Hello everyone, Mathias here with another article. I’ve been quite busy so it’s been a while since I wrote last, but there is something I really wish to talk about: the current state of the Pokémon TCG. It’s an important topic which has not been receiving too much attention recently and I wish to shine a spotlight at it.
In this article, I will carefully take dissect the four metagames we have had this year and explain what I felt was good and bad about them. After that, I will give some examples from older formats to drive home some of my points. Let’s dive in, shall we?
The BLW–DRX Format
Our current metagame started in August last year with the new dragons. I was actually quite excited, since it was my second year since I came back into the game and started playing seriously, but I was very disappointed. My issue with this format was how boring it was.
There were three good archetypes: RayEels, Speed Darkrai/Terrakion, and Darkrai/Hydreigon. You can make arguments for Garbodor, Ho-Oh, Mewtwo/Eels, and Empoleon, but I never felt those decks were threats. RayEels was in my opinion the absolute best deck of that format, and with one Tool Scrapper and one Zekrom, I had every matchup covered.
When it comes to the skill part I guess it was about average. Because of the starter rule, way too many games went down to whoever started, but with a lot of counter cards like Terrakion and the Dragon Weakness, it was sometimes favorable to go second. I remember a match at a Battle Road where my opponent went first and put down too many of his Rayquaza EXs and I could play around that and win even though I went second.
I guess the format was ok, but way too boring (for me at least).
The BLW–BCR Format
This was, in my opinion, the best format this year. It was incredible how much variation we had with Darkrai variants, Eels variants, Ho-Oh, Garbodor, Big Basics, and so much more. The fun thing was that everything was viable and could win as long as you made the right moves. It was fun to come to league and see what people were playing.
Tournaments became hectic and tricky when there were so many decks you could face. I played a total of seven tournaments in this format and I also played seven different decks. I might be a bit biased though since this was the format where I grinded like 380 Points.
When it comes to the issue of skill I feel it was a bit here and there. The games themselves came way too often down to whoever started, whether you drew a Supporter or what your opponent got on an N, and these were frustrating to say the least.
More than that, the skill lied in deck building, deck choice, and deck knowledge. The one who won tournaments was perhaps not the best player, but the one who had put the most thought about what to play before the event. I think Boundaries Crossed was pretty good, but some flaws here and there could make it annoying from time to time.
The BLW–PLS Format
For those of you who read my 2013 qualifier interview you may have noticed I was rather harsh on the Plasma Storm format. In retrospect, I was not harsh enough. What kind of decks were played? Let me list them for you guys:
- Blastoise (A bit too easy to play compared to how good it is.)
- Klinklang (This format’s Durant.)
- Darkrai variants (The same deck has existed for like four formats making it boring.)
- Big Basics (A deck based around donking.)
- Eelektrik variants (Which get donked like 4/10 games.)
These decks are either boring, luck based, or way too easy to play. I might be stepping on a couple of toes when I voice this kind of opinion, but I believe that most of my games during this format were based around who drew the best cards or won the most coin flips.
Most people are going to blame Hypnotoxic Laser/Virbank City Gym for this, but I blame the combination of all the stupid overpowered cards. Catcher, LaserBank, and EXs create this dumb mess, nothing good of which has come out of. Catcher was a necessary card when it came out and it would have been fine in this format if the EXs and Lasers were not here. In conclusion, this format was garbage.
The BLW–PLF Format
So how is the metagame of today? Kind of mediocre in my opinion. Looking at the decks alone, we have really only two new ones in the form of Plasma and Gothilock, but all of the other ones are almost exactly like they were before. I was bored with Plasma after having tested if for a month and Gothilock, while interesting, is a deck that invites stupid repetitive routines. You do the exact same thing every game round after round which is just so tedious.
I have done a lot of testing before Worlds and nothing besides the Tier 1 powerhouses work. Don’t believe me? Here is a list of all the decks I have tested:
- Garbodor/Big Basics
- Cherrim Healing
- Quad Snorlax
- Eelektrik Toolbox
- Ho-Oh variants
- Darkrai/Absol/Colress Machine
- Darkrai/Colress Machine/Plasma Badge
- Big Basics/Deoxys/Plasma Badge
- Zoroark BLW/Big Basics
- Other Plasma Badge variants
Skill-wise I feel this format about the same as BLW–DRX. Way too many games come down to donks or whoever starts, and Blastoise is just as luck-based as before. Gothilock is perhaps the deck everyone deems as the hardest to play, but after a lot of testing it’s actually quite easy since you basically have a checklist of things to do and it’s just about whether you can get the double Gothita T1, which allows the T2 Gothitelle.
As you might see, this is quite a lot of testing and nothing works particularly well. Some of the decks are actually quite ok, but that is all. Because of this I have more or less concluded that there are very few rogue options for this year’s Worlds and that the boring and repetitive Tier 1 decks are the best options.
The only really skill-based matchup, in my opinion, is the Plasma mirror, since depending on what you play and what your opponent plays games can be very different and fun.
In conclusion, I feel this format is the most boring one so far. There are not enough viable rogues or cool tech cards to make the format fun. Because of this, I believe that this year’s World Champion will not necessarily be the best player, rather the winner will be the one with the best built deck for the field.
The Good Ol’ Days
Many remember old formats as the best things ever, and while that may be an overstatement they were much better than anything we have had this year. Recently, my friends and I have been playing a lot of old formats and it’s incredible how much more thinking and planning is involved. It would take a lot of time going through formats like I did earlier, so I will instead give some examples here.
Most of these examples will come from the respective year’s World Championship since that’s for the most part what my friends and I have been playing.
In the 2005 Worlds format, the two main draw Supporters were Copycat and Stevens. Both of these cards depend on your opponent’s field whether it be Pokémon or hand size. Poor matchups could therefore be improved by keeping a toll on their draw options.
Editor’s Note: I don’t think that last statement was true.
In the 2006 Worlds format we had a lock deck that required a lot technical ability skill to play. In order for Jason Klaczynski to win Worlds that year some luck was of course required, but without skill you would lose every game.
Prize management was so important with cards like Rocket’s Admin. and Pow! Hand Extension. Every action had many consequences that would develop through turn after turn, resulting in the need for skillful and difficult plays.
In 2007 there was a lot of variation in decks, from the tricky Legendary Ascent to the easy Swift Empoleon. It was a format with so many different solid Pokémon like different Eevee-lutions, Lunatone/Solrock combo, Absol ex, and many other fun and tricky cards. It was a lot of fun playing this format because of the variation and freshness.
2008 was kind of though because of Gardevoir/Gallade‘s dominance, but there are two major points people rarely bring up. The first one is that there were plenty of rivaling decks to GG like Empoleon, Magmortar SW/Togekiss GE, and Blissey, and the second one is that the GG mirror matchup is one of the most difficult mirrors in the history of the Pokémon TCG. I did get Top 4 at Norwegian Nationals this year with Magmortar/Togekiss, meeting around 4 Gardevoir decks Day 1 alone so it was never impossible to beat it.
Both 2009 and 2010 introduced Pokémon-SP and one of our most skillful formats ever. It’s a format almost without draw Supporters since using Cyrus’s Conspiracy for three important cards was much more important, and Uxie could stand for the draw. The formats were also extremely fair, all decks having some way to deal with their opponent so anything could win.
I have only given five major examples from the rich history of the Pokémon TCG and there are many more. I could talk about the Medicham ex deck‘s complexity or about Ross Cawthon’s genius rogue “The Truth,” but that would probably take far too long. I just want to explain how much more skillful, variated, and fun these previous metagames have been.
The main reason why I wanted to write this article is because of previous Pokémon formats. If we take a look back we can see how much fun this game was when it was more thought out. The difficulty bred variation, complexity and, by default, fun. There are more interesting decisions, intense action, pincushion tensity, and monkey barrel fun in one SP mirror match up then there is in ten Plasma mirrors.
I am sorry if I offended anyone during this article, but I am merely saying it how I believe it is. I simply hope that next year is going to be a better one for the Pokémon TCG and that TPCi/PCL realize their mistakes and fix issues like LaserBank, Catcher, and EXs. While I’m at it, maybe I could also grow wings and fly myself to the moon.
Thanks for reading!
Mathias Lunnan Bjørnstad