The History of the Pokemon TCG Through the Ages

by Jay ~ August 13th, 2011.

Hey guys. Today’s article starts off with an apology from Jay. You need to realize that Jay is now at Worlds. I got this from him via email so late on Friday night that I didn’t even see it until Sat morning. Jay has better things to be concerned with at this point, yet he was up writing this article for you and I. I think, in his mind, he agreed to write something, and he wasn’t going to go back on his word. In that case, he could have just gotten behind and just gave it half an effort. Nope. He gave us a great retrospective and then apologized that he wanted to give us more but couldn’t. Thanks Jay! We hope you’re killin’ it at Worlds!

– Ed

So first an apology.   Originally I had intended this to be a very detailed look back on the formats of the past.  I always enjoyed looking back at some of the different formats and seeing what was competitive, what people liked to play, etc. and I was hoping you guys would to. I ran into two major problems when I was writing this article though.

First, I told Ed I would have this done the week I was leaving for Worlds, which, at the time, I didn’t think was a major issue.  This deadline snuck upon me much quicker than I thought it would, and real life got the better of me.  Those of you who have read my Underground Articles for Six Prizes, know how important good solid articles are to me, and I’m afraid this doesn’t live up to my normal standards.

Second, going in, I didn’t realize how lengthy this article could and should be.  I could write a full article about each one of these formats, and it wasn’t until I started writing did I realize how much information I was leaving out that I really wanted to put in.  All of this being said, I really do hope you get some enjoyment out of this article, since I do feel it does have some nice information in it people will enjoy.  I guess what I’m asking is for all of you to accept this more as rough draft or partial article rather than a finally polished one.  I will be more than happy to answer questions or comments about anything I talked about or a deck I didn’t get to you wanted to know more about.

-Jay

Something I’ve always found interesting is going back and reading tournament reports from previous years.  It normally brings back good memories of friends and tournaments, so for those of you who’ve been here since the beginning hopefully you’ll enjoy this walk through memory lane and for those of you who are more new to the TCG hopefully you’ll enjoy learning a little bit about our history.

The Early Years

I don’t remember how the divisions worked, but I knew there was two divisions an older and younger division.  The older division actually had a metagame that was mainly dominated by variations of Haymaker, Raindance, Mr. Mime/Alakazam, and Wigglytuff/Basics.  The younger was dominated by mostly random stuff. 

Haymaker:  It paired several strong basics together with a strong combination of trainers.  Despite its low damage output, it was so fast and able to type match so easily, it was able win out over the bigger and stronger decks.  The most common combination of Pokémon was Hitmonchan, Electabuzz, Scyther.

Raindance:  Blastoise was able to drop as many water energy as you like per turn on to one of your water Pokémon.  Normally people paired Blastoise with a strong secondary attacker.  If I remember right, Base Set Gyarados was the favorite thing to pair it with.  Energy acceleration was rare back in the day, so anything that allowed multiple energy drops per turn was huge.

Mr. Mime/Alakazam:  Mr. Mime had a Poke Power that prevented any damage of 30 or more.  Alakazam let you move damage counters around so the combo was to simply leave the Mime active and move any damage off of it.  The deck was slow to set up and fell to Gust of Wind, but if your opponent didn’t have any out to it, it could be game over.

Wigglytuff/Basics:  Wigglytuff was the best stage 1 in the game, which for 3C could hit for 60 damage with a full bench.  This meant it was just 1 Plus Power away from KOing any of the big basics of the time (Hitmonchan, Sycther, etc.).  The normal basics it was paired with was Scyther and Hitmonchan.  Scyther had free retreat and gave you the most bang for your buck with DCE, while Hitmonchan gave you a huge edge in mirror while 20 for 1F was just amazing at the time.

Pokémon:  14 Trainers:  30 Energy: 16
3 Hitmonchan
3 Scyther
4 Jigglypuff
4 Wigglytuff
4 Gust of Wind
4 Plus Power
4 Energy Removal
4 Professor Oak
4 Computer Search
3 Item Finder
3 Bill
1 Super Energy Removal
1 Lass
1 Energy Retrieval
1 Defender
12 Fighting Energy
4 Double Colorless Energy

That is a pretty standard example of an old school Wigglytuff deck.  The Pokémon counts are pretty standard.  You could probably go 3-3 Wigglytuff and bump the other two basics up.  As for the trainers, mainly just a lot of Draw Cards, Search Cards, along with some disruption cards.  Computer Search made the running 1’s of Trainers possible.

2002

I believe 2002 was the first year the Pokémon game had a modified format.  Most of this is second hand information, so please bear with me.  The format was mainly dominated by two cards: Feraligatr and Slowking.  I believe somewhere in this format both Slowking and Sneasel were banned, which left Feraligatr being the only really dominant force in the meta.  Since I didn’t play in that era, I don’t have a Feraligatr list of my own, here is one that Chris Fulop wrote up.  I don’t think this is what he played but does give a solid look at what the deck does look like.

Pokémon:  19 Trainers:  22 Energy:  19
4 Totodile
4 Croconaw
4 Feraligatr
3 Cleffa
1 Tyrogue
1 Magby
1 Suicune
1 Elekid
4 Professor Elm
4 Double Gust
3 Focus Band
4 Misty’s Wrath
3 Secret Mission
4 Trash Exchange
19 Water

The list is obviously very Baby-happy, since they were near staples in everything.  The entire decks focus on Feraligatr made cards like Double Gust very viable.  The high energy count really supports the Feraligatr, while the trainer line-up mainly looks like a set up/discard engine designed to either get you set up or put more water energy in the discard.  Eventually you’d get to the point where almost your entire deck was just water energy, so you were consistently hitting for large amount of damage as long as you could continuously get energy in the discard pile.

I don’t’ remember the details, but I just remember for some reason there wasn’t much OP in 2003.  I think it had something to do with the switching of companies from Wizards of the Coast to Nintendo.

2004

So fast forward to 2004 and probably my favorite era of all time for Pokémon.  This is also the time that I got super competitive with this game.

From my understanding, Blaziken had a really solid strangle-hold on the format for a majority of the season with both Gardevoir and Swampert seeing fair amounts of play.  Team Magma, on the other hand, was the “secret” deck of Worlds piloted by many of the Japanese players.  The deck pretty much caught us all by surprise, which is pretty ironic because all of the American players were trading away their Team Magma cards to the Japanese relatively cheap.  At the time, I’m sure many thought they were dumping their horrible cards for better ones, kind of ironic how it turned out.

In the end, the top 4 decks for Masters were 3 Team Magma decks and 1 Blaziken deck.  The match up wasn’t as bad for Blaziken as people thought it was.  It was more the fact that none of us had tested the match up.

Here’s a look at the big Top 3.  These are my personal lists, but they are pretty standard over all.  I didn’t have a list for Magma, well because it was the secret deck for Worlds.  When I get back, I’ll try and find the one I built after Worlds and post it, although I will admit it was very similar to Yamatos.

Blaziken:

Pokémon:  24 Trainers:  21 Energy:  14
4 Dunsparce
4 Torchic
2 Combuskin
3 Blaziken
2 Blaziken Ex
2 Skitty
2 Delcatty
1 Rayquaza Ex
1 Oddish
1 Bellossium
1 Magnamite
1 Magneton
4 Oracle
4 Rare Candy
3 Copy Cat
4 Stevens Advice
1 Desert Shamin
1 Professor Elms Training Method
1 Friend Ball
1 Switch
1 Warp Point
1 Pokemon Nurse
1 ATM Rock
11 Fire
1 Electric
2 Multi

Gardevoir

Pokémon:  24 Trainers:  21 Energy:  14
4 Dunsparce
4 Ralts
2 Kirlia
2 Gardevoir
2 Gardevoir Ex
2 Skitty
2 Delcatty
2 Magnamite
2 Magneton
1 Oddish
1 Bellossum
4 Oracle
4 Rare Candy
4 Stevens Advice
2 Desert Shaman
1 Professor Elms Training Method
1 Friend Ball
2 Pokémon Reversal
1 Warp Point
1 Crystal Shard
1 Town Volunteers
1 ATM Rock
8 Psychic
4 Boost Energy
2 Electric

Swampert

Pokémon:  22 Trainers:  23 Energy:  14
4 Dunsparce
4 Mudkip
2 Marshtomp
2 Swampert
2 Swampert Ex
2 Skitty
2 Delcatty
2 Magnamite
2 Magneton
1 Oddish
1 Bellosom
4 Oracle
4 Rare Candy
4 Stevens Advice
3 Desert Shaman
1 Professor Elms Training Method
1 Friend Ball
2 Pokémon Reversal
1 Warp Point
1 Town Volunteers
1 Crystal Shard
1 ATM Rock
12 Water
2 Electric

2005

Throughout 2005 the meta took many shifts, and we saw a huge amount of diversity. Rock Lock (Dark Tyranitar/Dark Ampharos/ATM Rock) and Dragtrode (Dark Dragonite/Dark Electrode slugged it out through most of states and both made decent showings at Regional’s as well.

Regional’s however, all brought on the “Turn 2” decks which were unheard of in Pokémon at the time.   The deck normally focused on 1 big Stage 1 Ex, Jirachi and Swoop Teleporter.  What Jirachi did was let you look at the top 5 cards of your deck and add one of them to your hand, and after-wards Jirachi went to sleep.  So you had a 75% chance of using this power twice to grab one of the top 5 cards of your deck, to get your combo.  Next was Swoop Teleporter, which let you discard one of your basics in play and grab a different one out of your deck.  So you would discard your Jirachi, grab your basic and than evolve it and start swinging.  Seena Ghaziaskar was the first one to really implement this strategy and took his creation to a 14-0 Regional’s finish that year.  Here is a basic line up of what he used to go off turn 2. 
4 Grimer (Ascension)
4 Muk Ex
4 Jirachi
4 Swoop Teleporter

This made a huge impact on the field and many people were taking this sort of strategy and combining it with other Pokémon.  Turn 2 Muk Ex, Medicham Ex, Hariyama Ex, and Medicham Ex/Hariyama Ex hybrids all saw play for the rest of the season.

As you can tell all of these Pokémon Ex also had a way to shut off Pidgeot.  The MVP of the time, Pidgeot, let you search your deck for any card, and many games were decided by who could get the first Pidgeot out. If you weren’t playing Pidgeot, you were playing a way to counter it.  Muk Ex and Medicham Ex shut off his power just for being active, while Hariyama Ex locked a Battle Frontier in play making it so your opponent could not play a counter gym.

Regionals also saw the rise of another big deck, Ludicargo (Ludicolo/Marcargo).  Marcargo let you put any card from your deck on top, while Ludicolo let you draw the top card of your deck.  Ludicolo also had an attack that did 10 damage for each Pokémon in play so what you ended up with was a deck that could search out anything and hit hard.

And if I remember right these were still the big decks that did well through gym Challenges.  Nationals was a lot of the same, however there were some differences. The main one being that Medicham Ex became the strongest of the Turn 2 decks thanks to the addition of Pow Hand Extenstion.  The format still had Scramble Energy and opposing Pow Hand Extensions to worry about, so it was actually dangerous at times for a Medicham Ex player to take the first prize.  Instead with “Pow” they would never take the first prize and instead just opt to use Medicham Ex to spread 3 damage counters onto their opponents Pokémon.  Once their opponent took the first prize they would “Pow” up a heavy retreat-er or simply “Pow” all the energy off the active Pokémon.  It was a very frustrating strategy to play against.  It was also the strategy that allowed the same Seena Ghaziaskar, the inventor of the deck to take the title of National Champion.

Here is a pretty standard list for Medicham Ex, the deck went on to dominate Worlds in the Junior and Senior divisions.  The masters division, on the other hand, was taken by a deck that was completely designed to counter this strategy in the form of Queendom (Nidoqueen/Pidgeot)

Pokémon: 13 Trainers:  31 Energy: 16
4 Jirachi DX
4 Meditite
4 Medicham ex
1 Wobbuffet (SafeGuard)
4 Swoop Teleporter
4 Energy Removal 2
4 POW! Hand extension
4 TV Reporter
4 Rockets Admin
4 Team Aqua’s Hideout
3 Wally’s Training
2 Stevens Advice
2 Scott
1 Magnetic Storm
4 Metal Energy (Special)
3 Psychic Energy
8 fighting

2006

Both 2006 and 2007 were dominated by the Holon Engines, basically it was a tool box.  Holon Transceiver let you search your deck for any other Holon Supporter and there was quite an array of them the only down side is each of the Holon Supporters made you discard a card to use them.  Holon Mentor let you grab 3 Basics from your deck, Holon Scientist let you draw to the same number of cards in your hand as your opponent, Holon Researcher let you search you deck for a Delta Spices Pokémon, and Holon Adventurer let you discard a card to draw 3 or 4 cards if you discard a Delta Species Pokémon.  This engine was used almost every competive deck in the format at the time.

Lugia Ex/Blastoise Ex/Steelix Ex:
One of the most versatile decks in the format, Blastoise Ex let you drop Water Energy onto any of your Pokémon at the small cost of 10 Damage per energy.  Lugia Ex hit for 200 damage, while Steelix Ex hit anything in play for 100 damage.  Holon Electrode, Holon Magneton and Holon Castform took care of the problem of each of them needing different kinds of energy since the provided 2 of any kind.  Instead of your normal turn attachment, you could attach one of them to your Pokémon like an energy but you had to bounce an energy to do it, this meant next to nothing with Blastoise Ex.  One of the major downsides to the deck was that it cost about $400 to make and at the time the most expensive competitive deck that had ever existed.

Here’s a sample list, I won’t say that Jirachi HL was the most common way to play it but probably one of the most consistent, many people opted to play 2-3 Jirachi DX and 1 Jirachi HL instead.

Pokémon – 26 Trainers – 26 Energy – 8
3x Jirachi HL
1x Jirachi DX
2x Squirtle RG
1x Wartortle
2x Blastoise ex
1x Onix UF
1x Steelix ex
2x Pidgey RG
1x Pidgeotto RG
2x Pidgeot RG
2x Lugia ex
1x Porygon
1x Porygon 2
1x Latias Star
4x Holons Castform
1x Holons Electrode
4x Holon Transceiver
4x Holon Mentor
1x Holon Adventurer
4x Rare Candy
4x Power Tree
1x Switch
3x Steven’s Advice
3x Rockets Admin
1x Professor Elm’s Training Method
1x Pow Hand Extension
8x Water Energy

Rock Lock:
Rock Lock was another huge deck at the time and one of my personal favorites.  Dark Tyranitar placed 10 Damage on each of the opponents benched Basic Pokémon, Dark Ampharos put 20 Damage on a Pokémon when it evolved and ATM Rock took the highest stage of each of your opponents Pokémon and put it back in their hand.  So if they evolved they would take damage, they did nothing they would take damage, and if they got anything going you would ATM Rock them and put them back in the same situation, this is where “The Lock” comes from.

Here is my Rock Lock list from way back in the day.

Pokémon:  22 Trainers:  23 Energy:  12
4 Jirachi DX
3 Larvitar
2 Dark Pupitar
2 Dark Tyranitar (Sand Damage)
1 Dark Tyranitar (Spinning Tail)
2 Mareep
1 Dark Flaffy
2 Dark Amphaors
2 Pidgey
1 Pidgeotto
2 Pidgeot
4 Lannettes Net Search
4 Celio’s Network
4 Rare Candy
3 Desert Ruins
1 Rocket’s Tricky Gym
3 ATM Rock
2 Rockets Admin
1 Copycat
1 Mr. Brineys Compassion
4 Dark Energy
3 Scramble
2 Rainbow
3 Double Colorless Energy

Manetric Ex/Mew Ex:
This is what ended up winning worlds this year. The idea of the deck was to either start with Mew Ex or Electrike and use Electrikes attack to grab another electric energy from your deck, so you would be ready to use Manectric Ex’s attack Disconnect to stop your opponent from playing Trainers or Stadiums.  With the high number of Stadiums being played at the time this was a very effective stragey.  The deck also played 2 different Stadiums: Battle Frointer which stopped Pidgeot (the biggest threat at the time) along with a whole slew of other powers, and Cursed Stone which put 10 damage on any Pokémon with a PokePower between turns. Considering the deck played 1 or 2 powers tops their really was no downside to it.

2007

With both Pidgeot and Macargo out of the picture, the only real set up engine in the entire game was the Holon Engine, and every deck had to play it.  Holon Transicever, just a simple uncommon, reached $15+ on Ebay.

Flygon/Flygon Ex was one of the top decks at the time, and it paired the Delta Species versions of both Flygon and Flygon Ex together along with a whole slew of tech Pokémon, the deck was also able to take advantage of many of the Delta Spieces Support cards at the time.  It’s not hard to see why the deck was so big, it had a lot of things going for it.   Flygon gave it energy acceleration, Flygon Ex offered a stronger attacker that could sofen up their bench, the Holon Engine offered consistency, and it was very easy to tech for different match ups.

Flygon/Flygon Ex:

Pokémon:  23 Trainers: 27 Energy: 10
4 Holon’s Castform
4 Trapinch (grass)
1 Vibrava (sonic noise)
3 Flygon HP
2 Flygon ex d
2 Exeggcute
2 Exeggutor
1 Mew d Pop5
1 Mew d*
1 Rayquaza ex d
1 Chimecho
1 Holon’s Magnemite
4 Holon Transceiver
2 Holon Mentor
2 Holon Researcher
1 Holon Scientist
1 Holon Adventurer
1 Holon Farmer
2 Lanette’s Net Search
2 Castaway
4 Rare Candy
3 Windstorm
1 Giant Stump
2 Strength Charm
1 Warp Point
1 Mr. Briney’s Compassion
4 Delta Rainbow
2 Grass
1 Fire
2 Lightning
1 Metal (basic)

Empoleon was what I would consider the Japanese “Secret Deck” of Worlds 2007 it was nothing fancy just fast and consistent.  The list below is the one Yamato used to take 3rd at Worlds that year.  Its pretty standard but he did play a 1-0-1 Infernape which was used as a counter to what I assume was Scizor Ex as well as giving him an attacker that could hit hard.

Pokémon: 17 Trainers: 28 Energy: 15
4 Piplup DP
3 Prinplup DP
4 Empoleon DP
1 Chimchar DP
1 Infernape DP
2 Holon’s Electrode DS
2 Corsola UF
4 Cursed Stone
3 Cessation Crystal
3 Rare Candy
3 Celio’s Network
4 Holon Transciever
2 Castaway
3 Holon Mentor
2 Holon Scientist
1 Holon Adventurer
1 Steven’s Advice
1 Mr. Briney’s Compassion
1 Holon Farmer
11 Water
3 Scramble
1 DRE

And, since I’m biased, here is the list I used at Nationals.  It was far from a popular deck choice, probably the exact opposite with how popular Infernape was, but I knew my match ups and felt good about the deck.

Pokémon 23 Trainers 25 Energy 12
Scyther x2
Scizor Ex x2
Beldum(DS) x3
Metang (DS) x2
Metagross (DX) x3
Nidoran x2
Nidarina x1
Nidoqueen x2
Holons Castform x4
Holons Magnamite x1
Latios* x1
Holon Transciever x4
Holon Mentor x2
Holon Adventer x1
Holon Scientist x1
Holon Researcher x1
Copycat x3
Rare Candy x4
Stevens Advice x2
Professor Elm’s Training Method x3
Pokémon Reversal x2
Strength Charm x1
Plus Power x1
Metal x4
Psychic x8

2008

Many players hated this year, but I couldn’t have loved it more: games were long, strategy was huge, and every last tech mattered.  The problem most people had was how the format was dominated by just 2 decks all year.  Through Cities, States, and Regionals it was Gardevoir and Magmortar at the top; with Gardevoir being the more dominate deck.  Then heading into Nationals and Worlds it was Gardevoir and Empoleon slugging it out.  Empoleon had the edge in long drawn out games but simply couldn’t do it in the course of a 30 minute round.

Gardevoir/Gallade had such a strangle hold on the meta for several different reasons.  First Gardevoir had a power that let you use a Supporter out of your opponents discard pile.  While Gardevoir also had an attack that not only hit for 60 damage but also stopped your opponent from using Poke Powers.  By repeatedly using this attack you could deny your opponent Poke Powers for an entire game.  The deck also had Gallade which by flipping your prize cards face up could 1HKO anything at the start of the game.  Lastly Gardevoir Lv X had an attack the KO’ed the lowest HP Pokémon in play so it was relatively easy to “steal” your last few prizes.

Here is a Gardevoir/Gallade List:

Pokémon: 22 Trainers:  24 Energy: 14
4x Ralts (SW)
2x Kirlia (SW)
3x Gardevoir (SW)
1x Garevoir LV. X (SW)
2x Gallade (SW)
2x Baltoy (GE)
2x Claydol (GE)
1x Grimer SW
1x Muk SW
1x Chatot (MD)
1x Jirachi ex (CG)
1x Jolteon* (PK)
1x Holon’s Castform (DS)
4x Roseanne’s Research
4x Celio’s Network
1x Bebe’s Search
2x Team Galactic’s Wager
2x Steven’s Advice
4x Rare Candy
2x Windstorm
2x Warp Point
2x Lake Boundary
1x Night Maintence
4x Call Energy
3x Psychic Energy
4x Double Rainbow Energy
3x Scramble Energy

As for Empoleon, here is Alex’s (BigChuck) list.  This list was amazing.  It’s really straight-forward, fast, and wasn’t nearly as teched out as many of the Empoleon lists of the time were.  He went 8-0 in the Grinders and 7-0 in swiss at Worlds before losing in Top 32 to one of the decks only weaknesses, not running Windstorms/Counter Gyms.

Pokémon: 22 Trainers: 23 Energy: 15
4 Piplup
2 Prinplup
4 Empoleon
3 Bronzor
3 Bronzong
2 Baltoy
2 Claydol
1 Chatot
1 Absol ex
4 Celio
2 Bebes
4 Rosannes
3 Stevens
4 Candy
4 ER2
2 Warp Point
7 Water
4 Call
4 Scramble

So hopefully you enjoyed this relatively brief overview of some of the different formats we have had.  If our current format ever gets a bit stale for you, I really suggest trying to put some of these together even if you have to proxy them out .  Pokémon really has had some great formats over the years including some I would love to play in again.  I would be more than happy to answer questions or if there is a deck/list you want more information about, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

This article is part of OneHitKO’s Guest Writer Week for August 2011. Please check out all the articles in the series, and please give the authors your feedback in the comment section below.

  1. Michael’s article about upcoming Japanese cards.
  2. Radu’s article about his Mew/Muk/Jumpluff/Vileplume deck and how it can be made better.
  3. Pooka introduces Worlds 2011.
  4. Alan’s article about how to run a Pokemon league.
  5. Jay. H takes a look at past formats of the game.
  6. Jordan’s article about running rogue decks and his worlds decklist.

Be sure to check back throughout the week for more great articles from our friends!

Category: Deck Discussion, History | Tags:
  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the great article Jay.

    I like to look at the past too, but I wasn’t active for most of these years.  So its nice to see what was playable back then. 

    Give er hell at worlds!

  • Ed

    Awesome, Jay.  Thanks so much for sending me this.  I was surprised to see it this morning.  I hope you don’t mind me adding my paragraph on the top.

    I see that you’re 1-0 according to http://www.pokemonworldchampionships.com/2011/results/tcg/
    Keep it up!

  • Anonymous

    Congrats on top cut at Worlds Jay! Best of luck on Sunday!

  • Make 3rd again, but only if you’ve got that mat. Lol. Good luck man.

  • Ed

    Thanks again, Jay.  I liked the article, but, even more so, I liked the effort you put in for us.