Like any card game that lasts longer than a couple of years, the Pokémon TCG often recycles ideas. Take a look at Bronzong PHF, for example, and you’ll see it’s nothing more than a metallic rehash of Eelektrik NVI. This is no surprise, of course. Effective ideas are going to find their way into the game again and again — it’s why the EX mechanic resurfaced, why Ruby & Sapphire got a reboot, and why the Pokémon “dress up” contests will never go away.
What is surprising, though, is when those ideas return to a format that wants nothing to do with them. When Leafeon UD was printed I was ecstatic. Finally, it seemed the card creators had decided on a suitable replacement for Ariados UF, the main attacker in one of my favorite decks (Flareon ex/Ariados UF). On top of that, Magmortar SV already existed as the perfect partner for it. I immediately began thinking about what I would name the deck. Mageon? Blegh, no. Flameon? I’m pretty sure my mom used to call Flareon that, so no. Leafmortar? Hmmm …
In the end, it didn’t really matter what I called the deck because it never became competitive anyway. At the time Leafeon was printed, Power Spray was still a popular card that could cancel out Magmortar’s Poké-Power Evolutionary Flame, rendering the deck useless. Amoonguss NXD would eventually be printed, prolonging the chance that Leafeon would find success. With the presence of powerful healing cards like Max Potion and the astronomical HP on EXs, this just never happened.
We all know of cards like this. They seem broken beyond belief, but then Mewtwo-EX gets printed and the entire competitive scene as we know it devolves into a race to see who can X Ball their opponent into a weepy submission first.
The thing is, some cards just never get their chance. Today, I’m going to break down five of those cards, and we’ll see what never stuck and why.
Speaking of Mewtwo-EX, let’s get started with one of the cards that got the ultimate banishment because of X Ball …
This poor card. Craftsmanship is one heck of an Ability, the kind that people look at and immediately ask “So, how many championships has this thing won?” The answer, of course, is “None, my friend, because this card is about as bad as this Pokémon’s name …”
But why? Is the attack too hefty a cost? Not really, considering that the archetypes at the time of Conkeldurr’s release had high attack costs (remember “CaKE,” which featured Cobalion NVI, Kyurem NVI, and Electrode Prime). In fact, Electrode Prime might very well be the perfect partner for Conkeldurr. First turn: attach a F Energy to Timburr, play a Voltorb to the Bench, draw some cards with a Supporter. Second turn: evolve to Electrode Prime, Rare Candy to Conkeldurr, attach another F Energy, blow up Electrode Prime and get some more F Energy on Conkeldurr … you’ll have a 220+ HP Conkeldurr swinging away in no time!
“But Erik,” you might say, “this card fails miserably against one of the very cards you mentioned — Cobalion NVI.” That’s true and is probably the very reason no one ever touched Conkeldurr. Oh wait, what am I saying? The reason no one ever touched Conkeldurr is because of the better Cobalion that came out in the very next set — Mewtwo-EX. If Cobalion was designed to keep Conkeldurr in check, Mewtwo-EX was designed to make players want to destroy every copy of Conkeldurr they pulled from a pack.
In a normal world, getting more F Energy on Conkeldurr would be a great thing, beefing this construction worker meets evil muscle clown to incredible heights. In the post-apocalyptic world of “Mewtwo Wars” that followed the release of Next Destinies, however, Conkeldurr became a joke, even more so than its name or its resemblance to a circus performer.
With every F Energy you placed on Conkeldurr, Mewtwo-EX did 40 extra damage. Just having enough Energy on Conkeldurr to attack meant certain death from a Mewtwo-EX with a Double Colorless Energy. Of course, Mewtwo-EX has never truly waned in popularity, meaning that Conkeldurr’s fate has been sealed … probably in concrete.
2. Rapidash AR 28
Hey, here’s a fun card capable of countering some of the most-played decks during the “SP era.” Well, except Dialga G LV.X, but Rapidash is a Fire-type Pokémon and Dialga is definitely Metal, so … BLAM!
As we all know, this line of thought was completely sound, and so Rapidash took over the format in the same way Pyroar FLF did for a brief stint, and why would I even include Rapidash on this list at all? Because NO — that’s not what happened at all.
On the surface, this card looks impenetrable. Its Poké-Body prevents damage and effects of attacks, meaning that the most any SP deck without Dialga G LV.X could do was dribble some damage around with Crobat G. Its Fire type was seemingly a threat to Dialga G LV.X as well. And to top it off, Rapidash evolves from a Ponyta with Ascension, meaning that players could evolve to Rapidash right away.
So what happened?
Even a wall as solid as Rapidash had some leaks in it, especially during the SP era when there seemed to be a card for practically every matchup. As a player of SP decks myself, there were many counters to this card that required minimal change to the decklist. Here, I’ll show you; this is the Luxchomp decklist I placed second with at the 2010 US National Championship:
Pokémon – 20
Trainers – 29
Energy – 11
Looking at this list, you might find a counter in Banette PL. With an Expert Belt, it was capable of Knocking Out Rapidash in a single hit. With Uxie LV.X I could do the same thing. Heck, even with Shuppet PL and three Flash Bites from Crobat G I could get the job done.
“So what,” you might say, “I would have played a 4-4-of Rapidash, just like the 4-4 Pyroar line that did well at Nationals last season.” Sure, that might have worked if people only played Pokémon SP, but they didn’t. My Nationals run in 2010 found me playing against plenty of Stage 1 and Stage 2 decks, from Donphan Prime to Kingdra LA/Machamp SF, decks which Rapidash does nothing against.
As a result, nobody could find a way to make Rapidash work — there were just too many ways to get through its Poké-Body. It was quite possibly the best — and worst — “wall” ever created.
It’s a Level-Up bird with 100 HP, Weakness to Lightning but Resistance to Fighting, free retreat, a decent attack, and its Poké-Power will help me set up. Yeah, this is definitely one of the best cards in the game …
By all comparison, Staraptor FB LV.X was supposed to be the next big support Pokémon after the rotation of Claydol GE in 2010. It was arguably easier to get in play than Pidgeot RG, its spiritual successor, and Fast Call sounded eerily similar to Quick Search, so yeah, why not?
Because Luxray GL LV.X, that’s why. Luxray GL LV.X became the best card in the game, finding its strength in cheap (but powerful) attacks and being able to pull up any Pokémon from the opponent’s Bench. Of course, this was absolutely devastating to anyone planning on running Staraptor FB LV.X in their decks.
Luxray GL LV.X was an important card in the game for as long as it was legal, and so Staraptor FB LV.X never had a chance, no matter how good its Poké-Power was. In fact, Staraptor FB LV.X could have been given a Poké-Power that allowed you to draw a Prize card each turn and nobody would have played it — that’s how big a (flash) impact Luxray GL LV.X had on the format.
I can imagine the conversation at Pokémon Card Laboratories (PCL) that led to the creation of this card:
PCL Employee: Would you use a card if it kept your opponent from evolving their Pokémon?
Random Japanese Kid: Oh heck yeah mister!
Employee: Hmm, what if it kept you from evolving your own Pokémon too?
Kid: Yeah, sure, I can still work with that.
Employee: (scowling) Ummm, okay. Well what if it was a Fossil Pokémon?
Kid: Oh man, I don’t know. Aren’t Fossil Pokémon normally the victims of awful mech—
Employee: (interrupting with glee) Mechanics? Yeah, they aren’t that good this time either.
Kid: Hmmm … (after a long pause) Yeah! I think I’d still give it a shot!
Employee: (muttering under his breath) We’ll see what you think after we bring EXs back, lousy twerp.
Kid: Wait, what’d you say? And why do you have that evil look on your face?
Employee: (walking away, laughing maniacally) Nevermind that, kid, just keep playing and have fun next season!
Archeops is a strange card. On the one hand, it came out in a set that had a variety of beautiful Evolutions — cards like Chandelure NVI, Eelektrik NVI, and Vanilluxe NVI — and so it seemed effective. On the other hand, EX cards. But then again, what about the wonderful mix of it with something like Pyroar FLF? Oh yeah, Fossil mechanics.
I imagine that playing Archeops in your deck (or any Fossil Pokémon for that matter) is like playing Octodad — you want only to perform a simple task, but your eight limbs ensure that you destroy everything around you in an unavoidably comic manner. I see someone using a Battle Compressor to get Archen PLB in the discard pile. They play an N and sigh when they miss drawing the Plume Fossil. They play a Skyla the following turn to grab the Plume Fossil, send Archen to the bottom of the deck, revive it with Plume Fossil, but dang, they haven’t really done anything else. Their Litleo gets Knocked Out, and now they have to wait on evolving to Archeops because, you know, the Ability. They spend have the game flubbing around like this until they concede. Game 2, it works. Game 3, nope.
Of course, we now have Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick as a way to get Archeops in play, which is nice because it ignores the horrible Fossil mechanic altogether. Thing is, Archeops isn’t even legal now. So the question remains: Will Archeops be good for next season’s Expanded format?! My guess is if it is, the higher-ups will just go ahead and ban it and bury it forever, like the Fossil it is.
5. Practically Every Salamence Printed, Ever
Read almost any of the Pokédex entries on this guy for some irony:
By evolving into Salamence, this Pokémon finally realizes its long-held dream of growing wings. To express its joy, it flies and wheels all over the sky while spouting flames from its mouth.
Key phrase: “Long-held dream.” It’s an explanation for why a volleyball can grow wings and become a scary dragon, but it’s also a phrase I can use to depict every Salamence fan who longs to play Salamence in a tournament. The truth is, this Pokémon is historically proven to miss the mark nearly every time it gets released. And trust me, there are a lot of Salamence out there!
Just look at how many Salamence are legal right now:
Salamence ROS: This beast has three attacks! Three!! That’s too bad, because it will likely never see play. It’s a Stage 2 Pokémon and its attacks are so cost-intensive. I guess 60 for one Energy isn’t … nah, nevermind, it’s bad. Maybe if they came out with a Lance Supporter that did something similar to Archie’s Ace in the Hole … that also provided some Energy acceleration … that … no …
Salamence DRV: Okay, I know it’s not Modified legal, but it is Expanded legal, and guess what? It’s bad. Another mediocre Ability, and an attack that … honestly, I don’t even know what its attack does, I just know it’s bad.
Salamence XY59: Yeah, there’s a Salamence lurking in our future somewhere that is currently a promo in Japan. It’s first attack can grab you three Basic Pokémon from the deck and put them on one’s Bench. That’s all I need to say for this one.
The crazy thing about Salamence is that it’s one of the most-released cards in the Pokémon TCG. Seriously, there’s, like, 10 of them out there before the ones listed above! And none of them have had any impact on the game. I have two anecdotes of Salamence doing well in tournaments, which is on par with Cloyster and Probopass.
Now, not all the released Salamence cards have been bad on their own, it’s just that the card creators can’t stand Salamence and want to make sure that it never does well in competitive play. Oh, does that sound a little too “conspiracy theory” for you? Well, here’s my evidence:
1. Crystal Shard. Yes, Crystal Shard was a Pokémon Tool card that existed before a Salamence ever got printed. At the time, all Salamence had Colorless Weakness since all Dragon-type Pokémon in the card game were Colorless (and weak to themselves, of course). And if you didn’t bother looking Crystal Shard up, it’s a Pokémon Tool card that makes the Pokémon it’s attached to Colorless type. Imagine if there was a Stadium card that made your Active Pokémon Grass type. You think Seismitoad-EX would be able to survive with a card like that around? Yeah … you’re right, it probably would.
2. Double Colorless Energy + Garchomp C LV.X. There was a time when Salamence was actually seeing a little bit of play; its metaphorical wings in the Pokémon TCG were beginning to grow. And because the card creators hate Salamence, they had to find a way to get rid of it. But how could they do it in a way that was both discreet and incredibly destructive to the format? Oh yes, Double Colorless Energy.
See, Salamence had a rare opportunity to gain traction in the format when the three best Salamence cards ever were printed: Salamence SF, Salamence AR, and Salamence LV.X. Both Salamence released in Arceus were incredibly good, and deck ideas started to be passed around. Naturally, the card creators stopped this with the very next set by releasing Double Colorless Energy, a card many thought would never be reprinted. This gave Garchomp C LV.X the ammunition it needed to forever silence any hope of Salamence being good. Colorless Weakness, remember? Sigh …
3. No EX for you! Although there are plenty of Dragon-type Pokémon-EX, guess which one has never been given the good ol’ “lots of HP on a Basic Pokémon” treatment? That’s right — Salamence! If it ever does, I’m sure it will be super lame, as bad as the lesser White Kyurem-EX, but without the ACE SPEC.
4. When all else fails, just make Salamence bad. The fact that the Salamence ROS is the best one there is right now speaks volumes. Now, maybe I’m being a bit paranoid, but the Salamence cards that have been released since Dragon Vault have been suspiciously bad. Look at the Dragon Vault Salamence and compare it to Rayquaza from the same set. They both have the same attack that does the same damage, yet Salamence — a Stage 2 Pokémon — needs one more Energy to do Shred. How does this make any sense? Truthfully, it doesn’t. It’s an enigma wrapped in a mystery entangled in a conondrum …
One of the reasons I enjoy and appreciate the game right now — and one of the reasons you don’t see many “currently legal” cards on this list — is that the card creators seem bent on releasing new strategies that “update” cards from previous sets. Before knowledge of our next great Stadium card, Forest of Giant Plants, I would have thrown Shiftry FLF on this list (heck, Shiftry NXD would have probably been mentioned as well). This is evidence of a healthy game in my opinion.
Meanwhile, there were lots of “greats” that never saw their potential fully realized. Hopefully, you had fun learning about some of these hidden treasures. And if you have your own you would like to add to the list, do so in the comments section!