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What Pokemon Can Learn from MTG: Non-Rotating Formats

What Pokemon Can Learn from MTG: Non-Rotating Formats

Hello everyone! I’m back for my second article this month about aspects of Magic: the Gathering which Pokémon can learn from. Last time, I covered the rulings on foreign cards and why I believe cards of any language should be allowed to play everywhere. This time, I’m going over an issue which might not be pressing to some newer players – the lack of properly supported non-rotating formats.

When I first started looking into playing MTG, I wanted to play Standard. After all, it was the only format I’d ever played in Pokémon. However, in MTG the most popular formats aren’t Standard – it’s Commander for a more casual player and Modern for a more competitive player. The main appeal for most MTG players to gravitate to alternate formats over Standard is the lack of a rotation, I remember telling someone who had only ever played MTG that the only Pokémon format I’d ever played was standard. Her response was “what do you do with all your cards once they’ve rotated out?” All I could do was shrug. 

The appeal for non-rotating formats for the people playing Magic was that their cards were eternal. Once you bought your deck, you could play it forever. I believe that proper support for a non-rotating format would help older players as their cards would continue to be usable after rotating out of Standard and aid players in returning to Pokémon after a long break by allowing them to still play with their older cards from when they played. While Pokémon does have a non-rotating format currently in the rules – the Expanded format – it has not been given the proper support it needs to catch on outside of one or two regional championships a quarter. In this article, I’ll go over the ways in which management for Modern and Expanded significantly differ as well as other options for Pokémon to use as a non-rotating format.

Header - Expanding Expanded

The Expanded format has received little support outside of several North American regional championships per year since its introduction in 2015. While I’ve heard of one or two Expanded major events happening in Europe, there has never been an Expanded premier event in Oceania or Latin America to my knowledge. There has especially been a lack of Expanded local tournaments, which would function as the primary way for most old or returning players to play Expanded. Additionally, there has never been an official Expanded tournament held online, which is the primary way for most players to currently interact with Pokémon.

There’s still a community of players who enjoy playing Expanded, as occasional unofficial Expanded tournaments happen frequently enough for there to be a monthly power rankings by Stephane Ivanoff on ChannelFireball. The last Expanded major event was held in early 2020 with no sign of official acknowledgement of Expanded from the Pokémon Company.

In contrast, the Modern format for MTG was played in several Grand Prix tournaments, as well as being a main event in MTG Vegas recently, which was held by ChannelFireball. There were even several Modern Pro Tours, and it was always a part of MTG’s World Championships, with it even being the format for the top four and finals in some years. Stores are encouraged to host dedicated Modern leagues and there are competitive leagues played constantly on MTGO for Modern. There have been eight reprint sets released for Modern and two sets that had cards designed directly for Modern!

In contrast, Expanded has never had a reprint product made to provide new copies of cards into the metagame. While this hasn’t had a drastic effect on the values of most cards, there is one specific case I will discuss as being a major issue for the future of the Expanded format. Players who haven’t been involved with Pokémon for too long might not be familiar with the card Tropical Beach.

Tropical Beach (BW28)

Tropical Beach was an exclusive promo card given out to participants and staff at the 2011 and 2012 Pokémon World Championships. While the card was initially thought to be useless, Ross Cawthon ended up using his copy to finish in second place at the 2011 World Championships! When playing a slower, more setup-focused deck, Tropical Beach can be used to great effect as these decks don’t typically attack early anyway and can just use the effect of Tropical Beach to fill their hand up each turn.

Tropical Beach was played in setup focused Stage 2 decks during it’s time in the Standard format, the whole time commanding a high price tag of $250 due to its exclusivity. Since Tropical Beach rotated out of Standard in 2014, its price has only gone upwards. It has never been reprinted since the 2012 World Championships which has kept the supply of the card incredibly low. I was unable to find a current pricing of Tropical Beach on the ChannelFireball Marketplace as it was sold out everywhere! Tropical Beach was even banned at one point in Japan for being too difficult to obtain in Japanese but was removed from the banned list shortly afterwards.

When looking over the list of top 10 Expanded decks in the Fusion Strike format by Stephane Ivanoff, the only one which includes Tropical Beach is the Shock Lock deck. This artificially lowers the amount of Shock Lock which will be present in any tournament because, so few copies of Tropical Beach are available to most players. The scarcity of Tropical Beach prevents new decks from including it and gives significant advantages to players who can obtain copies of it or already have them. For the Expanded format to continue, Tropical Beach must either be banned or reprinted as in its current state it presents a major barrier to entry for new players of Expanded.

If Pokémon wants to improve and expand the Expanded format, they need to provide sufficient reprints of hard-to-find cards, Tropical Beach being the most pressing concern. More tournaments would also need to be held which feature Expanded as the primary format all over the world, not just in North America. This would both be at the local league level all the way up to potentially featuring the Expanded format at an International Championship. Expanded could even be incorporated for a section of the World Championships, to showcase more cards being used by the best players and help promote Expanded to a wider audience. However, Expanded is not the only non-rotating format, there have been several others which have been put forth by the community and even the Pokémon Company itself!

Header - Adding Other Formats

First, the official rules on the Pokemon.com website does feature an Unlimited format. For those who are unfamiliar, Unlimited is a format which allows any card from any set to be legal, with no ban list! While using the entirety of your collection to build decks can sound enticing, there has never been an official Unlimited tournament held because it would quickly degenerate into every game ending on the first turn with decks using a combination of Sableye SF, Porgyon2 and Lysandre’s Trump Card.

Sableye (48/100)Porygon2 (49/106)Lysandre's Trump Card (99/119)

If Pokémon wanted to implement the Unlimited Format, it would require a massive ban list to get any game to last beyond the first player’s turn and would be incredibly difficult to manage due to the sheer history of cards available. Unfortunately, I doubt we will ever see this happen as Pokémon has never shown any signs of wanting Unlimited to become more than a footnote.

While this format has only ever been available on PTCGO, the Legacy format can be interesting to sometimes take a venture into. Legacy is a format which encompasses cards from Heartgold and Soulsilver to Legendary Treasures, which is every set from the beginning of 2010 to the end of 2013. While there has never really been official acknowledgement of this format beyond creating it, some players do enjoy playing unofficial Legacy formats from time to time, there have even been some articles written here on a few of the decks within Legacy!

Legacy is an interesting format in that the available cards never change so it’s impossible for new cards to disrupt it’s metagame. However, formats such as this tend to become stale over time and I’ve never heard of an official tournament being held using a format that never gets new cards added to it. Ultimately, I think Legacy will remain as is until it is phased out when PTCG Live eventually releases, and these older cards no longer become available.

The Palace format, also known as the Hall of Fame format, is an official format which is played exclusively in Japan. Palace allows cards from Diamond and Pearl and onwards to be used, with an interesting set of restrictions. It does have a banned list but also a star system. Certain cards that are powerful, but not game-breaking enough to be banned are assigned a star rating from one to three and a player is only allowed to include four total stars in their deck.

This means that they can include four copies of a one-star card or a single one star card and a three star card but not both. This is an interesting way to restrict cards for a format with a high number of legal expansions, which I’ve never seen be used in any area other than the Palace format. Unfortunately, Palace is exclusive to Japan, and I’ve never seen any western players build decks or play games of it. Because of this, I doubt we will be getting official Palace support anytime soon.

One use of older cards which is popular in the Pokémon Community is making decks from older Standard formats. This involves rebuilding several decks from a specific year or format and playing them against each other. Usually this is done casually or between groups of friends without any possibility of a competitive tournament being held using an older format. This was the case until the Draft the World tournament which happened in August of this year. In Draft the World, several players were selected to draft different decks which performed well in different years at the World Championships and then play them against each other, with each round of the tournament featuring a different format.

While this is an incredibly interesting way to structure a tournament, I doubt it will work well for a large open tournament due to the difficulty to acquire older cards as well as acquire large quantities of those cards to make a deck from each year. However, I could see future Draft the World tournaments happening or even playing a few rounds of old format at a future World Championships in addition to Standard or Expanded. It was interesting to see the Pokémon Company host a tournament featuring decks from previous Standard formats and I am curious to see the future of official old format play.

The only completely unofficial format I will examine in this article is the Gym Leader Challenge (GLC) format. GLC was created by a notable Pokémon streamer, Andrew Mahone, and is like the current Expanded format with a few exceptions. The restrictions are that you’re only allowed one type of Pokémon in your deck, you can only play a single copy of each card in your deck and you cannot use rulebox Pokémon in your deck.

These rules make the GLC gameplay completely different from regular Standard and Expanded gameplay as often multiple different Stage 2 Pokémon will be in each deck! GLC has gained popularity particularly in North America where several unofficial 1k tournaments have been held using it, which is incredible to see for a completely unofficial format! Of all the non-rotating formats I have discussed, GLC is the one I could see being official tournaments being held with alongside Expanded as it is already popular with the player base and grabbed worldwide attention very quickly!

Header - Wrapping Up

To conclude, adopting a non-rotating format would be one of the most important lessons Pokémon could take when looking at MTG. While a non-rotating format currently exists with Expanded, it hasn’t been given the support it has needed to establish itself properly with the players and right now remains an afterthought. By looking at how Modern has been managed by MTG, Pokémon could improve the Expanded format and hold tournaments in an entirely different non-rotating format!

In my opinion, properly supporting a non-rotating format would be one of the best directions Pokémon could take to make the card game easier for players to keep up with and aid returning players into jumping right back to competing.

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