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
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
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
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
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
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 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!
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.