If you’re coming from Pokemon, this article might be useful as a little update of sorts – but this is more so intended for our Magic audience. So, hello! You might remember me as the scrub that reviewed some cards with Luis about a month ago. I know a lot of you liked reading me discuss something I was less familiar with, and while at this point I still don’t know much in the grand scheme of things, I do feel confident enough to present to you the following article: the Pokemon TCG for Magic: the Gathering players.
This is going to be a lot of fun to write, so I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did making it. Let’s start with some expectations first. What are you going to get out of this? Pokemon and Magic originated from the creative labs at Wizards of the Coast and while Pokemon is not its own separate entity, the game was, as far as I know, originally designed as an avenue for younger audiences to get into card games, eventually picking up Magic when they were ready.
Today that’s a whole lot different and while I would say that the Pokemon player base is a little younger on average, there are certainly those of us that are raising families, out of school, and maybe even a few that are retired. Most of the age group falls in their early twenties – none of this is super important with the means of this article, I just wanted to fill you in.
I’m going to be picking some styles of decks and relating them to Magic ones. I could go more specific and say something like UW Control, or put some titles on the names of the decks, but I don’t believe that serves a huge purpose – the premise of control in both games is going to be the same – so that’s about as far as I’ll take any side-by-sides.
Our lovely Magic content editor James wrote an excellent beginners guide. If you just want to know how to play Pokemon – this is more of the next logical step. I do want to make a few bullet points of my own, however, now that I’ve played a decent amount of Magic. This might help clarify a few things, they might now, I’ll try my best:
- Lands are extremely similar to Energy cards in Pokemon. The biggest difference is that an Energy gets attached to a Pokemon like an Equipment or Aura and goes to the discard pile (or in Magic terminology, graveyard) when that Pokemon is Knocked Out (or, again in Magic terms, dies). In Magic, your lands are there until something destroys them. Energy are a little more reactive in this way, and on paper they are “worse” resources. You can still only play one of each per turn unless something allows you to increase that number.
- Instead of power and toughness in an “X/X” fashion, there are different attacks a Pokemon can use. These vary in number and flavor text, some might do something like discard one of your opponent’s Energy (something a control deck would like) or another might increase your damage for the next turn (something an aggro deck would like). Health/defense is reflected as HP in the top right corner of a card – it slowly goes down depending on how much an attack does and it does not reset at the end of your turn like in Magic.
- Trainer cards are basically like sorcery spells, kind of? They can only be played during your turn (the only exception to this in history was Power Spray). Given that there isn’t any player-to-player interaction outside of a turn, there is a bit of waiting, but this is also nice because you get to plan your turns even better. With Trainers, Items are completely unlimited to play, Supporters are once per turn, as are Stadiums (and you can’t play a Stadium that has the same name that is already in play – there can also only be just one Stadium in play at a time). A Stadium is a bit like an enchantment, harkening back to the old “World Enchantment” rule if you can remember that far back, and a Supporter is kind of like a broken draw spell that requires a bunch of mana but instead of that mana requirement, you can only just play one a turn to balance that out.
- A common reaction from Magic players to Pokemon is that the game is super unbalanced or it’s nuts that you look through your deck so much – things of that nature. While on a Magic playing field that is most certainly true with Magic cards, but the game is entirely different in that each deck can do these things, and if they can’t, they’re not going to be very good. This sometimes leads to a lot of quick-paced gameplay, big numbers and many cards drawn – but this is something Pokemon players are mostly used to – power creep through the years has sped things up more and more. That power creep might hit a bit close to home for Magic players too.
- Finally one more clerical point, to win you take all six of your Prize cards, six cards set aside after your opening draw. You can’t mulligan in the traditional sense in Pokemon – only when you lack a Basic Pokemon in your opening hand. This is a little unfortunate. In fact, I would love to see a mulligan introduced in the same way it is in Magic. Life points just aren’t a thing, everything surfaces on those six Prize cards. There are also some more obscure ways to win but those are something you can find in a rule book – the other main entrée is deck-out, but there aren’t many decks that do that outside of the control world. Sadly, Krabby and Kingler don’t have the same effect as Hedron Crab or Ruin Crab…
All decks are linked to Pokemon articles here, feel free to check them out to learn more!
Aggro – Lightning Mewtwo & Mew-GX
What’s the Red Deck Wins of Pokemon? Well there isn’t exactly an Energy type that operates in the same space but there are some common distinctions: Basic Pokemon with lots of HP and hard-hitting attacks are very often what become the aggro builds of the format. While I’m typing this, it dawns on me that most Pokemon players don’t operate in the space of aggro/combo/control/midrange/ramp – decks are just decks. This is, however, something I want to see change, because these distinctions separate metagames in a more clear and concise fashion and just up the intellectual quality of discussion – it proves the knowledge of what a deck is.
For this section I’ve chosen the best Pikachu & Zekrom-GX deck at the moment, a version that relies on Mewtwo & Mew-GX. Tord has written about this deck and then updated it recently, so I would recommend checking his pieces out if you want to learn more. There’s also a mono Pikachu & Zekrom-GX build that doesn’t opt for as many tech options. There’s no sideboard in Pokemon, so you’ll often find most decks being quite generic, some opting for few if any techs.
Aggro decks almost never play techs, although they could – at the cost of some consistency. With the 60-card restraint (no going under or over) in the game, you only have so much space past the staples of each deck. Most decks are going to try to play about eight Pokemon search cards, around ten Energy cards, and at least eight draw Supporter cards. This varies wildly but this is a very modest starting point of where many decks wind up.
It’s worth mentioning that this deck isn’t the most aggro deck in the world if that makes sense, I just found it the most fitting for this section. The next deck I’ll talk about is actually aggro in its own right, however it best fills the “combo” tag, so I opted to save it for there. In any case, what does a Pikachu do, and what the heck is a Zekrom?
Pikachu & Zekrom-GX is like a mash up of two super powerful planeswalkers. You’ve got good old Pikachu, the face of the franchise, and Zekrom – a legendary Pokemon of epic power. While Pikachu is nothing on its own and Zekrom isn’t quite busted, the two of them team up to form this Lightning-type powerhouse that not only deals great damage but ramps up Energy to your other Pokemon. The way the field looks is your deck and graveyard (discard pile) on the right side, your Prize cards on the left, and your Active Pokemon (the one doing combat) on top – as well as your five Benched Pokemon down below (sort of in the area where your mana pool would be).
Pikachu & Zekrom-GX in this deck are paired with a variety of different tech cards for different matchups but the deck still aims to start attacking for lots as soon as the second turn, sometimes even in the first turn with a lucky hand. Tapu Koko Prism Star is the major reason any of this is even possible, it’s just an aggro card that allows you to get extra Energy into play and set up your attackers sooner than they would otherwise be able to attack normally. That’s some serious ramp.
The mono-Pikachu & Zekrom-GX deck is even more aggro than this one, but sometimes comes with a little bit of a midrange presence in the form of Crushing Hammer and some other disruptive tools. I would go for this deck, really any Pikachu & Zekrom-GX deck, if you’re into hard-hitting, fast decks in Magic. There’s even a preconstructed deck featuring our favorite yellow mouse (like a planeswalker deck).
To be frank, I had a hard time coming up with this slot since there’s not a completely combo-based deck in Standard right now – the format I wanted to talk about here. While Pikachu & Zekrom-GX decks are certainly aggro, this deck is potentially even faster. However, it does rely on a combo from time to time. Combos in Pokemon are just like in Magic, sometimes you ramp up to them, other times they can be played at instant speed.
Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX, often referred to as ADP, has a game-altering GX attack (a move you get to use once per game) that wants to be used on the first turn if you go second, or on the second turn if you go first. Attacks cannot be used by the first player although the second player can however. Sometimes this deck chooses to go second – but that varies depending on the matchup. Here’s the combo:
A Metal-type Pokemon on your Bench that you can Metal Saucer to (one of the two Energy needed to use Altered Creation GX). Second, you need an ADP to start with – and you need to get this into your Active Spot (this might require Air Balloon, Switch, etc.). Third, you need an Energy Switch to move the Metal Energy from your Benched Pokemon to your Active ADP. From there, you need a Water Energy to finish the job and achieve the all-in-one-turn Altered Creation. It’s a lot to ask for, but with speedy cards like Crobat V and Dedenne-GX, it’s a possibility.
This deck is thoroughly hated by much of the competitive community. It can be fun to play for a while and winning is definitely fun, but losing with this deck is the worst – it gets very boring and does not take a lot of practice, other than getting the combo lines down and making sure you do the most with the least number of resources. Speaking of this, Pokemon doesn’t often relate in terms of two-for-ones, a common turn of phrase in Magic. However, like types of decks, I think this is something that would improve the quality of discussion. In this instance by achieving the combo, you get two turns for the cost of one (normally you attach one Energy, then attach the other) – this is one of the most broken plays you can make in Standard right now and is much of the reason that this ADPZ (as it’s called) deck has been on top of AzulGG’s power rankings for over two months!
Play this deck if you like the feeling of completing a combo (obviously, who doesn’t like that?) or you just love hitting the gas and going full speed ahead like with a Mono-Red deck. This deck can find it hard to lose once you use Altered Creation, if you get it turn one, victory is almost a sure thing. Furthermore, one of the most important skills in Pokemon is choosing your Prize cards – this deck makes that extremely easy. Some Pokemon award two Prizes, so ADP after its GX attack can just go after two of them to win the game! Boss’s Orders is best abused by this deck, some think that ADP is worthy of a ban, or even Boss’s Orders. Whatever happens will be, but for now this deck is alive and well, fast and furious.
Control – Excadrill
Oranguru is the greatest control card of all time, recently banned from the Expanded format. In 2018 and 2019, my friends and I went on a heater, winning many major events with Oranguru decks, usually powered by Zoroark-GX. For Worlds that same year, one of our team made the Top 8 with Pidgeotto variant of Oranguru, since Zoroark-GX was rotated out. Now in Standard there’s only one super-resource recovery Pokemon like that: Excadrill. It’s a little different, frankly, its attack is better, but it’s a Stage 1. Stage 1 Pokemon have to evolve, so that means its Basic, Drilbur, must stay in play for a turn before it can evolve.
Because of this it’s slower, usually loses to ADP decks (the deck to beat) and can suffer from some general inconsistencies because of its required setup. There’s a few things at play here so you’ll need to be a master of patience and be ready to lose to some bad beats. Now, for the fun stuff, how does a Pokemon control others?
The Standard format provides you with a few cards that are incredibly important to your strategy, as far as I know, MTG has not had any majorly successful strategies based on coin flips (sorry Krark fans!). For Pokemon that’s a different story, one such card in Crushing Hammer has been the bane of some player’s existence for years. Excadrill hopes to recycle these Items and run the opponent out of Energy (depending on the matchup).
If you have a kill spell for all of your opponent’s lands without losing your own, well, that’s pretty good. At instant speed on, say, an Item card, you can do this multiple times in a turn, then get them back, doing it all over again on the next turn. Some decks are extremely difficult to run out of Energy. For this, there’s a different option: hand lock. Hand lock is forced with a combo, but can also just happen naturally (if you’re lucky).
The main combo in Standard is: Reset Stamp to two or fewer, Jessie & James to discard them down to zero, then finally a Chip-Chip Ice Axe to set the top of your opponent’s deck. Think back to the Lantern Control days for a Magic reference. Three cards isn’t the deepest reach in the world, but you can play multiple Chip-Chip Ice Axe in a turn if one fails. This hand lock strategy is infuriating for opponents and you might lose some friends. Some Pokemon have on-board Abilities that draw them out of a lock, which are the kinds of matchups where you might just automatically have the disadvantage or have to go a different route.
While ADPZ uses Boss’s Orders as an offensive weapon, this deck can turn it the opposite direction and point Giovanni at big Retreat Cost Benched Pokemon, hoping to trap them in play. I bet the worst feeling is having a closer in hand but not the right amount of mana to summon it – similarly, a Pokemon that’s super broken could be in play, but if it’s trapped Active with no Energy, it’s a sitting duck. These decks either win via concession, or a full-on deck-out of the opponent. If you’re a troll or like making people mad – look no further. Pokemon control decks are insanely fun when you’re on the winning end. You will feel like the king of the world, take it from me.
Midrange – Lucario & Melmetal-GX / Zacian V
This deck has fallen off a bit since the release of Vivid Voltage, but it’s still out there. It’s not an all-out control deck, so that makes it midrange. Zacian V works as your closer/main attacker. It’s usually used to eliminate threats, removing their Energy in the process. Yes, you eventually win by taking all your Prize cards, but you can sometimes start to push them close to decking-out if the game drags on too long.
This deck isn’t flashy when it wins, but it definitely wins. Metal Saucer serves as ramp in this deck, allowing Zacian V to get online like an efficient attacker. Full Metal Wall GX is its greatest controlling advantage, stripping all the Energy off an attacker if it has a bonus Energy. Lucario & Melmetal-GX doesn’t deal a ton of damage, but it sure does frustrate those across the table from you.
This deck often plays cards that reduce damage (think of it like additional defense/health) to make it difficult to score Knock Outs on your Pokemon. All in all this deck is almost exactly what I envision in the midrange world. It plays from a variety of different angles and takes different routes to victory. I’d go for this if you like sticking with one deck – there are a lot of players out there that have mained this deck for a long time and it’s paid off for them. It takes a lot of practice, but there’s a point where you just know the lines and can execute a variety of different strategies.
Ramp – Rillaboom
Finally I come to Rillaboom. This is literally a ramp deck and it’s even green! Jungle Beat takes two Grass Energy out of your deck, so in all you can get out three a turn! Feels like a Migration Path to me. This increases further if you get multiple Rillaboom out. There’s a catch – Rillaboom is a Stage 2 Pokemon so it requires a few turns to establish itself. Alex just wrote about his newly improved version that uses Rowlet & Alolan Exeggutor-GX to speed up the process, that’s an option to make things easier.
Extra lands are fun, extra Energy drops are fun – same thing! The problem with these decks in Pokemon are often that they are clunky and flop completely flat in some games. In Expanded (our “modern-like” format), there are a lot of broken Energy accelerators, Max Elixir, Dark Patch, and others. Standard mainly has Ability-based ramp and Turbo Patch. There’s a new Trumbeak that’s underexplored, but it’s kind of sketchy.
Some of the most fun ramp in the game are things that Knock Out themselves like Electrode-GX, Milotic, and others – these set up fun combo plays (annoying for an opponent though). Basically if you like doing extra things that you normally couldn’t a deck like Rillaboom is for you. There’s a few ways to build it, such as a mono-Grass version with Weakness Guard Energy to stop its Weakness, another unique thing about Pokemon, where certain types inflict double the damage against other ones, and there’s also an Aurora Energy-based version with tons of options that’s more fun and better. Also Rillaboom is a monkey so that’s pretty cool, right?
A Bonus: Something Like You’ve Never Seen
What if discarding artifacts was a viable strategy, something like you’ve never seen? There have been some insanely zany fun strategies in Pokemon through the years, but the one that comes to mind first these days is Whimsicott. This little puff ball thing can use Flying Fury for upwards to 250 damage for a single Psychic Energy. That’s like blowing up an 8/8 for one mana (kind of, who knows). Get this though, there’s even a Tool card (like an artifact that goes on a creature) that comes back to your hand after you discard. So now you’re just churning out that damage each turn with little to no drawback.
U-Turn Board is another skateboard-style card that just makes Whimsicott into a little powerhouse. The deck has its issues, Marnie can put the U-Turn Board collection on the bottom of your deck, Vikavolt V can stop you from playing Items – but in metas where these things aren’t super popular it can thrive. Isaiah wrote about it recently and Azul’s had some success with it in major tournaments!
Other fun things that come to mind are Pokemon that get stronger the more Pokemon are in a player’s discard pile, Flareon, Vespiquen, and others – Pokemon like Blastoise that let you play as many Water Energy from your hand to your Pokemon as much as you like in a turn, and more. Magic has a ton of graveyard-loving cards that this is a Dredge player’s Pokemon dream! There’s so many fun card types in the game – these unique strategies have always left me coming back. The unknown is waiting to be unraveled with each set release!
So there you have it. I hope I didn’t talk your ear off and maybe you’ll have an interest in picking up the game, or at least watching a video or two on the YouTube channel from time to time! Maybe reading is your thing and you want to peep a deck guide every so often, whatever it is, I highly recommend giving Pokemon a chance, just like I’ve given Magic a chance (and it’s awesome)!
If you want to talk about random Pokemon stuff, you can start dropping comments below or take the conversation to Twitter. I’d love to chat with some Magic folks about Magic, Pokemon, a combination of the two – anything.
Hope you’re all staying safe and being nice. Santa comes soon!
Take care and Be Peace,