This month, our Pokémon TCG luminaries look back on the EX Series, an era near and dear to many of them. It's easy to see why: decks featured fascinating Pokémon and engines, and matches required plenty of tactical prowess. Powerful Pokémon-EX came together with crafty Holon Pokémon and much more, creating exciting battles that are still discussed today.
Check out what our contributors have to say about their favorite cards from this era, and be sure to check out previous entries from the Sword & Shield, Sun & Moon, XY, Black & White, and Diamond & Pearl eras. Then, check back next month as our 25th celebration sets its sights on Johto.
In the Delta Species and Holon Phantoms expansions from the EX Series, we found several Pokémon with a unique attribute: Holon's Pokémon could be attached to other Pokémon as Energy cards from your hand, instead of being played normally. Holon's Castform could be attached to a Pokémon as a Special Energy to provide two Energy of any types. The drawback to balance this effect out was having to return to your hand an Energy that was already attached to the Pokémon.
Still, this effect was extremely versatile and allowed certain Pokémon with an otherwise unreasonable Energy cost to work, such as Lugia-EX. Having Energy cards disguised as Pokémon let players have a ton of fun with deck building, since the cards that could search and retrieve the attackers could also search out the Energy. Holon's Castform is undoubtedly the strongest Holon's Pokémon with its Delta Draw attack; it served as a great opener for any deck that revolved around Delta Species Pokémon.
Being able to search out Supporter cards from the deck is great on its own, but what pushed Holon Transceiver over the top was being able to retrieve Supporter cards from the discard pile as well. To fully grasp how powerful the Holon Transceiver was, it's important to remember how powerful the Supporters were that Holon Transceiver could search for.
The most impactful Supporter it could fetch was Holon Mentor, which allowed the player to search out three Basic Pokémon with 100 HP or less and put them into their hand. This was a great opener for most decks to establish a strong field early on. Later in the game, Holon Transceiver could be used to pick up Holon Scientist or Holon Adventurer to draw cards. Holon Researcher was excellent for searching out Delta Species Pokémon. Holon Farmer could restore a bunch of resources, while Holon Lass was able to find Energy cards.
Holon Transceiver paired with some, if not all, of these Supporters, creating what was often referred to as the Holon engine. This engine is somewhat similar to the combination of the Tag Call Item card and the TAG TEAM Supporter cards we currently have in the Standard format, but the Holon engine was blessed with more powerful Supporter cards, especially for its time. However, the Holon engine did not have to compete with the incredible options we have today in Professor's Research, Marnie, or Boss's Orders.
The ability to choose any card from your deck to bring into your hand each turn gives you an overwhelming advantage. That's why most Stage 2 decks in 2005 took advantage of Pidgeot's Quick Search Poké-Power, with players almost always pairing their Pidgey and Pidgeot with four Rare Candy to give the best chance at getting it into play quickly.
Once Pidgeot was in play, things easily fell into place. Need to evolve your other Pokémon? No problem; Pidgeot would find the missing pieces you needed to evolve. Looking for the perfect Supporter for the turn? Pidgeot brought it into your hand! Whenever you had a game where one player was Quick Searching and the other wasn't, you rarely saw the player without Quick Search emerge victorious.
Pidgeot wasn't left unchecked very long, though! Only two expansions after its debut in EX FireRed LeafGreen, it met two hard counters: Medicham-EX and Battle Frontier. At that point, decks split down two paths: they either played Pidgeot or they opted to counter it. Medicham-EX was able to shut down Pidgeot decks and claim both the Junior and Senior Divisions at the 2005 World Championships, but Masters Division player Jeremy Maron proved how powerful Pidgeot still was with his first-place Nidoqueen/Pidgeot "Queendom" deck. Pidgeot continued to see play and success until its rotation at the end of the following season.
There was no period of the game that punished you more for taking a Prize lead than the EX era. Between Scramble Energy and Pow! Hand Extension, players who came out swinging often immediately regretted their decision as their quick Prize-taking attacks were met by an even stronger Scramble Energy-fueled counterattack.
Before Scramble Energy existed, slower, Evolution-based decks often succumbed to speedy, aggressive decks that would overwhelm them before they could set up. But with Scramble Energy, these slower decks could now mount massive comebacks, unleashing powerful attacks with this single Energy card.
Scramble Energy's three Energy for an evolved Pokémon was such an advantage that players designed decks entirely focused on activating it. One such deck used Electrode-EX's Extra Energy Bomb to surrender two Prize cards, enabling massive Big Eggsplosion attacks from Exeggutor. Another, a Raichu δ/Exeggutor δ "Rai-Eggs" deck, used attacks that spread damage (rather than take immediate Prize cards) so it could harness Scramble Energy's full power after surrendering a KO.
Such interactions, where players can be punished for taking Prize cards, make for deeply strategic (and even perplexing) games. It's also part of the reason cards from the EX era were—and still are!—so fun to play with.
The “Holon” cards were themed around a Pokémon science community. They included powerful Trainers connected to Holon Transceiver, as well as Delta Species Pokémon that were each a different type than their usual (e.g., Gardevoir-EX). The most interesting were the Holon's Pokémon, which all shared the same characteristic: Pokémon that could be played as Energy. In the Pokémon TCG, cards that search for Pokémon (such as Celio's Network) are commonly played. With one or two Holon's Pokémon in your deck, you would effectively increase your Energy card count by several more cards, since all your Pokémon-search cards would be Energy-search cards as well.
Holon's Electrode (as well as Holon's Magneton and Holon's Castform) had a particularly cool effect. They would provide two Energy of any types, with the cost of returning to hand one Energy card already attached to a Pokémon. The most effective combination with these cards was Blastoise-EX, whose Energy Rain Poké-Power allowed you to attach any number of Water Energy in a turn. With a Water Energy or two, and a Holon's Electrode, you could power up most attacks in the game instantly. Some of the popular attacking options were Steelix-EX and Lugia-EX. This combination of cards would create a rainstorm that few decks could compete with!
Pow! Hand Extension
The EX Series introduced what is now a familiar concept in the Pokémon TCG: cards that became more powerful when a player has more Prize cards remaining. The most powerful cards of this type in the EX Series were Scramble Energy and Pow! Hand Extension. “Pow!” allowed you to choose one of two very powerful effects: switch in an opponent's Pokémon from the Bench, or move an Energy from an opponent's Active Pokémon to the Bench. The only cost of Pow! is that you need to have more Prize cards remaining than your opponent.
The utility of Pow! is incredible. If you need to Knock Out any opponent's Pokémon, you can switch it in. If you want to trap an inconvenient Pokémon with a high Retreat Cost in the Active Spot, switch it in. If they attach Energy to that Pokémon to try to eventually retreat, move that Energy to the Bench. My 2005 Worlds Finalist deck used all these possibilities of Pow!: Dark Tyranitar could either do big damage for KOs with Grind and Bite Off, or use Spinning Tail to damage all the opponent's Pokémon, the latter strategy being effective when I could trap non-attacking Pokémon in the Active Spot. To power these attacks, and activate my Pow! Hand Extensions, I used Electrode-EX's Extra Energy Bomb Poké-Power.
Medicham-EX is one of my favorite cards of all time. It might be the foundation of the first iteration of a control deck in the Pokémon TCG that I recall. The main strategy with this card was to have it in the Active Spot and turn off your opponent's Poké-Powers with its Wise Aura Poké-Body. Then you would accumulate damage onto the opponent's field with Pure Power to set up future Knock Outs.
By letting the first Medicham-EX get Knocked Out, you could go behind on Prizes and gain access to Pow! Hand Extension. The combination of this card and Medicham-EX gave a great amount of control over the game. The deck also played Rocket's Admin, which is functionally the same card as N: it would limit your opponent's options to prevent them from finishing the game.
Medicham-EX's second attack, Sky Kick, could finish out the game. While spending most of the game using Pure Power to set up Knock Outs, Sky Kick will actually take them. It also has the bonus effect of doing more damage against a Pokémon that has Fighting Resistance. This card really opened up the strategic world of the Pokémon TCG and holds a warm place in my heart.
Blastoise decks have been some of the most fun decks to play since the debut of the Pokémon TCG. Base Set Blastoise is iconic because of its Rain Dance Pokémon Power, which breaks the one-Energy-per-turn rule. Blastoise-EX is the successor of this card with its Energy Rain Poké-Power, which was combined with Lugia-EX to do a massive 200 damage. It was also paired with Steelix-EX to be able to snipe the Bench. This deck was able to do both devastating damage and control the opponent's Bench.
One of the more humorous aspects about Blastoise-EX decks was that it ran single copies of almost 20 cards. This was the toolbox deck of the format that could do anything it wanted. Thanks to Holon's Castform and Holon's Magneton, it got to reuse Water Energy to attack with any Pokémon. And above all, the real reason a deck like this could even function is because of Pidgeot's Quick Search Poké-Power. This is definitely one of the most fun decks to play, and Blastoise continues to be one of the strongest Pokémon in general. If I have to choose between Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle, I know which one I'm going with.
You might be wondering why I'm writing about Marill, a common card that was not used in any significant tournament-worthy deck at the time. It's a cute enough card, being illustrated by my favorite Pokémon artist, Mitsuhiro Arita. I actually got to play a Pokémon TCG game against Mr. Arita at the 2004 World Championships, although he did have a card designer from Creatures Inc. helping him since he hadn't played the game before. But that's not why I chose it.
This Marill has a unique place among Pokémon TCG card rulings. You see, when it was released in Sandstorm booster packs, there were two versions of the card printed. One version, the correct one, had a Retreat Cost of 1. The other version, however, was printed with a free Retreat Cost!
It was noted immediately that the original Japanese version of the card had a Retreat Cost of 1, so players were immediately clamoring for a ruling on how to play this card properly. There was a massive Rule Team discussion among judges, as well as Pokémon USA (as The Pokémon Company International was known at the time), on how to handle this. At the time, they wanted to maintain continuity with how previous rulings had been handled. Previously, anytime a card's game text was misprinted, as long as it wasn't completely game-breaking, it was ruled to “play as printed.”
And so, that is how this was ruled. If you had the free-retreat version, you got to retreat for free! But this was the last time that a card's misprinted text was ruled this way. Now, if a card text or statistic does not match the original Japanese card, either a ruling or errata is issued stating what the card's text should be and how it should be played.
Team Magma's Groudon
The Team Magma vs Team Aqua expansion was a bit of an oddity at the time. Except for some cards that had originally been Japanese promos, almost all of the cards in the set were specific to one of the two competing teams. Additionally, the set introduced the concept of dual-type Pokémon. But for whatever reason, players dismissed the Team Pokémon in this set for tournament play. Double Rainbow Energy and a few of the non-Team Pokémon-EX were the only new cards that players were using at all.
Now, when Pokémon USA took over Organized Play in 2003, there wasn't enough time to arrange for a World Championships that year. But they did hold qualifiers during late 2003 and early 2004 for players to earn invitations to their first World Championships in 2004. The competitors honed their decks all through the year, fine-tuning their deck lists with new releases or making changes to counter the developing metagame. But Team Magma or Team Aqua were not seen so often at the top tables.
That is, until players arrived at the 2004 World Championships. Many of the Japanese invitees had been working in a totally different metagame and, led by Tsuguyoshi Yamato, realized that in fact a Team Magma deck, featuring Team Magma's Groudon, was the best deck in the format. The deck they constructed had amazing synergy and speed. Team Magma's Groudon was the main attacker, but support cards could retrieve Energy from the discard pile and move it around as needed. This allowed it to mount an attack without having to spend any time building up an attacker on the Bench. The deck and its players (including Yamato) took the rest of the world by surprise and swept the World Championships, winning in all three age divisions.
The Pokémon TCG community would not be the same without these five contributors to the game, and we appreciate their valuable insights. Be sure to check back throughout the year to see more of their reflections on their favorite cards from the long history of the Pokémon TCG.