The Pokémon 25th celebration turns the spotlight on Unova in June, and that means a chance to look at Pokémon TCG cards from the Black & White Series. As our group of top Pokémon TCG historians can attest, the Black & White era of the Pokémon TCG, particularly in the context of competition, is still fascinating to reflect on. An incredible number of game-changing cards not only made a huge impact during their time, but still resonate in the Expanded format and in modern card variants. Read on to see which cards stood out as our contributors' most memorable and favorite cards.
Don't forget to check out the top Pokémon TCG cards these pros selected from the Sword & Shield, Sun & Moon, and XY eras, too. And visit Pokemon.com later this year for more remembrances of classic cards.
If we were to discuss the most dominant attackers in the Pokémon Trading Card Game, Darkrai-EX from Black & White—Dark Explorers would surely be a contender for the top spot. Decks built around this card won multiple World Champion titles and dominated the game for years after its release in 2012. At the time, the game had recently been reintroducing these big-HP Basic attackers. Focusing a deck on an efficient Basic attacker, instead of having to evolve multiple Pokémon, turned out to be a much more consistent way of playing the game. This new way of approaching deck building gave lists room for extra consistency and tricks, which contributed to Darkrai-EX's supremacy for years to come, outclassing the decks that had to rely on evolving.
Darkrai-EX's Dark Cloak Ability gave every Pokémon with a Darkness Energy attached no Retreat Cost. This meant that the Darkrai-EX player would never have to worry about a Pokémon getting stuck in the Active Spot for long amounts of time, providing excellent board maneuvering. Its Night Spear attack was also solid, delivering enough damage to at least two-hit Knock Out all the most popular attackers, as well as snipe down low-HP Basic Pokémon before they would get the chance to evolve. Night Spear could also be fueled quickly by the Dark Patch Item card.
Hypnotoxic Laser was a Team Plasma Item card that was released in Black & White—Plasma Storm. The main purpose of this card was to act as a powerful damage modifier in combination with Virbank City Gym. Using these two cards together would always result in at least 30 extra damage to your opponent's Active Pokémon, which is already a very solid effect. Unfortunately, Hypnotoxic Laser is often remembered for its “Hypno” effect providing Sleep, rather than the “Toxic” effect providing Poison. Every time Hypnotoxic Laser is played, you get to flip a coin to see if the opponent's Pokémon also falls Asleep. If a Pokémon is Asleep, it can't attack or retreat.
This is where the card became problematic. If a Pokémon should be unfortunate enough to stay Asleep, the Poison damage in combination with Virbank City Gym would quickly add up to an impressive 90 damage between turns, before the opponent would have a chance to wake up and retreat. Playing Switch in decks was also not as prevalent as it is today, since there were better options in Dark Cloak (in Darkrai-EX decks) and Float Stone. In special cases, the Active Pokémon could even be Knocked Out by Poison damage outside the player's turn, creating extreme swings in the Prize trade. This card was so powerful that a game was never truly over until all the Hypnotoxic Laser cards had been played.
Your Pokémon, your Energy, your Items, your Stadiums. All of these are things players rely on Supporters to find. You can call Supporters the lifeblood of the Pokémon TCG. Without access to them, things fall apart quickly, especially during the first turns of the game.
By cutting off your opponents' access to Supporters as early as their second turn, Exeggutor's Blockade attack stopped their whole strategy in their tracks. The attack did a measly 10 damage, so these opponents would still have plenty of turns to draw what they needed, but Exeggutor players could turn up the heat by boosting Blockade's damage with Muscle Band and Hypnotoxic Laser. This one-sided Supporter denial allowed the Exeggutor player to continue powering up Pokémon that could easily handle the unimpressive response generated by a Supporter-locked opponent.
Exeggutor's window for competitive success was a narrow one. It benefited heavily when it gained Muscle Band and Lysandre's Trump Card, but its effectiveness was then hugely reduced after the release of Shaymin-EX, which allowed players to draw cards without using Supporters. For that brief interim, though, Exeggutor was more than capable of delivering victories with a string of Trainer-boosted Blockade attacks against frustrated opponents.
Further emphasizing just how important Supporter cards are and always have been, Jirachi-EX changed the game with its Stellar Guidance Ability when it debuted in 2013. All of those opening hands without Supporters that might otherwise lead to a quick and disappointing game were now salvageable simply by having a single Ultra Ball or Level Ball in your hand to find Jirachi-EX.
Jirachi-EX allowed decks to be more consistent. It also allowed players to showcase their skills by selecting the perfect Supporter on the turn they played it. But it wasn't just how good it was that makes Jirachi-EX one of my favorite cards. It was also a perfectly balanced card. While its Ability was great, its attack was basically useless. More importantly, its 90 HP made it an easy two-Prize target for opponents. Having it in play, whether by playing it onto your Bench or having the misfortune of starting the game with it, could ultimately cost you the game.
Nonetheless, players often didn't think twice before activating Jirachi-EX's Stellar Guidance by playing it onto the Bench. That's because the alternative was often ending the turn with a weak attack (or no attack at all!).
N is an iconic card in the Pokémon TCG. It has defined the way the game has been played since its release. This card makes both players shuffle their hand into their deck and draw cards equal to the number of Prize cards they have left. This means at the beginning of the game, both players shuffle and draw six—but as the game goes on, players will draw fewer and fewer cards. This makes N a great consistency card in the early game and the best disruption card in the late game. There have been countless games that have been decided by N taking a hand size down to one.
As a player, N gives the biggest emotional rollercoaster. There is no greater relief when you draw the card you need to win the game off an N to one. Being able to craft a deck that can survive an N to one is a skill that gives experienced players an edge. By planning ahead and expecting this card to be played, players can make it so every card is a game winner. This card is extremely skillful and one of the most balanced cards ever created.
This card is the second variant of one of the most iconic Abilities in the game: being able to accelerate Energy from the discard pile onto a Benched Pokémon. This Ability was first seen as the Firestarter Poké-Power on Blaziken from Ruby & Sapphire. Eelektrik gets the Dynamotor Ability, which allows it to attach Lightning Energy from the discard pile to a Benched Pokémon. This card would later be paired with Rayquaza-EX from Black & White—Dragons Exalted to one-shot any Pokémon in their way. It would then gain Keldeo-EX and Float Stone to make a deck that could one-shot anything consecutively.
Eelektrik remains one of the most beloved decks from this era. There is something magical about being able to attach extra Energy from the discard pile and doing massive damage. Because this deck was more about board state, it suffered less from getting hit by N in the late game. The sheer consistency and late-game power this deck provides makes every win extremely satisfying. I had a lot of fun playing this deck, and it is one of my favorites from the Black & White era.
Reuniclus starred in one of my best decks, The Truth, which I took to the 2011 World Championships finals. With the same Damage Swap Ability that appeared on Base Set Alakazam as a Pokémon Power, Reuniclus freely moves damage amongst your Pokémon. When combined with high-HP Pokémon and healing cards, you can effectively keep your Pokémon in play until you've won the game.
The ways to stop this strategy are to bring up Benched Pokémon, like Reuniclus itself, or build up a strong enough attack to Knock Out Pokémon in one shot. Fortunately, Vileplume counters both strategies with its Allergy Flower Poké-Body stopping all Item cards from being played. This stopped Pokémon Reversal and PlusPower from ever getting a Knock Out. The combination of Reuniclus and Vileplume created an almost invincible board. While it is usually difficult to get two Stage 2 Pokémon into play, cards from the HeartGold & SoulSilver Series, like Twins and Pichu, and the 2011 World Championships promo card, Tropical Beach, made the pair viable.
Alas, Reuniclus wouldn't star for long in the Pokémon TCG. It benefited from the mentioned HeartGold & SoulSilver cards and became more vulnerable when cards like Lysandre were printed. For a brief time, though, this cute little blob was at the top of the game.
Stoutland is one of my all-time favorite cards. Its Sentinel Ability stops all of your opponent's Supporter cards. Every year since Stoutland was printed, Supporter cards became more powerful and diverse in their uses than earlier eras. Supporters became the typical way to “gust” Pokémon (pull a Pokémon from the opponent's Bench into the Active Spot, an effect named for the Base Set card Gust of Wind) with Lysandre or Guzma, disrupt an opponent's hand with N or Judge, or even to switch your own Active Pokémon with Guzma or AZ.
After years of searching, I finally found the perfect partner for Stoutland in the Expanded format: Raichu. I could evolve into Raichu and use Evoshock to Paralyze an opponent. Then, use Devolution Spray to devolve Raichu, so I could use Evoshock again next turn. Then, using Memory Energy or Shining Celebi, have Stoutland use Lillipup's Pickup attack and get Devolution Spray back, every turn. With Stoutland preventing most forms of hand disruption, switching, or “gusting” to change my Active Pokémon, many decks could only pass with their Pokémon Paralyzed every turn until they lost by running out of cards. I called the deck “Shock Lock,” and it's one of my favorites. It's cool that the Expanded format allowed Stoutland, which never saw success in Standard, to be a viable deck years later.
Usually winning a Pokémon TCG match requires you to Knock Out all of your opponent's Pokémon or take your six Prize cards. But the rulebook describes a third more difficult and rarely achieved route to victory. Your opponent will lose the game if they run out of cards in their deck and can't draw a card to start their turn. Sometimes it can happen accidentally, if a player is too aggressive and they run through their deck too fast before they can take all of their Prize cards. But it is possible for you, as a player, to actively make this happen as well!
Aggron from Black & White—Dragons Exalted was one of the first cards that gave you a viable way to accomplish this. Its Toppling Wind Ability lets you discard the top three cards of your opponent's deck when you play it to evolve one of your Pokémon. Now, evolving four times to discard 12 cards is just not going to be enough. However, by using cards like Devolution Spray, Super Scoop Up, and others that allow you to bring Aggron back into your hand again and again, you can evolve it enough times to discard a large part of their deck. If you build your deck right and manage to play Aggron a total of about 15 times during the game, discarding 45 cards from their deck will pretty much guarantee that you will run them out of cards—also known as “decking them out.”
Of course, the other thing you need to do is survive long enough—not an easy task given how quickly good players can take Knock Out after Knock Out, turn after turn. There are cards and Pokémon that can act as “walls” to help you do that. Check out my entry on Lillie's Poké Doll from the Sun & Moon era to get an idea of one way to do that.
There were a number of incredibly strong Trainer cards in the first Pokémon TCG set. The Base Set card Computer Search was one of the most powerful of these Trainers, if not the most powerful. It allowed you to discard two cards and search your deck for any card you want. And you could do this four times during the game by playing four copies of the card, with no other drawback. At the time, games could be won by playing four copies of Computer Search and a couple other powerful Trainer cards.
Once Computer Search rotated out of tournament play, no one expected to see it again. But Pokémon surprised players by bringing it back in the Black & White Series. They did so in an ingenious way, by creating a new type of Trainer card: ACE SPEC. ACE SPEC Trainer cards were a way to add very powerful cards back into the game by imposing a very harsh limit on them. You could only have one copy of any ACE SPEC card in your deck. Let me clarify: Not one copy of each. Only one copy of any ACE SPEC. While new ACE SPEC cards haven't been printed again since the Black & White Series, you will still find almost every Expanded deck still playing their one allowed ACE SPEC because even having just one copy of such a powerful card is well worth playing.
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.