Our stellar cast of Pokémon TCG luminaries turn their attention toward the XY Series in May as the yearlong Pokémon 25th celebration continues. The introduction of Pokémon, people, and places from the Kalos region sets the stage for many of the cool cards. Plus, our contributors find other fascinating cards to highlight from the series.
Puzzle of Time
Puzzle of Time from the XY—BREAKpoint expansion is, in my opinion, one of the most fun Trainer cards ever printed. Playing a single Puzzle of Time allows the player to rearrange the top three cards of their deck. If two Puzzle of Time cards are played at once, it unlocks a more powerful effect: the player can take any two cards from their discard pile and put those cards into their hand. This effect is incredibly flexible since there are no limitations on what can be retrieved. Puzzle of Time is probably best remembered in Zoroark-GX decks. Zoroark-GX's Trade Ability allowed the player to build a big hand size and therefore be able to find multiple copies of Puzzle of Time with ease.
Trainer cards that have one effect when played normally, but a much better upgraded effect when played in pairs, is not something that was introduced with Puzzle of Time. The first iteration of this concept was all the way back in the Diamond & Pearl—Stormfront expansion with the Poké Blower +, Poké Drawer +, and Poké Healer + cards. We also saw this mechanic resurface later with Missing Clover from the Sun & Moon—Ultra Prism expansion, but this time, you had to play all 4 copies at once for the bonus effect. The most recent example of cards that work like this is from Sun & Moon—Lost Thunder, with Mixed Herbs and Custom Catcher.
Seismitoad-EX from XY—Furious Fists is infamous for its first attack, Quaking Punch. The attack itself only does 30 damage, but the opponent can't play any Item cards from their hand on the next turn. With the use of Double Colorless Energy, this attack could very commonly be used on the first attacking turn of the game. If you look at most competitive deck lists, you'll notice that they're all playing a relatively high amount of Item cards, usually about 20 of them. This attack effectively locked down about a third of the opponent's deck and could often be activated on the first turn. Early denial of Item cards makes it hard for just about any deck to set up and perform its strategy.
For added pressure, Quaking Punch was often paired with Muscle Band, Hypnotoxic Laser, and Virbank City Gym. Using these damage modifiers and other disruption cards, Seismitoad-EX was the card to beat back in 2014. The presence of Quaking Punch forced players to take a steadier approach to deck building, by focusing more on Supporter and Energy cards rather than the aggressive Item cards.
What made Yveltal-EX one of the greatest Pokémon-EX of all time? The answer is two exceptionally strong attacks. Let's start with Evil Ball: Its base damage of 20 is boosted not just by each Energy attached to Yveltal-EX, but also by each Energy on the opponent's Active Pokémon. This meant that whenever your opponent powered up a respectable attacker, Yveltal-EX was ready to respond with a massive counterattack.
Harnessing the power of Double Colorless Energy and Dark Patch, and sometimes supplementary damage from Muscle Band and Hypnotoxic Laser, Evil Ball landed one-hit KOs on opposing Pokémon-EX, sometimes with such ease that it almost seemed unfair.
As if Evil Ball wasn't enough to make the card great, Yveltal-EX could also preserve Energy with its Y Cyclone attack, preparing backup attackers (like another Yveltal-EX) in anticipation of being Knocked Out. Y Cyclone could even be used as a defense against an opposing Yveltal-EX, reducing the opponent's Evil Ball damage capability.
Its Fighting Resistance made it a perfect partner for Darkrai-EX, but it eventually became clear that Yveltal-EX didn't need much support. It could win games by itself!
Lysandre's Trump Card
What was so bad about Lysandre's Trump Card that it became the first card to be banned in Play! Pokémon competitive play? Well, it wasn't necessarily Lysandre's Trump Card itself that was the problem; it was a combination of things, like how it worked with other cards. Lysandre's Trump Card existed in a format alongside very powerful Item cards. Before it debuted, you were relieved when your opponent spent their fourth and final Crushing Hammer or Hypnotoxic Laser. But with Lysandre's Trump Card, your opponent could shuffle all of these Items (along with everything else) back into the deck, where they could then be reused.
These recycled cards might not have been a big deal if players didn't have easy access to them, but thanks to Abilities like Shaymin-EX's Set Up and Slurpuff's Tasting, they did. And while Lysandre's Trump Card restored the opponent's discard pile as well, it was often paired with an oppressive attack like Seismitoad-EX's Quaking Punch, making the benefits of this recycling more one-sided.
It was a useful card to have in the format to keep Night March decks (centered around the trio of Joltik, Pumpkaboo, and Lampent) in check. Overall, however, it made the game less fun, enabling a virtually endless barrage of frustrating Items and also making it nearly impossible to beat your opponent by deck-out. In June 2015, Pokémon Organized Play responded by banning Lysandre's Trump Card, and the card has remained banned ever since.
Primal Groudon-EX has one of my all-time favorite Pokémon TCG mechanics, the Ancient Trait Omega Barrier. Ancient Traits, found in only a few XY Series expansions, gave some Pokémon certain features—similar to Abilities. But unlike Abilities, which can be turned off by cards like Garbodor and Hex Maniac, nothing stops Ancient Traits from working. Omega Barrier prevents all effects of Trainer cards (excluding Tools and Stadiums) done to a Pokémon. This means the Pokémon can't be pulled into the Active Spot with Lysandre, have its Energy or Tools removed with Xerosic, or be Poisoned or left Asleep with Hypnotoxic Laser, among other cards. This shut down key components of many decks' strategies.
Popular cards in Primal Groudon-EX decks were Robo Substitute and Wobbuffet, which benefitted from an opponent's inability to pull a different Pokémon in off the Bench. Robo Substitutes buy time by not giving up Prize cards. Wobbuffet, when Active, turns off Pokémon Abilities (except on Psychic-type Pokémon). In many situations, this combination with Omega Barrier effectively shut off both Trainer cards and Abilities!
I also love the fun word art on all Mega Evolution cards. The text on the picture says Primal Groudon-EX's attack name, “Gaia Volcano,” in Japanese. Similarly, the Japanese versions of the card say “Gaia Volcano” in English on the picture.
Shaymin-EX is arguably one of the best cards in the game's history. Its Set Up Ability to draw cards brought about one of the fastest eras of the Pokémon TCG. It became common to use Set Up two or even three times in a turn and get big combos as early as Turn 1. Shaymin-EX fueled multi-card strategies for big attacks like Mega Rayquaza-EX, the “Night March” Pokémon like Joltik, and Archie's Ace in the Hole + Blastoise. It also supported quick “Item lock” strategies with Wally + Trevenant, and Seismitoad-EX + Double Colorless Energy. All of these decks became much faster and more consistent with Shaymin-EX. In the Expanded format, it was eventually deemed so “dangerously” powerful that it was banned!
Shaymin-EX was bolstered by the Sky Field Stadium, also in XY—Roaring Skies, which made it easier to play multiple Shaymin-EX in one turn. Shaymin-EX's Sky Return attack is also useful: It does some damage (enough to Knock Out Joltik), but also puts Shaymin-EX and all attached cards back into your hand. This allows you to use Set Up again next turn, as well as giving you back Energy, like a Double Colorless Energy, to attach again next turn.
Joltik has one of the most interesting attacks in the Pokémon TCG. It knows the Night March attack, which does 20 damage for each Pokémon in the discard pile that knows Night March. This archetype is all about sequencing the cards in the best order possible. When a player is able to do this, then the damage that Joltik can put out can become overwhelming. There is a very high skill ceiling with this deck, and it allows for creative ways to get to the end goal of Knocking Out the opponent's Pokémon in a single blow. The idea of Knocking Out gigantic Pokémon with a little yellow bug-like Pokémon is also extremely appealing. This Pokémon has even won multiple Regional Championships and the US National Championships in 2016.
This archetype is so popular that it's been reinvented twice. Lost March (seen on this Jumpluff) was an archetype similar to Night March that interacted with the Lost Zone. Mad Party (including this Bunnelby) is functionally the same as Night March, but with a different name and set of Pokémon to prevent Joltik from becoming even more powerful. This is one of my favorite archetypes to play in the game, and Joltik is the star of the show.
Pyroar is the very first of the attacking wall archetype. Its Intimidating Mane Ability is really powerful and still sees some play in the Expanded format from time to time. Being immune to damage from Basic Pokémon in a format that had a lot of Pokémon-EX (which are also Basic) meant that Pyroar was invulnerable to most attacks. Pyroar's Scorching Fang also did enough damage to potentially two-shot Knock Out anything in this era. I used this deck to great success and ended up getting 2nd place in the 2014 US National Championships.
The way I played Pyroar is something of a novelty as well. Because Blacksmith was the main way to power up Pyroar, this meant I had to figure out alternative ways to draw cards other than by using a Supporter. I ended up using Roller Skates and Bicycle to draw enough cards to counteract Blacksmith's downside of not drawing cards. The deck also featured four Pokémon Catcher, which makes this possibly one of the most coin-heavy decks to make it to the finals of a major Pokémon event. To this day, Pyroar is still one of the coolest decks I've ever played.
When the XY Series came out, I played a deck for two or three years that I called Musical Chairs. The deck centered around Aromatisse's Fairy Transfer Ability, which also inspired its name. It allowed you to move Fairy Energy from one of your Pokémon to another as often as you like. This let you keep your Energy in play and build up big attacks. One of the interesting things about the Ability was that it didn't specify basic Energy, so Rainbow and Prism Energy could be moved, as well. There was also a Stadium called Fairy Garden that allowed any Pokémon with a Fairy Energy attached to it to retreat for free.
Put that all together, and you had a deck that could play any powerful Pokémon of any type with any Energy requirement. Once you got the Energy cards in play, you typically kept most of them in play and could move them around as needed. You could bring up a new attacker to take advantage of Weakness, for example. Oh, and let's not forget Max Potion, which let you heal a Pokémon of all damage at the cost of discarding any Energy attached to it. But since Fairy Transfer allowed me to move all the Energy to another Pokémon before playing Max Potion, and then move it back again, I could completely heal the Pokémon without losing any of the Energy. The means my opponent pretty much had to one-hit KO my Pokémon, and that wasn't easy to do during this series. All of this was made possible by Aromatisse and its Ability. Boy, do I miss that card and that deck.
You might wonder why I chose a card that you can't play in tournaments. This allows me to discuss two things that I love: Japanese cards that weren't released in English and Imakuni? himself. There have been many cards released in Japan that have never made it into English-language sets. I've collected a lot of these over the years. It was very exciting when I saw that the XY—Evolutions set added reprints of a few of these and other rare promo cards as secret cards. Imakuni?'s Doduo was originally released in the Japanese Gym Leaders set as a fun card. It wasn't published in the English-language set at the time, probably because few outside of Japan likely knew who Imakuni? was. Thanks to the Pokémon design team for deciding to finally print it in English. I love bringing more attention to these historical gems.
So, this begs the question, who is this Imakuni? guy? Well first off, he is a real person. That's him in the picture on the Imakuni? card, another previously unprinted Japanese promo that was finally printed in the Generations set. Tomoaki Imakuni works at Creatures and helped with the creation of the early Pokémon Trading Card Game. You can find him as the artist on the Porygon card in XY—Evolutions, which uses the same art as the original Base Set card. He also helped promote Pokémon in Japan through various songs and skits, appearing in his black body stocking with little ears and question marks. And if you ever played Pokémon Trading Card Game for Game Boy, you most likely encountered him playing some pretty strange decks!
I remember when I found him backstage at the 2008 Pokémon World Championships in Florida and shook his hand and asked for his autograph. He was surprised that I knew who he was. I told him that lots of non-Japanese Pokémon fans knew about him and that we wished we could see more of him.
Thanks to Evolutions and Generations, fans worldwide finally got to do that.
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.