Why Aren’t Evolutions Winning Yet?

pokemon.wikia.comHappy October to everyone! The leaves are changing and my Costco apples are particularly delicious. It has been a while since my last Underground article…over a month in fact. It seems my conclusion regarding the superiority of Rayquaza/Eelektrik turned out to be quite accurate. It is always nice when that happens!

Regionals has come and gone and a new format is looming over us. I ended up doing rather poorly this time around. You can read my Regionals report over on Celadon City Gym, if you’d like! Ultimately, my deck choice backfired as I played against none of the decks I had planned on facing (Eelektrik and Hydreigon variants). I expected a very monotone metagame with very few decks other than these two variants (with the exception of some Ho-Oh EX and non-Hydreigon Darkrai EX variants). When your assumptions about a metagame do not pan out, it is hard to win. Sometimes you really should just bite the bullet and play a metagame deck.

Anyway, I am here to talk about Evolutions in the metagame or lack thereof (Eelektrik really doesn’t count in my book). Only a short while ago we were very excited for the new format and the promise of Evolution based decks. I remember reading Rogan’s article last May and thinking “what a fun, diverse format…look at all those Evolution decks!” Hydreigon, Garchomp, and Empoleon were all being played and winning!

Old Rare Candy

Rare Candy has been in the format for a very long time. I have always gotten such joy from playing this card and putting a Stage 2 onto the field. There is something very exciting about Rare Candy. Unfortunately, there is not much of a place for Rare Candy in our current format. Things have largely reverted back to the past few formats where Basic Pokémon dominated the scene.

What happened to the promise of Evolutions? Why were all these decks winning in Japan and then failed to do much of anything at our Autumn Regionals? Will things change when Boundaries Crossed is released? Should we even care about playing with Stage 2 Pokémon?

My goal is to answer all these questions and then some in this article. I plan on briefly looking over the results from the five North American Regionals, analyzing the constraints that have limited the usefulness of Evolutions, and discussing what will happen to Evolutions when Boundaries Crossed is released.

The Five North American Regionals

I would like to thank Crawdaunt for collecting all this data over on PokéGym! I am very appreciative. Be sure to check out his blog – TCG with Hats. He is talking about some very interesting things over there!

I am just going to present the Top 4 results of each Regionals because information is still missing for lower placements. You should know there are some Stage 2 decks that made into the Top 32 across the country, but very, very few.

1st Place

Bulbapedia3 Rayquaza/Eelektrik
1 Darkrai EX/Sableye/Hammers
1 Mewtwo EX/Eelektrik

Top 2

4 Rayquaza/Eelektrik
2 Darkrai EX/Sableye/Hammers
1 Darkrai EX/Terrakion
1 Mewtwo EX/Eelektrik
1 Ho-Oh EX/Terrakion/Mewtwo EX/Darkrai EX/Stunfisk
1 Terrakion-EX/Mewtwo EX/Landorus/Roserade

Top 4

4 Rayquaza/Eelektrik
2 Darkrai EX/Sableye/Hammers
2 Darkrai EX/Sableye/Hammers/Terrakion
2 Darkrai EX/Hydreigon
1 Darkrai EX/Terrakion
1 Darkrai EX/Terrakion/Mewtwo EX
2 Mewtwo EX/Eelektrik
1 Ho-Oh EX/Terrakion/Mewtwo EX/Darkrai EX/Stunfisk
1 Zekrom/Eelektrik
1 Terrakion-EX/Mewtwo EX/Landorus/Roserade
1 Terrakion/Darkrai EX/Mewtwo EX/Sableye/Roserade
1 Darkrai EX/Mewtwo EX
1 Bouffalant/Mewtwo EX/Terrakion/Sigilyph

As you can see the only Evolutions that were able to make it this far were Eelektrik, Hydreigon, and Roserade. Roserade was certainly a pleasant surprise…I am all for Grass Pokémon breaking that grass ceiling (errr…glass ceiling).

pokemon-paradijs.comAt this point, I think most people would agree that Rayquaza/Eelektrik and non-Hydreigon, Darkrai EX variants are the two best decks of the current format.

If you have been following all of the UG content related to the BW-DRX format, then you should have observed the following things. When Dragons Exalted was first released, Hydreigon was everywhere. Most people assumed this was the best way to play Darkrai EX. It was considered to be the best deck in the Japanese Black and White format according to Rogan. As you can see from Andy Hahn’s last UG article, Hydreigon claimed the most Top 4 spots of all the decks played during Fall Battle Roads.

I actually wrote about Darkrai EX/Sableye/Hammers a few UG articles ago but didn’t hear any further discussion about the deck until the very end of Fall Battle Roads. Toward the end of Fall Battle Roads, people began to revisit the deck that had had some success last format. I assume people were becoming dissatisfied with all the inconsistencies associated with playing the Hydreigon variant. I will talk more about these in an upcoming section.

Garchomp was certainly one of the most hyped cards upon the release of Dragons Exalted. It had a great deal of success in Japan! It failed to do much of anything in North America, however. Crawdaunt’s thread only shows one Garchomp placement in the Top 32 of all the North American Regionals. Only one! Although Garchomp did have at least 22 placements in North American Battle Roads, I suspect this was largely due to the hype and not the actual strength of the card.

Why was there such a difference between the Japanese winning decks and the North American winning decks? Andrew Wamboldt talked quite a bit about this in his “Lost in Translation” article and I’m just going to quote him for ease of reading.

We use the Japanese metagame as a starting point for our own metagame. Where the Japanese left off is where we start. We play with the decks that the Japanese found were good and then figure out what works best out of these decks and then find new strategies and counters to combat these decks, which results in our metagame becoming more mature than the Japanese metagame.


I very much agree with Andrew – we continue the work of the Japanese and find what really works in any given format. This is ultimately why our metagame can and does vary so much from theirs.

So, before I finish up this section on Regionals, I would like to talk a bit about the surprise Evolution that made it into the Top 4 twice – Roserade. Throughout all of my testing, I never tried putting Roserade into any of my lists. I discounted its usefulness pretty heavily. I did not think playing a fragile Stage 1 for the sake of searching out any one card, one time would be a wise use of deck space. Clearly, I was wrong.

What makes Roserade so useful? I asked Martin Moreno, the player that made 2nd Place at the California Regionals with Terrakion-EX/Mewtwo EX/Landorus NVI/Roserade, this very question. Here is what he said! Roserade serves two primary functions.

  1. Late game protection against N. If you have a Roselia benched and you get N’d to a two card hand, an Ultra Ball is an immediate out to a Professor Juniper.
  2. Roserade gives a deck the ability to search for the needed Pokémon Catcher or PlusPower to clench the game.

Furthermore, Roselia was rarely ever a target on the bench because his opponents had to deal with the threats posed by Terrakion-EX and Mewtwo EX. He only ran a 1-1 line and said this was perfect because Roselia DRX 12 is an awful starter. Even if you prize one of the pieces, you will eventually draw into the missing piece and then Roserade will become immediate recovery to opposing N’s at that late stage of the game.

Finally, I asked Martin if Roserade will be as useful next format or will Skyla be a suitable replacement? Although he admits he has yet to do enough testing to be certain, he does think Roserade will be replaced by Skyla. Oh well, Roserade had her 15 minutes and maybe she will have 15 more in the future. We shall see!

Why Aren’t Evolutions Winning Yet?

BulbapediaFor the majority of my career as a Pokémon player, Evolutions have dominated the metagame. If you played Basic Pokémon, they either evolved into your attackers or they supported your Evolutions in some other way (starting Pokémon, disrupted opponent somehow, etc.). Something has drastically changed, however. If you are playing Evolutions, they are in your deck to support your Basic Pokémon. Eelektrik never attacks. Roserade never attacks. Hydreigon rarely attacks.

So what has changed? Is the answer simply that Basic Pokémon are inherently better than Evolutions? I don’t think so. If Hydreigon was a Basic, a lot more people would be playing Hydreigon. Same for Empoleon, Garchomp, Garbodor, Emboar, Serperior, Gothitelle, etc.

The primary difference between an Evolution and a Basic is that a Basic can come into play immediately without any other cards whereas an Evolution requires some time and several other cards to be played before it can come into play. Prior to the errata of Rare Candy over a year ago, the time component really was not a factor in getting an Evolution into play. You could lay down your Basic and immediately get the associated Evolution into play via Rare Candy. Now, you must wait a turn before you can do all this.

As a result of the errata, there is a higher cost associated with playing Evolutions. We have had very speedy formats as of late and that one extra turn of waiting before you can evolve has made Evolutions very hard to play. I am very certain that the primary reason Evolution based decks are not as good as Basic based decks is because of this errata in combination with the existence of Pokémon Catcher.

pokemon-paradijs.comThe release of Pokémon Catcher last year really changed the game. Now that we cannot immediately Rare Candy our Basics, the opponent is given one turn in which they can Pokémon Catcher up weak little Basic Pokémon, Knock them Out and thus prevent the Evolution from coming into play. We are now forced to play two Basic Pokémon associated with an Evolution in order to possibly get to the Stage 2 Pokémon.

Even then, if your hand is missing either a Rare Candy, the Stage 2 or a way to get the Stage 2, you might lose both of the Basic Pokémon you laid down over the course of the next two turns.

I think a lot of us players were hopeful that Stage 2’s would be more playable after the ban of Junk Arm. Now, players can only use Pokémon Catcher four times over the course of a game (unless you are playing Sableye, that sly little scavenger). Surely, it would be easier to get Stage 2’s into play and keep them in play without Junk Arm. However, this was not the case.

Whenever I tested with Darkrai EX/Hydreigon, there were always issues with Hydreigon. Generally, the prerequisite for success with this deck was to get an early Hydreigon. In addition to an early Hydreigon, you needed to get a second Hydreigon into play because the first one was surely going to get Knocked Out at some point. Without a Hydreigon in play, that deck becomes a far weaker Darkrai EX variant compared to every other one out there.

pokemon-paradijs.comAs the weeks progressed, I began to thicken my line of Hydreigon from 3/1/3 to 4/2/3 and maxed out on Rare Candy. Unfortunately, I had to cut extremely crucial cards to be able to do this. Even with these changes, getting a Hydreigon out and keeping one in play was still very, very challenging. I finally realized these issues were too problematic and decided to stop testing the deck altogether.

A lot of players are now used to the ‘laying down 2 Basics routine’ and praying they can get a Stage 2 next turn. However, things have not always been this way…nor should they be.

In addition to the problems presented by Pokémon Catcher and the Rare Candy errata, there are a couple of other hurdles facing Evolutions. The first is that there are no effective starting Pokémon, with the exception of Sableye DEX. So yes, there exists one starting Pokémon that is relatively strong. Unfortunately, only decks with Dark Energy can actually take advantage of this card. However, even with the inclusion of Sableye, Hydreigon variants still have a very hard time getting Hydreigon into play.

We do have Emolga DRX in the format right now, but Call for Family is not as useful as this type of attack used to be. We also have Virizion NVI, but drawing cards via an attack really isn’t that great due to the popularity of N. N creates lots of problems for decks that play predominately from the hand (thus why Roserade was such a good inclusion for Martin’s Terrakion-EX deck).

Furthermore, many Basic Pokémon are just so overpowered and fast right now that Stage 2 Pokémon (with all their issues) are just not worth playing. Even with the loss of Smeargle and Junk Arm, a turn 2 Night Spear is very common. How can decks- especially ones that require the use of 60 HP Basic Pokémon- come back from that?


Finally, there are quite a few cards right now that are only useable by Basic Pokémon. There is Eviolite, Skyarrow Bridge, and Prism Energy. The first two are ridiculously useful for Basic Pokémon and very popular. Without support cards like this, Stage 2’s are at an even further disadvantage.

So yes, there are a lot of problems facing Stage 2’s right now. Should we care though?

Yes, we should! Why you ask? Because it makes the game more fun, interesting and dynamic. When we are presented with a new set, like Boundaries Crossed, and we see all these new Stage 2’s, we should not have to think “oh, it’s a Stage 2…there is no way this card can be playable right now.”

When we are presented with a set, like Boundaries Crossed, we should be able to build a plethora of new decks – not just make a few modifications to existing decks. Aside from some of the Trainers, Landorus-EX is likely going to be the only Pokémon card that actually makes an impact on the format.

Although I cannot rigorously prove that extending playability to Stage 2’s would make the game more fun, I am very certain that extending playability to Stage 2’s would allow more decks to be viable in competitive play. Over the years, I have heard time and time again that players want more diverse formats. They want to enlarge the set of competitive decks.

Why do they want this? They want more competitive decks because a more diverse metagame increases their enjoyment of the game. Players like options and choices! In many social sciences, it is rightly assumed that increasing an individual’s choice set will either keep their utility (or happiness/enjoyment) at the same level or increase it.

If the card creators were to extend playability to Stage 2’s, that would likely enlarge the set of competitive decks. When there are more competitive decks on the scene, players have more fun. Thus, extending playability to Stage 2’s should cause players to have more fun while playing Pokémon.

Will Boundaries Crossed do anything to help Stage 2’s?

Probably not. Here are the new forces that will be affecting Stage 2’s when we start the Boundaries Crossed format in the next couple of weeks.

Landorus-EX will be common in many decks. He can easily Knock Out two Basic Pokémon (with 60 HP or less) on the second turn. Furthermore, he can donk Deinos on the first turn of the game. I am not sure if people will begin to play the Dragon weak Deino or not because Rayquaza DRX will still be very popular in the new format. Regardless, if Deino isn’t Knocked Out on the first turn, he will be Knocked Out on the second turn in addition to his other, benched Deino friend.

As I am sure you have noticed, I am talking about Hydreigon a lot in this article. I am doing this because Hydreigon is probably the best Stage 2 Pokémon we have available to us right now. If Hydreigon can’t make it in the format, it is likely that no other Stage 2 will be able to either. Although Hydreigon variants are likely more susceptible to Landorus-EX (due to Deino and Darkrai EX’s weakness), Landorus-EX will pose problems for all decks relying on 60 HP Basic Pokémon (I.e. all Evolution based decks).

Skyla will yield two effects associated with Stage 2’s. The first effect is the increased probability of a Pokémon Catcher on turn one or turn two. Of course this is dangerous for the benched, 60 HP Basic Pokémon that are waiting to evolve. It will be easier for Tornadus EX, Landorus-EX, Landorus-EX, etc. to Knock Out these poor, defenseless Pokémon within the first few turns of the games.

The second effect is the increased probability of getting a Rare Candy on the first or second turn. Furthermore, if you already have a Rare Candy in hand, Skyla will let you search out the Item that can search for your Stage 2. Of course this is great for the benched and terrified 60 HP Basics! This effect will certainly help them evolve faster than they would have been able to prior to the release of Skyla.

So, we have these two Skyla effects affecting Stage 2’s. Which one will dominate? Will the first effect prevent Stage 2’s from hitting the field or will the second effect increase the odds of a Stage 2 hitting the field? I am not certain…but I suspect the first effect will dominate (you can probably tell that I am rather pessimistic about the current Stage 2 situation).

– Although, not directly related to Boundaries Crossed – Fast Ticket will be legal when the Boundaries Crossed format begins. Of course it would be wonderful if all the Stage 2 decks went first in every game. Unfortunately, the decks that will have the space for Fast Ticket will be the decks that only play a few Big Basic Pokémon. I am not sure how viable these decks will be, but I am sure there will be some at the upcoming City Championship events.

The strategy for these decks will be to donk and, if that doesn’t happen, try and win within the first 6-8 turns of the game. Hit fast and hit hard! Naturally, Stage 2 decks will have lots of issues with these types of decks.

Computer Search will add a great deal of consistency to the format. We all love this! The decks that will benefit the most from Computer Search will be the ones that are able to play Sableye. Reusing Computer Search will provide even more consistency for these decks and help get Darkness Energy in the discard pile for Dark Patch.

This is great for Hydreigon variants! I worry that this will be even better for non-Hydreigon Darkrai EX variants. I am very certain that Computer Search (in combination with Skyla) will greatly increase the odds of a Turn 2 Night Spear for these non-Hydreigon variants. Not good for the 60 HP Basics.

I have noticed that less people are complaining about going second in games. I suspect that more and more people will begin the complaining again. Whoever gets to use the first Computer Search will likely be in a much stronger game position.

– The last obvious Stage 2, Boundaries Crossed influence is Ditto. Although I am a bit unsold on Ditto’s viability, Ditto will hopefully be able to improve the odds of a Stage 2 hitting the field. Ditto may be able to serve as a kind of buffer, protecting the process of evolving into a Stage 2.

Instead of having only four options for bench placements that lead to a Stage 2, you can have eight (I doubt people will play this many Ditto in a Stage 2 deck…maybe 1-2). Increasing the amount of Basic Pokémon that can evolve into a Stage 2 will increase the odds of a getting stage 2 onto the field.

Furthermore, should the actual Basic evolve into the associated Stage 2, the Ditto can Transform into a different Pokémon that would be more useful now that your Stage 2 is in play (like a Terrakion or a different supporting Pokémon).

Like I said, I do not have a lot of confidence in Ditto. I am not sure these benefits are really worth the deck space. We shall see though…I have yet to do any testing with Ditto. Ditto may be this sets Roserade!

How Can Playability Be Extended to Evolutions?

We are in a pretty big Basic filled hole right now. In order to get out of it, the card creators will have to print quite a few anti-Basic cards. If these cards aren’t released, Basic Pokémon will continue to dominate the scene. Although these Basic Pokémon may change as sets are released (they seem to like printing one really good Basic EX per set), Rare Candy will continue to stay in the binders- with all the women (tehe).

So what kind of cards or changes need to be made in order to improve Stage 2s’ presence in the metagame? Here are some options.

1. Print something like Dark Feraligatr. Dark Feraligatr had a Pokémon Power that prevented all Baby Pokémon from using Attacks and Pokémon Powers. We need a Dark Feraligatr that prevents Attacks from all Basic Pokémon.

2. Print something like Machamp Stormfront. Back when Pokémon SP dominated the scene, we had Machamp Stormfront to keep them in check. For one Fighting Energy, Take Out Knocked Out any Basic Pokémon that was being attacked. A reprint of Machamp Stormfront would definitely help us keep these Big Basic Pokémon in line.

3. We need a really good Pokémon with SafeguardSigilyph DRX sucks. They have printed some strong Safeguard Pokémon before and they can do it again! Preferably something that is not weak to Fighting, Lightning, or Dragon.

4. They could ban Pokémon Catcher. I very much doubt this will happen – Pokémon does not like banning cards. Without Pokémon Catcher, those 60 HP Basics would definitely be protected on the bench. There may be other problems in the format if Pokémon Catcher were banned, however. Eelektrik and Hydreigon might be vastly overpowered as a result. Alas, we will probably never know.

5. We could go back to the old Rare Candy ruling. Regardless of what cards they print, I think we should go back to this ruling. I am not sure what previous formats would have been like with the current ruling. I don’t think they would have been any different. Why? Because there weren’t any ridiculously overpowered Basics!

Alternatively, they could reprint Broken Time-Space. This would likely have the same effect as going back to the old ruling on Rare Candy.

6. Reprint Desert Ruins! Desert Ruins is a stadium that placed a damage counter on EX’s between turns (if they had 100 HP or more…so everything right now). I am not sure if 10 damage between turns would be enough…20 between turns would definitely do the job but perhaps ruin EX’s. I would recommed printing something like “after Player A’s turn, place 3 damage counters on all Pokémon-EX.” So essentially, 1.5 damage counters between each turn.

I sincerely believe that any of these six things would improve the game. Hopefully something will be done in the next set or so that deals with this very one sided format.


I am still pretty satisfied with this format. I believe it is a definite improvement upon last season’s Worlds and Nationals format. Although I am not as happy as I was a couple of months ago – when we were all testing crazy fun, Evolution deck – I am very happy that I am not playing with Junk Arm and Smeargle anymore.

Although Boundaries Crossed will not be as game breaking as the past few sets, it will add a great deal of consistency in the forms of Skyla and Computer Search. I am very thankful for these cards! I am definitely sick of the four Supporters we have been forced to use over the past couple of months. A new Supporter will be very refreshing!

My hopes for Stage 2’s are pretty low at the moment. For whatever reason, Basics have been heavily favored for the past couple of years and probably will continue to be for a while. It really all depends on what cards are printed. Evolutions need help and they haven’t been getting any as of late.

Anyway that is it for today. I have been wanting to talk about these ideas for a while now and I am so happy that I have finally gotten around to doing so! Please let me know what you think about our current Evolution-less predicament. As always, I look forward to hearing what you all have to say. I appreciate any feedback you have for me. Don’t forget to +1 or -1…hopefully the former!

Talk soon!


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