To be honest I  think the current pokemon is weaker than what it used to be. Stonger than the ex set but weaker than Diamond and Pearl, I havent really tested the current ex pokemon but according to my current judgement, this is what I think.

    Overall nice article +1

  3. Amanda Kovs

    I just recently got back into the card game after about 10 years, and I’m glad you mentioned something about power creeps. It was quite a surprise to come from Fossil all the way to B&W and see the major change in card power and in gameplay.

    Great article–helped me catch up to what I missed in the previous format.

  4. Jak Stewart-Armstead

    These kind of articles of interesting to read but . . . kind of futile really (as you say yourself). The format is what it is and our time is best spent trying to deal with it.

    I don’t have a problem with any suggestions except that I think there are enough Trainer Lock options to deal with Catcher. Combo decks can and do work in this format alongside all the Rush, and I don’t see anything that needs fixing.

    Also, I never want to see Scramble Energy again. Too many shenanigans with that card. If it got reprinted I might even play Lostgar.

  5. Lee

    Couldn’t agree with you more about better Supporter search/draw and Stadiums. Then, if they do come out, a reprint of Scott from EX Emerald – one of my favorite Supporters of all time. Actually I agree with the entire article. One thing you did not mention is the fact that while Pokemon is clearly reverting back to the more traditional feel of the base set (albiet with crazy power creep and EX again), they seem to have stopped using zero retreat costs. When you go back and look at the Base/Jungle/Fossil set, tons of Pokemon had zero retreat cost: flying/bird types (Pidgeot/Doduo/Beedrill), and anything considered fast (Persian/Scyther/Mankey). I do not say this to help make overpowered cards more broken (Garchomp C LV. X), but to make weaker cards more balanced and useable, not to mention more basics useable as starters, and to negate Catcher slightly.

    • Mekkah  → Lee

      I agree that Scott would be a great card to have, even if we didn’t have good Stadiums. Cards that search other cards are almost always a good thing to have in my opinion. Using 4 Scott and a bunch of 1-of Supporters would slow down your deck quite a bit, but it’d also make you more sturdy against Trainer lock and hand disruption, while still allowing you to search what you need.

      And yeah, lack of free retreat is a huge pain, especially in combination with the real flaws the game has, since it forces you to waste an Energy drop to retreat to Cleffa and refresh your hand. Right now we have Sneasel, Manaphy, Mew and…the Babies for free retreat. 

      Even more shocking is that it’s not even getting better: it’s getting worse. Sometimes there’s even evolving Basics showing up with 2 retreat: look at the Slowpoke we have, or the Growlithe from the Reshiram/Zekrom EX decks from Japan. Having bad Basic forms does a great job of making certain evolved Pokemon that would otherwise be viable be horribly nerfed. For example, if I want to play Weavile/Ambipom, I might want to rearrange their topdecks with Slowking…but for that I have to ruin my starter consistency by putting in two 2 retreat cost Slowpoke.

  6. Julian Chen

    Wow, I talked about all of this to my friends in response to why I’ve become to inactive in Pokemon TCG a couple months ago (exact same TSS lines, power creep, lack of creativity) and now this article comes up. Thumbs up for a well-articulated and detailed post explaining a lot of the concerns over the current (crappy to mediocre) game format.

  7. Mike v

    i feel  like they should rotate certain sets in and out almost like the thing japan was thinking it of doing and it will also help sell older packs

  8. Dan W

    “Right now you have to dedicate so much space just to being consistent.”
    So true. I run 10 draw supporters and 2 PokéGear and I sometimes find myself drawing into horribly bad hands.

  9. Pokémon 31337

    I couldn’t agree more with point 10…The first time I saw Donphan’s Earthquake doing so much for such a small price, I was shocked.
    From what I saw from Noble Victories and so on the upcoming sets, I think that basics are getting stronger, with cards like eviolite, Druddigon and prism energy. For me it’s likely that evolutions will lose a bit of popularity.

  10. DTF

    Feels like I read an encyclopedia, but excellent points across the board. BBP like Zekrom and Reshram, and Trainers like Pokemon Catcher, are total bs to me. My favorite strategy is bench-piling (illegal Sneasel back in the day, combo like Cinccino/Pichu/Ditto cards today)

  11. x

    Without catcher many of the bench sitter decks you’ll be seeing when the EX format comes along will be broken. Most of your complaints will be fixed when new cards come out, however the power creep point I do agree with. I doubt PCL does much research into the metagame, if they did they can simply create cards which counter popular decks or create cards which give tier 2/3 decks a boost. Instead they’d rather create a new super awesome card which blows everything else out of the water and becomes the new standard.

    • Mekkah  → x

      I’m curious what Pokemon you are expecting to be broken. Musharna and Venusaur don’t look broken to me, even if you couldn’t Catcher them (in fact, I expect the former to be used in Vileplume and Gothitelle decks). Maybe they could make a broken EX supporting Pokemon or something. There was Delcatty EX back in the day, after all (not saying that was broken btw).

  12. Vinay Patel

    At least this format doesn’t have the whole revolving around a few decks thing going on. Play an underplayed deck today, like T-tar of Blastzel, you probably won’t win much, but you can get away with a decent record and without your deck being totally outclassed. In MD on however…

    “I have a really cool deck! It’s really quick and powerful!”
    Oh yeah? Gyarados is going to be quicker, more reliable and just as, if not more powerful.
    “If I can just set up-”
    Luxray and Garchomp will kill you first.
    “I can just use this Trainer-”
    Vilegar and Dialga G will lock them.
    “Or this power-”
    Power Spray, Mesprit and Gengar SF say Hi.
    “Or this Body-”
    Dialga G Lv.X will lock it.
    “But if I go first…”

    And so it goes on. This format is a bit kinder towards uncommon decks, I feel.

    • Mekkah  → Vinay

      I definitely think this format revolves around a few decks as well (most notably Reshiram and Zekrom), but there is a tad more rogue potential. However, I also think most of these rogues revolve around roughly the same cards, just in different combinations.

      But yes, I do agree the way the popular MD on decks locked out some mechanics completely was bad. 

      • Andrew Valren  → Mekkah

        I love how you say that this is more friendly to the rogue when in all reality, it really isn’t. unless you can find a way to pull of another crazy @$$ toolbox deck like the truth at worlds, even the best rogues don’t stand a chance against the big 3 and the other tier 1.5-2 decks. sure there’s no sp engine (was pokemon TRYING to break the format with that?) but every deck is still virtually identical down to the first 20-30 cards you put in your deck. 

        Also, is a fast format necessarily a bad thing? Last couple of formats allowed you to have complete control over your deck which ultimately made the better player with the better deck the winner. i would have to agree that MD on kinda sucked but maybe if Pokemon international had let the rotation be RR on, the format would be much better. No more sp engine, no uxie, no donks, but we would still have bebe’s, palmers, and the other good supporters/trainers that are currently slipping my mind. Just a thought.

        But ya, great article. 

  13. Anonymous

    Pokemon International should read every last word on this article, from beginning to end. Stadium cards need a comeback, No Drag Stadium should be released (negates Catcher & Reversal), Candy should be un-nerfed, and Bebe’s Search should be legal. And I end this with one sentence (that is not to be taken creepily :P): Mekkah, I love you. 

    • Mekkah  → Anonymous

      I propose this No Drag Stadium be called Safari Zone, ’cause you’re not allowed to use anything to catch Pokemon there other than the terrible Safari Balls they give you.

    • theo Seeds  → Anonymous

      If candy is un-nerfed than we can donk with Cinccino, Donphan, Yanmega, possibly Zoroark, Kingdra Prime, and some other stuff I’m forgetting.

        • theo Seeds  → Caleb

          Because Rare Candy Kingdra for 70 is cheaper than ZPST for 80 or 120 and has better late-game.

        • Caleb Cline  → theo

          Not really, I mean when you look at the basics like zekrom and reshiram I have a hard time seeing how candy getting a boost would be bad. Just not on the first turn and not on stage 1’s. That limits it to its purpose, but without having to deal with the constant catcher. To note on kingdra it also has the whole fire thing going for it which ruins it. first turn tornadus is pretty much unstoppable.

      • Anonymous  → theo

        whoops, i forgot about that nerf; i meant just the “can’t use one first turn or when you first bench a pokemon” nerf :P

  14. Anonymous

    thats the thing i found kinda stupid about pokemon. everycard card ahad all basics, or all trainers, or all poke powers, or all of a certain card. yugioh rarely groups all of these cards together. that way thing certain cards could get boosts but not others that fall in the same category.(like eviolite helping durant etc. but not dragons) im not sure the power creep is that bad. it just means they need to stop making 30HP pokemon and make them 50HP. its like math. its fine to do something to one side, as long as you do it to the other. so its unfair to make 30HP pokemon. when a norm is 60 for 1 energy.(or 40 for none in case of yanmega).

  15. theo Seeds

    Honestly, I can’t even think of a world where you only could do 10-20 Turn 1 with the pokemon world we have today. Right now we have a T1 120, a T2 60, 70, 80, 100, 100, 120, and Most powerful opponent’s attack. But the EX’s need to be worth 3 prize cards. They’re too much.

    We do need some sort of bench-sitting draw (not including Magnezone and Noctowl) but Claydol back would be too much. I think that the upcoming Musharna (With a Trade-Off like ability) should be enough. The only problem is that it’s Catcher bait. With a 3 retreat cost and no good attack, that’s the problem. To run this you’d probably need to tech in a 1-1 Dodrio or something to reduce Retreat cost.

    Better recovery cards are Super Rod, in my opinion. But it would be cool to have Palmer’s back.

    Better starters are necessary, I think Cleffa isn’t enough. Smeargle is useful in my opinion, but more would be awesome. I don’t picture Sableye coming back (but if it does, a reprint of Gyarados SF and BTS is in order haymaker PL style lol) but a card that allowed you to play 2 supporters as long as it was active would be in my opinion enough.

    Any good stadiums. I believe that’s in order. We need a card that, IDK, acts as a Spray Splash for both players or acts as Serperior for both players or something. It’s not my imagination that’s necessary.

    Anti-Catcher would be interesting, I don’t think it’s completely necessary but it would help Musharna out.

    Supporter based draw is nice, but I think what we need is Trainer-based draw now.

    The other 3 I honestly can’t argue with.

  16. pokejav

    Great, thoughtful article! Thank you.
    One idea that I think would be bring us pizzazz and energy is to have a competitive format that allows players to build a deck using any card from previous sets. I think Esa’s article about the Japanese metagame mentioned that they have such a format in Japan. That could lead to great possibilities for creating decks. I also think Magic the Gathering has such a format as well. 
    I also think, As J-Wittz has suggested, there should be some type of “Pokemon Player Advisory Council” that represents us in communicating our wishes to Pokemon Company. Our opinions, and yours, should be serioulsly considered.

  17. Marcus Lim

    Very good ideas but if we want to be realistic about things, even if Pokémon International would like to take any of the above into account to balance the game, the real question is can they?

    The most they can do is limit the number of cards being introduced in each expansion – I don’t think they can create new cards with the desired balanced suggested in this article. New cards will always be the property of Pokémon Japan and they might have other concerns for the game. You might want to get someone to read this over there, maybe even have it translated!

    Perhaps Pokémon International can introduce new rules to the same effect. Will be more troublesome because these will have to be learned by all players but it’s possible.

  18. Will E

    Great article! I agree with virtually all of your sentiments.

    It would be great if they gave Catcher an errata that contained the Luxury Ball drawback.

    As for suggestion 10, it would be interesting if they eventually started to release some sets that were Base Set power. Then, after that year’s Worlds, they ban all of the sets that came out before the “restart” set. If they did that, then I wouldn’t mind the power creep.

  19. Jason Windham

    FYI….Kingdra was the first stage of power creep……   So did Uxie.

    Claydol just makes decks more consistant,   Its just Uxie is too powerful, so did Kingdra and Rare candy in the first place

  20. Joshua Hall

    You hit the nail on the head with this article.  All of those past cards you mentioned: stadiums, DRE, Scramble Energy, Warps, multi-varied starters, etc. made the game much more complex, much more skill-based decklist-building-wise, and much more fun.  This is the first year in about 10 years where I probably won’t be able to play competitively, and honestly, I’m not missing much.

    They’re inching towards adding that complexity again with Ex’s and Night Maintenance, but every year it seems one large step back, one tiny step forward.  Maybe if they finally change the rule back to no trainers on the first turn, I’ll start believing the game is on the road to turning around.  

    The game’s player base has grown so much, but the game itself is losing everything that made it a joy to play.

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