Let’s Do the Time Warp Again: From Humble Beginnings to Being a Better Player

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I’ll be a master… someday!

Like most people, I was not there playing the TCG competitively from the start. I was a collector and a novice player when the Pokémon TCG was introduced, but I did not get my start as a real competitive player until much later. However, I recently came upon the Pokémon TCG for Game Boy Color online, and decided to play. Thanks to this experience I can honestly say that I have gained more insight to our current format than I thought possible.

My wise philosophy professor, Steve, once said that life is like a spiral staircase, while we are always climbing higher, we are building off of our past, and there will be times when our new heights parallel our times spent on a lower level of the staircase. While I took this nugget of wisdom to heart, applying it to my daily lifestyle, I never really used this type of thought when dealing with the TCG.

Instead, I believed that we were on a linear path, moving forward without much thought for the past. However, thanks to my recent endeavors with the genesis of Pokémon, I have seen a new side of the game that we all cherish.

In this article, I will take my newfound knowledge and show you how little things have actually changed, and how using the history of the game may in fact help while searching for the next big deck. Also included are some pieces of wisdom gleamed from playing in a different time, my own personal thoughts on our current format, what is wrong with our current system, and some thought on our upcoming format NXD-on.

The Pokémon Trading Card Game: For Game Boy Color

It’s summertime, and as the immortal Will Smith once said, “and as I think back it makes me wonder how, the smell of a grill could spark up nostalgia.” And in this vein I have been revisiting my past this summer.

As I looked through some past possessions, I came across my long-broken Game Boy Color. I reminisced about my time playing various games during my childhood, but the one game that rang deepest with my inner child was the Pokémon Trading Card Game. I was so swept up by my past memories that I went to the internet to search for the game, because remember kids, everything is free on the internet if you try hard enough, and in no time I had found myself a website that hosted the game on my browser.

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Ah, the memories.

I got right down to it, playing for hours on end, starting with my Charmander and Friends deck because it was the only starter deck that came with Machop. I got lucky on a couple of booster pack pulls, and soon had a full playset of both Professor Oak and Bill. I even managed to get my hands on a couple of Computer Search and an Item Finder.

By the end of my run through the game, I had collected almost every card (alas Clefairy evaded me) and I had created more than my fair share of decks in order to combat the four Grand Master Duelists. I remembered an old issue of Nintendo Power which described the ‘archetypes’ of the time, which when combined with my own firsthand experience with the game, helped me to construct the Big Three decks of the time, along with a couple of my own favorite decks.

The Big Three: You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

Quick, who are the Big Three in our current format? It’s a pretty simple question to answer, since you all have had numerous articles stating over and over which decks you should be spending your time on. You have Blastoise the big powerhouse, Plasma, the versatile big basics deck, and Gothitelle the Item-Lock deck. As for the three big decks from the original three sets? You have Raindance Blastoise , Haymaker, and Wigglytuff/Mr. Mime.

Now obviously I am going to draw a comparison between Blastoise and Blastoise. You have two Pokémon that have identical purposes, to rain down Energy, but the comparison goes a bit deeper than that. Each deck was revered as the powerhouse deck that faced issues during set up, especially against quicker decks that focused on powerful Basic Pokémon.

Both decks also used a secondary Pokémon as the main attacker. While we currently have Keldeo and Black Kyurem, back then there was Lapras and Gyarados. The first attacker, Keldeo and Lapras in this case, are Pokémon that can attack without huge investments in Energy, and do additional damage for each futher investment, however they both share a fault, they have the same Weakness as Blastoise.

In order to combat the deck’s Weakness, both decks include yet another attacker, Black Kyurem and Gyarados. These attackers require additional set up, be it evolving or grabbing a L Energy, but for that additional setup there is an increase in attack power, be it the whopping 50 damage from Dragon Rage or the measly 200 damage from Black Ballista.

old vs new blastoise cardpokemon-paradijs.com
The resemblance is uncanny.

Then there are Haymaker and Plasma. Both decks revolve around a handful of powerful basic Pokémon who are trying to deal as much damage as quickly as possible. Both decks also focus on three Pokémon that are known to hit common weaknesses each of a different type. While Plasma has Thundurus, Deoxys, and Kyurem, Haymaker was comprised of Hitmonchan, Scyther, and Electabuzz. The low attack cost and high damage yield of both decks as well as the early game pressure are what lead to the decks success.

Both decks also require some form of damage amplification, either through Deoxy’s Ability or through the liberal usage of PlusPower, otherwise the deck’s strength falters during the late-game.

Finally there are Gothitelle and Wigglytuff/Mr. Mime. These two decks share much less than the other two couples, but there is a theme that threads between the two decks; if you can slow your opponent, then you can produce an attacker that more dangerous than the rest. Gothitelle aims to slow your opponent by denying them their Item cards. Mr. Mime slows your opponent by requiring at least two turns to be Knocked Out, normally much longer due to Potion and various other stall tactics.

If you do manage to slow your opponent for long enough, then you are going to be able to get your Accelgors or Wigglytuffs into play, and from there you should be able to steamroll your opponent.

But what about counter-decks? Surely there wouldn’t be any deck that operates like our current counter-based deck Darkrai/Sableye/Garbodor, right? Well that is unless you count Muk/Energy Removal decks, which are exactly the same idea, except that I would probably consider Muk/Energy Removal to be the superior deck.

For those who don’t know, Muk and Garbodor share the same Ability, with the exception that Muk doesn’t require a Tool (probably because they weren’t introduced yet) and Energy Removal and Super Energy Removal work similarly to Crushing Hammer and Enhanced Hammer except that they don’t require coin flips.

The Game In General: Coming Back Like a Boomerang

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Think of the children!

If you ask me, I’d say that Pokémon as a whole is afraid of losing its hold on the kids market, which is completely understandable; Pokémon is aging, and there will probably come a point when kids don’t want to get into the game because they would already be too far behind. If I were a seven year old I sure would be shaken by the prospect of jumping in and hunting over six hundred Pokémon, especially after missing a decade of the game’s evolution.

Thus, Pokémon made the attempt to start anew with Unova. They made themselves a whole new group of Pokémon that were not at all connected with the previous generations. They even basically copied a handful of Pokémon from the original 151 (Sawk, Throh, and the Seismitoad family are just Hitmonchan, Hitmonlee, and Poliwrath dressed up weird). Pokémon is trying to get in touch with its roots, and this revamp that came with Unova brought a similar return to basics in the TCG.

For those of you who are somewhat new to the game, there used to be a pretty awesome time when not every Pokémon had a x2 Weakness. It was awesome in two ways because your little Basic Pokémon weren’t as likely to get utterly annihilated by other Pokémon during the start of the game (well except for the whole Machamp thing, but I’m talking more specifically about weakness here) and as an added bonus you could do some serious damage to your opponent’s bigger Pokémon with your smaller Pokémon if you fell behind (I’ll hit your Machamp for 50 for one Energy with my Uxie).

But back at the start of the game, there were x2 Weaknesses, and take my word for it, they were awful. You could not even consider playing your supercool Raichu/Electrode deck lest you be donked by every Machop and Hitmonchan for miles around. In fact, most low HP Pokémon that had Fighting or Water Weaknesses were relegated to a Tier 2, if such a ludicrous thing had existed back at the time. And here we are today, x2 Weaknesses in tow, refusing to play anything with a Lightning or Fighting weakness and low HP, simply because Thundurus or Landorus would take no time to plow right through you.

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“Catcher with a longer name.”

And then there are our Trainer cards, most of which we consider to be too powerful. Despite the fact that we had Gust of Wind (Catcher with a longer name) back at the start, and it wasn’t a big deal. In fact, I dropped Gust of Wind down to a 1 or 2-of in most of my decks, since it was rare to need it more than twice in a game. This was probably because there weren’t Pokémon-EX sitting on the bench having just absorbed well over 100 damage retreating just to waste my time.

As for Hypnotoxic Laser, while there wasn’t any Trainer equivalent to the card, there were plenty of Pokémon that relied heavily on Special Conditions as their main source of damage and stalling. I can remember sitting at my computer screaming “This is my nightmare!” as I watched a Lickitung hit another heads to paralyze me, probably the eighth heads in a row. After that ruckus I went right to my deck and upped myself to four Switch and two Scoop Up.

As for the increased damage from Hypnotoxic Laser, well PlusPower was an incredibly common card to play back at the beginning, all they did was increase the strength of the card to adjust for the incredible increase in HP that has occurred over the years. Even big cards like Professor Oak, Computer Search, and Item Finder have been reprinted, with appropriate nerfs to keep the game slow, and appropriate name changes (for most) to keep taking our money.

Finally here’s a bit of trivia; which set contains more Pokémon with Powers/Abilities? Black and White or Base Set? Well the answer is Base Set, with six Pokémon-Powers over Black and White’s five Abilities. Both are dwarfed by EX: Ruby & Sapphire’s 17, which is also beaten out by Diamond & Pearl’s 22. That’s right, Powers/Abilities have been severely limited as of recently, which begs the question, why?

It seems to be another way of the TCG returning back to its roots, but it also hurts the complexity of the game. Not long ago, there were cards that existed solely to snipe Pokémon with Poké-Powers/Abilities, and they were some of the most successful cards in the game (see Gengar SF). If you printed that card nowadays I’d be surprised if it were anywhere near as successful.

Alright so the formats share a striking amount of similarities, what does that do for me? Well cool your jets random rhetorical question dude and/or dudette (congrats if you are of the female persuasion by the way, we really do need to try and expand our female demographic as TCG players), I’m getting there.

Learning from the Past: Applying Old School Concepts to New School Decks

If there is one thing that I remember about 90% of my history teachers telling me, it was that history repeats itself, and by learning from the past we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Now I have to disagree on the larger scale, since humans have been, and will be making the same mistakes forever (it’s kinda our thing) and I also believe that they were just saying that to try and add some meaning to being a high-school History teacher, but I digress. At least we can try to learn here, eh?

If these to formats are as similar as they appear, then creating a successful deck in one format, and then translating it to another format would work (in theory). As such, when creating a new deck during the base set format, I focused on four major themes when building a deck.

1. Have a Combo

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Built in synergy.

This seems almost obvious, but when I see people trying to create new decks to counter existing decks, they focus more heavily on counteracting existing decks than they do on having an agenda of their own.

One of my favorite counter-decks hails from the Gardevoir/Gallade era, Banette. Banette effectively countered GardeGallade, but there was more to the deck than just being a counter deck. The deck was consistent and explosive due to its focus on streaming multiple Banette, and continuously dealing damage, despite the probability of being Knocked Out every turn.

2. Focus on Weakness AND Resistance

A focus on weakness is obvious when considering a good counter-deck. Especially during times when a x2 Weakness can be crippling. However, an often overlooked advantage is Resistance. Resistance may not be quite as powerful these days as it was during base set (reducing damage by 30 during a time when 60+ damage was considered powerful was quite good) but there is still something to be said about weakening your opponent through nothing but your own card choices.

As an example, there was a Fighting-type master in the TCG Game, who I managed to beat heavily simply by playing a Haunter Fossil Deck. By having both Weakness and Resistance on my side, the matches were so easy that I could basically consider them an auto-win.

3. Deny Prizes

This comes along with the idea of utilizing resistance, but it is also so much more. By using walls such as Chansey, Kangaskhan, Lickitung and Mr. Mime, as well as healing cards such as Super Potion and Scoop Up, it becomes easier to set up your own strategy while also dealing unreturned damage to your opponent.

4. Don’t Avoid Good Cards Just For the Sake of Innovation

This is something that I have always been guilty of. I enjoy coming up with new and creative ideas, but I always feel weary of incorporating big name cards into my own unique deck for fear that they deck will slowly shift itself into the archtype that it most closely resembles.

For example, if a player these days were to try and make a Dark-type deck, where the focus was not on Darkrai, they would still have plenty of reasons to include Darkrai in the deck, but as each game passes, the player is going to realize that just playing a higher count of Darkrai would increase their damage output and speed, until the deck evolves into Darkrai.dec. While this may be a more new-age issue in the game, it did prohibit me from creating the best decks from Base Set, until I managed to get over myself and just play some Hitmonchan.

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The alternative damage swap.

So what deck did I come up with? Well I played a few and was thrilled with the results, but the one deck that I was the most proud of was a simple Machoke/Slowbro deck that focused on dealing a consistent 50 damage while keeping the main attacker as healthy as possible by using Slowbro and Pokémon Center.

It later adopted both Mr. Mime and Hitmonchan for early game stalling and quick damage respectively. It also used the extra space in the deck to focus on a heavy count of Energy Removal and Super Energy Removal.

While it was similar to bigger decks in the format such as Venusaur/Pokémon Center (think Hydreigon/Max Potion but bigger) and Alakazam/Chansey/Scoop Up (think The Truth + Scoop Ups) it had a much more streamlined feel that I preferred.

But how does that deck translate to something that we know? Well if I had to give you a modern-day deck that I would consider to be the most similar, I would say Klinklang, but with a couple of important changes. Our current Klinklang decks look something like this (note that this is not the best Klinklang deck that I could build with hours of playtesting and tweaking, but instead something off the top of my head):

Pokémon – 15

4 Klink DEX

2 Klang DEX

2 Klinklang PLS

2 Klinklang BLW

3 Cobalion-EX

2 Cobalion NVI

Trainers – 33

4 Professor Juniper

4 N

4 Skyla

2 Colress

 

4 Rare Candy

3 Heavy Ball/Ultra Ball

3 Max Potion

3 Switch

2 Pokémon Catcher

1 Tool Scrapper

1 Computer Search/Dowsing Machine

 

2 Tropical Beach

Energy – 12

12 M

Now the deck does have many of the key concepts that I listed above, there is a combo, liberal usage of key cards, and certainly a focus on Prize-denial, there is even a bit of Weakness and Resistance abuse to be noted as well, but there is not as much of a focus as there could be.

There are also plenty of fantastic cards that are avoided in the deck due to the overarching need to constrain the deck to a single type in order to fully gain an advantage from the combo. Below are three ways that I would consider tweaking the deck in order to help it become even more deadly in today’s metagame.

1. Terrakion NVI + Blend Energy WLFM + Heavy Catcher Line

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It’s STILL a good card.

The idea behind this move would be to greatly improve your Darkrai matchup, while also helping you to cement the Plasma matchup in your favor. If you are playing Heavy Ball in the deck, then getting out a Terrakion wouldn’t be an issue, and if you were to drop a Terrakion and energy early in the game, you can force your opponent to reconsider their early game assault on your Klink.

While Terrakion may not be safe from the attacks of Pokémon-EX, it doesn’t matter as you do not have to be using Terrakion for every game; instead it just acts as a bit of insurance. Imagine being able to drop a Terrakion, move the necessary energy to it, and then Catcher KO a benchsitting Thundurus after your opponent managed to KO your PlasmaKlang.

Even if your opponent can revenge kill your Terrakion, you still evened the Prize trade, and provided yourself with another turn to set up a new PlasmaKlang.

2. Keldeo + Float Stone (Or Darkrai and Prism Energy)

This has been in and out of Klinklang lists everywhere, and I have yet to find a definitive answer as to whether it is a good move or not. I would probably say that it is a metagame call. If you fear facing a number of Gothitelle decks (like you should be) then I would consider tossing a copy or two of Keldeo into the deck, alongside a couple of Float Stone (or Darkrai and Prism Energy).

PlasmaKlang does force opposing Gothitelle to shuffle their Accelgors into their deck instead of using Mew-EX, which means that if you can keep breaking their Special Conditions and attacking their Gothitelles, then you should be able to break the Trainer-Lock eventually. However you do run the risk of a being Catchered and giving up an easy 2 Prizes.

Again this is a tough choice for the maker of the deck to face, but it does warrant consideration what with the inordinate amounts of Gothitelle that they can expect to possibly face during the tournament.

3. Enhanced Hammer and Tool Scrapper

While Tool Scrapper should probably be no more than a 1 or possibly 2-of in the deck, it isn’t incredibly important. While you would expect a fear of Garbodor to be common for this deck, I’ve found that most decks that play Garbodor don’t have the power behind them to truly cause a threat to this deck, although I would never advocate the removal of Tool Scrapper from the list entirely.

However, Enhanced Hammer is a different way to look at this deck. I’ve found that while Cobalion-EX can be effective in slowing a Plasma deck, it is ultimately ineffective, as Thundurus EX just uses the lost Energy to help charge the bench. Plasma doesn’t so much fear the loss of a single Special Energy card as it does fear the loss of multiple Special Energy cards, which is why Sableye + 2 Enhanced Hammers can easily stall this deck out of its Energy cards.

If you can force your opponent to keep searching out Special Energy for Thundurus, while also preventing any set up on the bench, then you can use the extra time gained to set up multiple Klinklang and win the match easily.

Playing in the Past: Why You Should Consider Playing in an Older Format

My time spent playing in an older format made me a better player; there I said it. When you play in a format with different Trainer cards, different rules, and severely lowered damage caps, it creates a different environment that helps to strengthen different skills. If your only skills are derived from time spent in the current format, then you are the equivalent of a body builder who doesn’t like working their legs.

Sure you may be a top contender for the bench press, but as soon as the format changes and you need to deadlift something, you are going to be behind everyone else. Here are some of the skills that I recently did some reps with while playing in an older format.

1. Resource Control

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Must… not… deck… self…

This is the most important skill that I developed. While I had plenty of practice with resource control from this format and Professor Juniper, there is nothing like the sheer draw power from Bill and Professor Oak. With Professor Oak, Computer Search, and Item Finder, it is completely possible to deck yourself out in a turn.

With this draw power at my disposal I found myself running through twenty or so cards in a turn just to grab a couple of PlusPowers for a KO. After a while I found myself coming dangerously close to decking myself if I faced any deck that could stall me.

In order to remedy this issue, I grew some patience and started to slow down my gameplay. One of my biggest issues as a player is that I get tunnel vision, and am willing to sacrifice useful late game cards in order to apply early game pressure. After my time playing in the past, I have found that I have better control over myself, and I take fewer risks, whether or not that has influenced my win-loss ratio has yet to be determined.

2. Game Pacing

A decent chunk of what I have been talking about in this article relates to slowing down your opponent. If a game is going at full throttle, then luck plays a much larger factor than it should. If both you and your opponent are trying to knock each other out within the first two turns of the game, then you are going to see a lot more games decided by a good draw of off Juniper than you should.

Instead of always going for the fastest Knock Out with my Machops and Hitmonchans, I found that sometimes taking a few turns to set up with Kangaskhan, or taking the time to stall your opponent with Mr. Mime or Lickitung was the better play. If I attacked as early as possible, then I forced my opponent to react, which simply put us into a battle or resources, not a battle of strategy.

This is exactly what we have going on today. By rushing your opponent you are simply putting your luck and Trainer cards up against theirs, which results in the ‘coin flip’ based format that you have all been complaining about for what seems like years.

3. Sometimes Simple is the Answer

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Nice and simple.

There is something to be said about the simple answer. Nowadays people try to fix their matchups by trying to make their deck perform quicker and more efficiently. That is not always going to work, because your deck is not always going to run the way you want it to (unless you are “good” at “shuffling your deck”). Instead of filling your deck with more consistency cards to fix a matchup, why don’t you try just adding counter cards to fix the matchup?

I was having trouble against a deck that kept confusing my active Pokémon (for those of you who don’t know, Confusion used to be the worst Special Condition ever – you even had to flip to retreat), so what did I do? I added Switch. It was that simple. Or I was having trouble against a Wigglytuff deck, so I tossed some Energy Removal in there, because Wigglytuff isn’t anywhere near as good without their Double Colorless Energy.

4. Free Retreating is Awesome!

This isn’t really big news for me or anyone else, but free retreating is awesome, because it turns a Switch into so much more, and it gives you the ability to absorb some damage without having to waste Energy on the retreat. However as I played in a format with some of the most annoying cards in the world (over half of the Basic Pokémon that evolved had to have had attacks that were there to stall me) I realized that free retreat is a tool that I needed to use more in my modern day decks.

So I decided that I’d toss a Basic Pokémon with free Retreat Cost into my TDK deck. To my horror I found that my options were Emolga DRX, Dunsparce BCR, Tynamo NVI 39, and Zubat PLS 53. That’s right, apparently Pokémon decided that we don’t get to have Basic Pokémon with free retreat anymore, and if we do get any they can be Knocked Out instantly by a Thundurus or a Landorus.

We are now stuck in one of the most ridiculous times in TCG history for Retreat Costs. They can sincerely print 30 HP Pokémon nowadays without a free Retreat Costs, something that was an anomaly during the original three sets (only Magikarp, Porygon, and Kabuto had both 30 HP and a Retreat Cost out of the 13 Pokémon that had 30 HP) They even printed a Dodrio (probably the premier Pokémon for free retreating) with a Retreat Cost of one.

I have now started playing a Skyarrow Bridge in my TDK deck, as it helps to maximize the power of Switch without having to rely on Float Stone which can be either Knocked Out or Tool Scrapper’d. It also frees up space on my bench that used to be taken up by Keldeo. Not to mention the possibilities that it has as a counter-Stadium.

What My Travels in Time Have Taught Me: Where Pokémon Is Going Wrong

Now I have had to hold myself back throughout this article on multiple occasions. I found myself being distracted and going off on a tangent. Instead of creating a rambling article that would be broken up by my own thoughts on the game, I went and pooled all of my opinions into this section. If you don’t want to read it, then don’t. Also if you find that you generally have a strong need to argue useless facts and/or ideas in the comments section then don’t read this.

I write for a lot of different websites (generally not Pokémon related) and I’ve found that people like to feel heard by throwing a temper tantrum in the comments section. Now I do have the naughty habit of reading the comments section for my own work, but I do have the restraint as to not respond to uselessly negative commenters, purely because I am a better person than they are. Now here we go…

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They’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of the franchise thus far.

As I made a point of mentioning before, Pokémon is trying to reinvent themselves. While I would normally be opposed to such an idea, I took the time to put myself in their shoes. They need to have a consistent stream of revenue, in fact they need to have an increasing stream of revenue, because they are putting time and effort into development and production.

I would say that you could break Pokémon into three different sectors. You have the video-game sector, the anime and novelty sector, and then you have the TCG sector. Now all three are linked, which means that if one aspect of Pokémon falters, then the other aspects will suffer as well. Now Pokémon is going to be proactive in regard to the protection of their assets, which means that Pokémon is going to make changes to the game before they start losing money, if they feel that they are going to lose money.

I believe that it is obvious that Pokémon is making changes all-around. Unova is a completely new continent, with completely new Pokémon, which represents a break from the past four generations that were based off of areas in Japan and were all linked through the shared Pokémon in the regions. Now that we have X&Y being introduced and their French theme, it becomes more apparent that Pokémon is trying to expand its market in a more global fashion, while also creating a new base platform to appeal to a new generation of kids. Unova was Pokémon’s attempt at creating a new “Generation One.”

But why are they making these changes? As I said Pokémon is going to be proactive, which means that they foresaw a loss of participation from their current crowd. But what did they see? They saw us growing up. I am part of Pokémon’s original demographic. I was a child when the original 151 were released, and I was instantly drawn in. Now I am going to be graduating college shortly, and with that Pokémon can say goodbye to my disposable income, for years. And the remainder of my age group is going to be doing the exact same thing, moving on.

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Ash may still be 10 years old, but we’re not.

Pokémon is going to be losing their original fanbase shortly. I don’t even own a 3DS or many physical Pokémon cards anymore, but once I have to move on to law school, start paying student loans, get married, and start having kids, I won’t even have the time to regret how little I support Pokémon anymore. After that, the next dime that Pokémon is getting from me is for my child’s toys, but that will be years from now, and the chances that Pokémon will still be around are not as good as I wish they were.

So Pokémon is trying to build a new crowd. But how does that affect the TCG? Well like I said, all of the sectors of Pokémon are linked. Now the video-games are always going to be successful, as they will have the continued support of both the older players and the newer players, and the anime and novelty sector is relatively cheap to produce, and thus regularly profitable.

However, the TCG does not have the same kind of stability as the other two sectors. The TCG requires continued support unlike video-games which are one-time purchases, or the anime and novelty products, which are subsidized by advertisements and other corporate tie-ins (Pokémon isn’t making your Pokémon bedsheets, they are just selling their rights to another production company). As such the TCG needs to be designed to be as profitable as possible, otherwise everyone suffers.

So how does Pokémon make the TCG profitable? By making you need to buy each new expansion. There is only one way to make a set necessary, and that is by printing new cards that are required if you want to win. Thus we have the explanation for our obvious power-creep, and why you find cards designed to counter current archetypes.

But this current system isn’t perfect, which is why you can find cards like Gardevoir SW/Gallade SW or Eelektrik NVI which stick around for what seems like forever. When preexisting cards overshadow new cards, then that hurts the profit margin for the set. That is why Pokémon has decided to create the EX era strategy of card design, which only produces five or so truly competitive cards per set, thus keeping the number of powerful past cards low, which means that it becomes easier to ensure that no past card or cards will overshadow any newly designed cards.

What else has Pokémon done to the TCG to make it profitable? Well the EXs in general are a fairly transparent grab at our money, and especially the children’s money. Kids like legendary Pokémon, which means that they are going to be more prone to playing a deck filled with their favorite legendaries than a deck that is filled with more obscure Pokémon.

Also, the EXs are mindnumbingly simple cards compared to some of the cards that we have seen in the past. By keeping the EXs as simple-to-play legendary Pokémon, the game has become much easier to get a little kid to play. The EXs are also unlike their predecessors the LV.X Pokémon in that they can be played in multiples, which makes them that much more of a pain in the wallet.

The EXs are also Super Rare cards, and thus their pull rates have been decreased to show that, thus forcing even further investment in the set of cards in order to get what you need. In fact Pokémon has phased out a large portion of regular rare attackers in order to further incentivize people into playing the EXs.

virizion-ex-plasma-blast-plb-9
HTL is too powerful? Not anymore!

So it seems that Pokémon is making our choices for us. They design decks such as Blastoise/Keldeo or Genesect/Virizion in order to make us buy their sets, and they are just filling the remainder of their sets with garbage or other necessary cards for building a deck like Hypnotoxic Laser or Catcher. Then we go and buy these premade decks, play them for a while, and then by the next set there is a new premade deck for us to go and buy.

These premade decks are one of the biggest reasons why you hear people complaining about the lack of variation in decklists these days. In my opinion there are two main causes for our lack of diversity.

The first is that Pokémon doesn’t want diversity anymore; they want a predictable game, so they created a predictable game and now they can get away with just increasing power and creating a new card that hits the old card for weakness. The second cause is the amount of work that people have put into aggregating all of the information that there is to find about Pokémon and creating a system that rewards those who divulge their own personal ideas in order to ‘better the game.’

Sites and people that encourage winners of tournaments to reveal their decklists or post their own decklists when describing their tournament results are hurting the game. And those people who are working to create a ‘perfect decklist’ just so that they can post it and attach their name to it are just as much of a problem. This game has become so intertwined with personal glory that it has become a poison.

But the game wasn’t always so damaged. I can personally remember the last time I was truly happy with the game Diamond and Pearl: Stormfront. Stormfront was one of the most overall playable sets I’ve ever seen. It gave birth to Gengar, Machamp, Gyarados, Dusknoir, Scizor and Regigigas. It also gave enough support for decks such as Magnezone, Magmortar, Raichu, Torterra, Salamence, Tangrowth, and Abomasnow to become playable at one point or another during the sets tenure.

You know what is really cool about all of those decks? Only one of them is a Basic Pokémon centered deck, and that same deck is the only deck that focuses on a legendary Pokémon. That set was the healthiest set I’ve seen in a long time.

But even before Stormfront, there was a time when creativity ruled and there were almost an infinite number of decks to play, the EX era. The EX era, more specifically the Holon era, gave rise to some of the most intricate decks I’ve ever seen, and it was due to both a solid Trainer engine that did not require too much of the deck’s space, and cards such as Double Rainbow Energy, Scramble Energy, and Holon’s Castform all of which eliminated the need for single typed decks.

If there were any card that I think that the format needs right now, it would be Double Rainbow Energy, which would make evolved Pokémon slightly more playable. When we as the players cried that we wanted a return to the EX era, that did not mean that we just wanted Pokémon-EX back. It meant that we wanted the fun and interesting cards that were printed back then to be used as a template for new cards.

Overall I find myself feeling betrayed by Pokémon as they simply discard me, realizing that I’m no longer the walking dollar sign that I was when I was younger. So they don’t care about what I have to say, they’re just going to go for someone… younger. I’m just an old divorcee who has to watch my old partner use their money to buy themselves a young new partner, and it hurts. I am watching as Pokémon invests in the flashy Pokémon-EX to appeal to the youth.

I understand that Pokémon is going through a midlife crisis, but I don’t think that they’ve handled it the way that they should have.

Rotation and the Newest Set: My Thoughts

I wasn’t planning on touching on this subject when I started writing this article, but with the scans coming out and the news of rotation being confirmed, I feel that I might as well write a bit about the subject.

Rotation is official, and it is Next Destinies onward. This has been one of the smaller rotations I’ve ever seen. Basically we have lost Gothlock, Klinklang, and RayEels/ZekEels. Other than that Darkrai lost a bit of consistency what with Energy Switch leaving us, and Ho-Oh loses a bit of playability for the same reason. Other than that I wouldn’t say we lost anything important. We lost a couple of cool cards like Crushing Hammer and Fliptini, but I haven’t seen many of these cards making big waves in our current metagame.

As for our newest set, Plasma Blast, I have to say that I am vaguely optimistic, as we received a handful of cards that might help us move away from Pokémon-EX. Below are the bigger trends that I would say that Plasma Blast is going to lead to.

1. Grass is Back

genesect-ex-plasma-blast-plb-11
Grass is playable again? WOOT!

With Genesect EX, Virizion-EX, Call For Family Genesect, G Booster, and Tropius all being printed in this set, you can tell that Pokémon is trying to make the type the next big thing. I guess this means that they’re working on some big Fire-type Pokémon for our next set… Nonetheless, I do feel that there is something to be said about these cards, and the eventual deck that will follow from them.

G Booster and Genesect EX is one of my favorite combos in a while because it is frail, but quite powerful; a glass cannon. I wouldn’t say that this means the end for Blastoise, or anything even close, but Blastoise fanboys have been attacking this deck to make themselves feel better, and I don’t see the need for hate.

2. Blastoise’s New Toys

Blastoise is not going to go quietly. While Genesect is going to put a dent in any Blastoise player’s confidence, there are still ways for a Blastoise player to grab the win. The new Kyurem EX may not be as powerful as Black Kyurem EX, but it is certainly more consistent and can definitely be fearful with outrage. I could see a copy of Kyurem finding its way into most Blastoise decks.

Another new toy for the deck is Suicune PLB, which gives Blastoise a way to actually defend itself against Genesect, as well as Plasma decks, and other Blastoise decks.

3. Some Good Techs For Any Deck

In this set we receive some new techs that don’t have any specific Energy requirements, and thus make them splashable in any deck that deck that could benefit from them. We received Drifblim PLB, which is able to deal Energy-less damage and discard a Special Energy card against any deck that benches at least three Plasma Pokémon (pretty much any Plasma deck except Genesect).

We also receive Sawk, who can deal a solid 50 damage for a single Energy against any Team Plasma Pokémon, and if you factor in outside damage such as Weakness, Hypnotoxic Laser, and Silver Bangle, you can find yourself dealing quite a bit of damage for a single Energy.

Finally we gain Chatot, which I have yet to determine the usefulness of. I would have said that it was a great card if it were not a Plasma Pokémon, which renders it incapable of removing any Silver Mirror from play. Chatot can sweep almost any PokéTool off of your opponent’s side of the field, which makes it an alternative to Tool Scrapper, although with Item lock being a thing of the past, I doubt Chatot will even find itself a niche, as it is outclassed by Tool Scrapper.

4. I’ll Say It… Jirachi-EX is Good

jirachi-ex-plasma-blast-plb-98-full-art
Yeah, I’m good. Deal with it.

Jirachi-EX has received some hate, and I understand why: low HP Pokémon-EX are dangerous. But Jirachi-EX is a splendid card for any deck that is trying to accomplish something big by turn two.

For this example I am going to try out my new Speed Houndoom deck, which is looking to deal substantial damage early in the game against Plasma decks. On the first turn you can bench your Houndour and attach an D Energy, which is a pretty standard start for any deck. But on your second turn you are going to need a Houndoom, a Double Colorless Energy, and possibly a Silver Bangle and/or Hypnotoxic Laser.

For a single Level Ball, you can grab Jirachi, and then you have access to your entire deck through Skyla and Computer Search. So you can either grab one single card that you need from your deck, or you can grab yourself another Supporter and refresh your entire hand.

Jirachi is a risky card admittedly, but the speed that it can bring to a deck is definitely something not to be overlooked.

5. Tooling Around

We get Reversal Trigger, Silver Mirror, and Silver Bangle each of which add to our already impressive list of PokéTools; Eviolite, Rocky Helmet, Float Stone, Life Dew, and Rock Guard. While Reversal Trigger doesn’t seem as important as the other two Tools, it is still a powerful card that could give some Plasma decks the revenge killing ability that it desires.

However, Silver Mirror and Bangle are going to be big cards for those who are looking to get away from EXs. Silver Bangle can make cards like Garchomp more dangerous (90 and discard a Special Energy for one) and Silver Mirror can give cards like Sigilyph DRX and Suicune PLB the necessary protection to effectively wall an entire deck.

No matter what the effect that these cards actually have on the format, they are going to force an increase in Tool Scrappers across the board, and may even cause some people to change their deck choice in order to avoid a possible auto-loss.

Conclusion

Well, thanks to everyone who bothered to read. I’m glad I actually managed to finish this article; there have been a couple of times when I almost just scrapped the entire thing and moved on with my life. I look forward to seeing what actually manages to win Worlds, and even more importantly how this game will continue to grow and mature.

Until next time,

I’m out.

Reader Interactions

15 replies

  1. nske

    Great article. This format will be all about the tool items. And sadly I wish the old ex was brought into consideration. Seeems like it would of beeen fun. As I just started playing. All I remember was playing the tcg for gameboy and decided to start playing again

  2. jet9855

    great artical i agree with you that pokemon is designing the decks for us and it is incredibly annoying. when i first started playing pokemon with just my friends no leagues at the beginning of this season i didn’t know about pokemon fan sites like this one. so when i would read what cards already existed or the cards coming in the next set in my mind 60% of the cards in every set where usable. then my cousin who did some research found this site and showed it to me and i found out that only 20% of every card set was usable but thats not my issue while i wish more cards in these sets where a bit more playable my issue is that pokemon is handing us the top tier decks on a silver plater. and there is no room for imaginative deck idea’s. anyway when i first started playing i built (online) a darkria deck and a big basics with more focas on tournadus deck (the old one) i never made a rayquaza deck because it looked to boring to me. after i became familiar with these decks online i could win 65% of my matches ok 70% because not every deck on expert is a top tier deck lol. but it was the same old same old because with these new ex decks, there is nothing different every match (with darkria) i ultra ball 2 dark energy try to skyla for some dark patches attach an energy and attack turn 2-3 then i just attack with the same attack over and over i might have to use a catcher or switch darkrias but it was very repetitive. so now i only use my own invented rouge decks. i really liked the “autopilot off” idea in a former article but with a lot of these decks are built from the ground up for “autopilot” i will very much like to try your weakness and resistance idea thank you for writing this article you get a +1 from me.

  3. jet9855

    hey plus one for the cool gif did you make it yourself?

  4. Zac

    I really do love this article. After getting back into pokemon after stopping for a bit right before plasma, I really do dislike this format. I started playing right when Rising Rivals came out, and I was in love with that format. With the SP being the quick deck but there also being machamp as a hard counter to it. And then there were decks like gyrados or had gengar in them. I feel like in this format the EX’s are way too powerful to not focus your deck around attacking with them.

  5. Josh Frink

    Just wondering, where did you find the online Pokemon TCG game. Or did I just read over it?
    Outstanding article though, It was completely worth the time I spent on it.

  6. poet larsen

    I really really liked the article. This is a big issue that I have been hating more and more; just the fact that you can’t create an interesting or whacky deck, and that there is just super easy to see strategies. I would say that the SP format was the best, although that was the first format i played in it so I might be a little biased, but that was such a balanced format. There you didnt just need to KO 3 EX’s and the game was over; you needed to KO 6 pokemon and there were hard counters to cards and a lot of decks that were usable. Something that also happened during that format was that cards did things without a flip. Cards such as Poke-turn, Crobat G, luxray Lv. X, energy gain, and several other cards. This allowed you to not have to worry about if you lost a game off of a flip; if you lost, you lost and you didnt need to blame it to a flip. (I’m looking at you Hypnotoxic laser). Also, each deck had cards that supported it; vileplume had gengar and Spiritomb, SP had the SP engine, and stage 2’s like Machamp could get setup quickly due to the old rule about rare candy. This made many different decks usable.

  7. Tyler Kittelson-Burke

    Wow that was great.

    I did see one mistake in your writing though.

    In the first sentence of a paragraph (I forgot which one) you said “to” instead of “two”.

    Other that, great analysis on the PTCG.

  8. Tyler Kittelson-Burke

    Btw, I think the best format was 2009.

    (QueenGar rep!)

  9. Adam Capriola

    Your “What My Travels in Time Have Taught Me: Where Pokemon Is Going Wrong” section is amazing and I think I agree with everything you said there. It’s frustrating, but I don’t know if the game will ever be “fixed” to our liking. The old formats definitely seem better compared to today, but I don’t know if that’s just because there was so much less media coverage that we didn’t “break” the formats as quickly.

    I think if TPCi implements simultaneous worldwide releases of new sets that would help make things more interesting since it seems the Japanese figure out most deck combos, then the Western world spends time perfecting the lists. The less time everyone has to play around with new cards before a tournament, the more chance for ingenuity to shine.

  10. Ihana Mazezka

    This was one of the greatest articles I have ever read, without a doubt. It made me want to cry, as I have never played competitively without these stupid EX’s. The part about TPCi making all of the Tier 1 decks was so depressing and I wish I could have played in an older format. Outstanding article, +1!

  11. jet9855

    does anyone know what packs disconnect zebstrika comes in i hope it’s not geting rotated out in the new format because i want to make a zebstrika deck. his attack will devastate decks in the new format because of all the tool cards being used and i can play a couple of jarachi EX because they can’t cacher him because cacher is a item card.

  12. Empoleon1107

    have no idea why, but that almost brought me to tears from all of the memories as well as seeing that FA Terrakion. It brings back memories of a time when everything was much simpler.

  13. Victor

    I remember playing the GameBoy TCG game too ! In fact, that’s where I learnt how to play the game ! This article makes me nostalgic of my VileGar when EX’s weren’t back yet…

  14. Pokemonguy

    After reading this article, thought about how some people might be bad it this format but had the right skills to be a World Champion in one they never played in.

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