The incredible Pokémon V and Pokémon VMAX cards continue to
make a sizable impact on the Pokémon Trading Card Game, and the latest
expansion, Sword
& Shield—Darkness Ablaze
features even more of these powerful Pokémon (among a bevy of other new cards
as well, of course). To find out more about the creation of this new set of
cards, we talked to Atsushi Nagashima, the Game Director of the Pokémon
TCG at Creatures Inc.

Mr. Nagashima has been involved with the Pokémon TCG since
2003, and he was able to share all sorts of behind-the-scenes information such
as how they choose which Pokémon and human characters will appear on new cards.
He also pulls back the curtain to reveal some of the finer details about the
Pokémon TCG’s gameplay mechanics. Longtime players can learn more about how
certain cards are designed to work together and the thought process that goes into
the development of a card. Here’s what he had to say!

Do you look for ways
to make cards synergistic, or are card combinations mostly discovered
organically through gameplay? If you do set them up intentionally, have you
ever had an instance when fans did not discover a combination?

Mr. Nagashima:
Normally, there is something we’re aiming for with all the cards when we create
them. Each card is designed with its own synergies in mind, some simple and
some more complicated, depending on the role of that particular card.

I doubt there are many combinations players haven’t found,
but we take a broad approach, so maybe there are a few. As a developer, it
makes me very happy when players discover one of the more complicated

Additionally, sometimes skilled players put cards to uses
beyond what we expected. As a developer, being outfoxed in that way is also
very exciting.

How do you decide
which cards get to be Pokémon VMAX? (They don’t seem to always correlate to
Gigantamax Pokémon from the video games.)

Mr. Nagashima: Often
we make that choice based on questions such as: what will be most interesting
for the metagame, what sort of worldview do we want to express with that
series, and what Pokémon types do we want to feature in the product in

We also actively look for Pokémon that might not have gotten
full attention in the video game but can be put to good use as a card and
really shine.

With the Sword & Shield expansion, we saw
some swapping of traditional types, such as traditional Poison-type Pokémon
changing to Darkness types in the Pokémon TCG. What was the primary reason for
this, and has it played out as you expected?

Mr. Nagashima: Making
Darkness types weak to Grass and Fighting types has the advantage of dispersing

Also, the TCG was previously characterized by a
rock-paper-scissors relationship between Grass, Fire, and Water types, but that
relationship allowed the metagame to progress too quickly. So, with the Sword & Shield Series, we began
focusing compatibility around five types: Grass, Fire, Water, Lightning, and
Fighting. Darkness types represent a new change, as a type that’s related (via
Weakness) to two of those core types. This change opens up a lot of tactical

Every once in a
while, there’s a card like Galarian Darmanitan that is clearly designed around unique aspects of that Pokémon from
the video game. What is the process like for translating video game concepts to
the Trading Card Game?

Mr. Nagashima: We
start with as thorough an understanding as we can gather of that Pokémon’s
characteristics in the video game, and the contents of its Pokédex entry. From
there, we discuss various options that we feel will best emulate this new
mechanic within the TCG.

The important point is to represent the Pokémon in a way
that is both simple and interesting for the card game, and that can be enjoyed
by as many people as possible.

How do you decide
which human characters to match to specific Trainer card effects?

Mr. Nagashima: Sometimes
we look at the way characters or tools are depicted in the video games and
think of interesting effects they could have in the TCG. Other times, we start
with the effect we want and then match it to the character or other element
that seems to fit that effect.

On occasion we’ll see
cards, like Mew V and Dracovish in this expansion, that share similar Abilities or attacks with popular cards
from the past. What considerations do you have to take when revisiting popular

Mr. Nagashima: First,
we thoroughly analyze what kind of effects past cards have had, and then we explore
how those effects should evolve.

Even when a technique or combo has the same effect as a
previous card, we design the new card to create a different and exciting
experience. It can be a change in which Pokémon now has that effect, or different
interactions with the many other cards that make up the game environment.

Could you talk us
through the development of the following cards from Sword & Shield—Darkness Ablaze, such as how you devised
their Abilities and attacks, and how you balanced those with other elements
such as HP and Retreat Cost?

Mr. Nagashima: The
idea for Corviknight comes from the Flying Taxis, which players of the video
games should be familiar with. Corviknight can shuttle Pokémon into the
player’s hand.

Mr. Nagashima: It’s
difficult to raise up and evolve multiple Pokémon at once. Our objective with
this card is to encourage decks with multiple evolving Pokémon.

Mr. Nagashima: In
the TCG, when people think of Charizard, they probably think of big damage. This
version of Charizard is capable of doing 300 damage, which is a stunning amount
even compared to other VMAX cards.

Mr. Nagashima: Grimmsnarl
has an image as a powerful, fur-covered Pokémon, so we designed this version so
it would become more powerful when Energy is attached to it.

It makes a great combo with the Darkness Ablaze version of Hydreigon,
which allows a player to instantly attach maximum Energy.

Mr. Nagashima: Eternatus
VMAX is a mammoth presence in the original story. We chose to represent that in
the TCG by giving it an HP of 340, which is the largest HP to date. Additionally,
Eternatus was meant from the beginning of the series to have major implications
for the metagame, so we designed this series so that it would also create a big
splash in the TCG game environment. Naturally, in addition to the card data, we
considered how it would connect to other Pokémon and the tactical options it
would create.

At Creatures, we have a team of TCG playtesters who play the
game throughout the day to gather as much data as they can on how a card
performs. Their role is to check the playability of the new cards and game mechanics,
while making sure that the game stays balanced after releasing a new expansion.
The playtesters need to anticipate the strategies that competitive TCG players
will choose once the new cards are introduced to the public, and how these
cards will interact with the ones from previous sets. Some modifications that
might be requested based on testing are reducing or increasing HP and damage. The
creative team works in close communication with testers, using their feedback
to help achieve the kind of game we hope to create.

Many thanks to Mr. Nagashima for sharing his insights into
the development of this latest Pokémon TCG expansion. You can find Pokémon
TCG: Sword & Shield—Darkness Ablaze cards now in the Pokémon Center and where Pokémon TCG products
are sold.

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