Hello PokeBeach members! I am pleased to bring you my first article, well… ever! My name is Aaron Roffman, and I am a TCG player from New Jersey. I am currently in my third competitive season and am having a grand old time with the game. I have played the game on and off since Base Set, but did not get involved in the competitive community until recently. I am very glad that I did, as there are lots of great people to meet and things to experience. I’ve made several friends in the TCG world, and now that I’ve been around the block I would like to give something back to this awesome community by writing articles.
Outside of Pokemon, I have just graduated community college, and will be starting at Drew University in the fall to finish up my Bachelor’s Degree in history. I’m a pretty hardcore otaku, with plenty of Disney and ponies on the side. I’ve been a member of PokeBeach since the fall of 2014, and I’m very glad to be a part of this community, after having used the site as a news source for years and not realizing what I’m missing. If you aren’t already a member, I strongly suggest you check out our forums, create an account, and become a part of our community. We’ll be sure to give you a warm welcome!
In this article, I’m going to talk about Stage 1 and 2 Pokemon in the competitive scene. Over the course of this past season, non-EX decks have inched their way back into the format after living in the shadows of their bulkier cousins. With an XY-On Rotation confirmed, the popular Pokemon-EX from the Black & White era, such as Mewtwo-EX, Landorus-EX, and Darkrai-EX, just to name a few, will no longer be playable in Standard. While new Pokemon-EX are taking their place, we are also continuing to see a slew of powerful non-EX Pokemon that can compete with them. Evolved Pokemon especially seem to be returning to the scene, and not just the powerful Mega Evolutions that are restricted to Pokemon-EX.
Stage 1 and 2 decks have gained a couple of new friends in recent and upcoming sets, and it seems the game’s creators are continuing to push in this direction. The two cards in particular that I will be praising are Wally from Roaring Skies and Giant Plant Forest in the soon-to-be-released Ancient Origins set. Both of these cards aid players by getting around the normal rules of Evolution, letting them access their Evolved Pokemon quicker. I will be explaining the applications of these cards shortly, but first, let’s take a brief look at the fate of Evolved Pokemon in the game’s recent seasons.
Evolution… Then and Now
As anyone who’s been playing the TCG in recent years knows, Pokemon-EX like Mewtwo-EX and Darkrai-EX have dominated the TCG ever since they were first released, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Until XY, all Pokemon-EX were Basic Pokemon, with attacks often comparable to their Stage 1 and Stage 2 brethren, but without the need to evolve. That was a huge boon, as these Pokemon could often get attacking on the first turn of the game.
Evolved Pokemon (and non-EX Basics) were not left entirely in the dust, but typically found themselves limited to supporting roles or as secondary attackers in decks that focused primarily on Pokemon-EX. A good example would be Blastoise from Boundaries Crossed, which became the centerpiece of the deck not for its attack, but for its Deluge Ability. That said, Blastoise remained a bench-warmer, while the powerful Keldeo-EX and Black Kyurem-EX did the dirty work for him. Blastoise would only ever attack if for some reason the big boys could not take something down, such as a Pokemon with Safeguard.
Non-EX-centered decks have always existed, such as Empoleon and Pyroar, but these have existed more as meta calls to counter popular decks rather than defining the format on their own. In general, these decks have shown weaknesses that, once exposed, contribute to their downfall. While this is true of any unexpected deck (I’m looking at you, Wailord-EX), non-EX decks have historically been more vulnerable to this whenever they’ve seen success.
The revolution came for most players when Donphan took over the Cities meta. A few months later, Flareon won Florida Regionals. While the Flareon deck had technically existed ever since the card’s debut in Plasma Freeze, and even got a top 16 spot at Worlds that same year with Dylan Bryan piloting the deck, it had remained largely under the radar (at least here in the Northeast) until Orion Craig won Florida Regionals with it. Since then, non-EX decks have risen in popularity, with Flareon and Donphan continuing to see play, as well as Raichu gaining an edge. Both Flareon and Raichu are able to hit really high numbers, often enough to one-shot a Pokemon-EX, for just a Double Colorless Energy. The latter of these two was prominent at U.S. Nationals, and will undoubtedly have some degree of presence at Worlds despite not having topped the event.
So let’s get down to business. Not to defeat the Huns, but instead to defeat all of those big, bad Pokemon-EX that are already in the current format, as well as the new ones that Ancient Origins is sending our way. As we begin to transition away from the Black & White sets and look toward the XY-On format, I expect Stage 1 decks to remain major players in the game. Some Stage 2 decks could even return, with some powerful support being released in their favor, and the ubiquitous Seismitoad-EX losing key support cards. Let’s first take a look at the two cards, one of which is already legal, and one coming out in Ancient Origins, that will help give non-EX decks an edge.
With the release of Roaring Skies, Evolved Pokemon received a new toy to play with in the form of Wally. While cards that search out Evolutions are nothing new, this card is particularly interesting for two reasons:
It gets around the normal rules regarding Evolution. You can play Wally on your first turn, or on a Pokemon that was played down just that turn. This also means that if you manually evolve a Pokemon from a Basic to a Stage 1 during your turn, you can play Wally to pull the Stage 2 out of your deck and evolve again the same turn! (You can’t, however, use Wally and then evolve another time, since it still counts as an evolution.) While Rare Candy has a similar effect, with Item Lock becoming a trend, Wally is superior in most ways.
Wally has already seen some success in the Gengar-EX / Trevenant deck, where, if you go first, you can set up a Trevenant and Item lock your opponent before they even get a turn (a feat which even Seismitoad-EX can’t pull off)! As awesome as it is, though, we need to look at the card’s limits. First and most obvious, it does use up your Supporter for the turn, which stops you from playing important draw Supporters that you would have otherwise used. Second, the card specifically states that you can’t select a Pokemon-EX with it, so Mega Evolutions miss out on this sweet deal. Third, and most importantly, the Evolution is being searched out from your deck and put directly into play, without being placed in your hand first. This means that it won’t trigger Abilities like Crobat‘s Surprise Bite, which take effect when the Pokemon is played from your hand. That in mind, not every deck can take advantage of Wally simply because it plays Evolutions.
Giant Plant Forest
Giant Plant Forest – Trainer
Each player’s [G] Pokemon can Evolve during the first turn and on the turn they were put into play.
This card stays in play when you play it. Discard this card if another Stadium card comes into play. If another card with the same name is in play, you can’t play this card.
Remember the days of Broken Time-Space? Any deck with Evolutions loved that card, and it’s pretty easy to tell why. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting BTS back in all of its glory any time soon, but we have been given a sort of reprint of it for Grass types. This means that you can Evolve straight from Oddish to that annoying, Item-locking Vileplume (from Ancient Origins) on turn one if you have the resources to obtain it. I’ll be discussing in more detail what Pokemon can be used with this card in a bit, but it’s easy to see that Giant Plant Forest is going to become a staple in Grass decks.
Non-EX Choices for XY-On
Due to my heavy playtesting for this year’s Nationals and life issues, I haven’t had as much time to analyze the upcoming format as I would have liked, so I won’t be including any deck lists here. However, I will be pointing out the Pokemon, both new and old, that have a lot of potential in this format, and which you can expect to see at Fall Regionals, or will at least be experimented with. This rotation is going to heavily impact the way decks are structured, with staple cards like N and Colress leaving the format without a full-on replacement. While I’m not ready to pin down deck lists just yet, I would like to use the rest of this article to highlight Stage 1 and 2 Pokemon that I feel will be influential in the future, especially those that can be used with Wally and Giant Plant Forest.
Losing Float Stone is going to be a bummer for this guy, but the potential for a turn one Item lock with Wally is still nuts, and unlike Vileplume, only prevents your opponent from playing Items. Gengar-EX / Trevenant may still find a niche in the future, especially with Yveltal-EX falling out of favor. “U-Turn” attacks like Gengar-EX’s Dark Corridor still function just fine with Trevenant. The real challenge now is finding a way to deal with the Ghostly Tree’s hefty Retreat Cost of three. Players will have to resort to high counts of Switch and/or Escape Rope to get Trevenant out of the Active slot. Mystery Energy is another option, as you can discard it to hard Retreat, but it does take up your attachment for the turn and makes powering up additional Gengar-EX trickier. In a pinch, a stuck Trevenant might be able to pull off a Tree Slam, but with 110 HP, it is susceptible to being Knocked Out on a whim. Still, any card that can create Item lock is no joke and should not be dismissed.
This is a Pokemon that has already seen plenty of success in its own right, and was played in decks last season as a counter to Yveltal-EX. Now it has stepped out of the shadow of decks that ran it as a secondary attacker and taken center stage. It has been paired with Bronzong, Crobat, Ninetales, and even Flareon. For just a Double Colorless Energy, it can do up to 180 damage with a Muscle Band and Sky Field, and with some extra damage from the Crobat line, one-shot even Mega Evolved Pokemon. The 90 HP is a bummer, but the low Energy cost makes streaming these guys fairly simple. Paired with Shaymin-EX, the ability to draw and set up Knock Outs is ridiculous. If you go second, chaining Shaymins and then using Wally to evolve and Circle Circuit on your first turn is a very real possibility. Pokemon and Item-based draw seems to be creeping back into the game, which could give us more freedom to play non-draw Supporters at little cost.
I was quick to jump on this card’s hype as soon as it I saw it, and scurried to trade for a playset of them as quickly as I could. Sadly, playtesting revealed to me that this card wasn’t exactly the bee’s knees, and there simply wasn’t a niche for it in the current format. Being a Stage 2, it’s hard to get out under Seismitoad-EX‘s Item lock. And even with Wally around to help accelerate, it’s simply not as efficient as running Suicune or Sigilyph, despite the respectable attack and free retreat.
However, with both Safeguard Pokemon and Float Stone rotating, Beautifly’s turn to shine could very well be upon us. Not taking damage from Pokemon-EX is obviously a great way to counter them. Even though Whirlwind requires a hefty three Energy for a non-EX, it can two shot any non-Mega Pokemon-EX with help from a Muscle Band. The attack also gives you the option of forcing your opponent to switch their Active Pokemon, which can become disruptive if used smartly. Giant Plant Forest makes getting Beautifly into play a snap, and Wally can still be used as an alternative to Ultra Ball while under Item lock.
Beautifly’s trouble will come from other non-EX decks that are sure to become popular. It will need to run other attackers to cope with this. Miltank from Flashfire seems like a good choice, as for only one Energy it can hit up to 100 damage with Powerful Friends, so long as a Muscle Band is attached and there is one Beautifly on the board. It also happens to be a Colorless Basic, so finding room for it shouldn’t be hard, and it won’t require you to run any extra Energy.
Vespiquen – Grass – HP90
Stage 1 Pokemon – Evolves from Combee
[C] Information Control: 10 damage. You may draw cards from your deck until there are 6 cards in your hand.
[C][C] Bee Revenge: 20+ damage. This attack does 10 more damage for each Pokemon card in your Discard Pile.
Weakness: Fire (x2)
Here’s the beef, at least for me. This card is amazing. “Flareon 2.0″ if you will, is sure to become a force to reckon with this fall. The second attack is an exact reprint of Flareon’s Vengeance. That’s amazing on its own, but in addition, this card has free retreat and only 90 HP, which is a blessing rather than a curse with Level Ball being reprinted in Ancient Origins. In addition, the support that Vespiquen has access to is nothing short of crazy. The Unown from Ancient Origins provides draw power while simultaneously chucking itself into the discard, making Bee Revenge even stronger. You can actually combine Unown’s Ability with Swampert and Archie's Ace in the Hole to search for any card in your deck… and then draw it immediately! Sadly, Swampert’s Hydro Pump doesn’t do work like Empoleon‘s Attack Command, so he’s limited to support. Being a Stage 1, Vespiquen can also take advantage of the new Eeveelutions: Vaporeon, Jolteon, and Flareon, which add their types to all of your Stage 1 Pokemon in play. This means that Vespiquen can have up to four types, and exploit up to four Weaknesses. The exact state of the metagame will determine which Eeveelutions will make it into the deck, but it’s easy enough to run multiple since they’re never completely useless. Any Pokemon you don’t need for a particular matchup can be simply tossed away via Battle Compressor to make Bee Revenge stronger. Losing Exeggcute, Empoleon, and Silver Bangle is a shame, but Vespiquen has enough tricks up its sleeve to become a top tier player even without them.
“Bleh” jokes aside, these cards work well together to create a rather annoying deck. Wally and Evosoda do get around Banette‘s Evolution Jammer, but there is only so much these cards can do. With Δ Evolution and a one Energy cost, you can pull off the attack very early in the game quite consistently. The Ability Banette makes all Pokemon Tools useless, so even if your opponent does find a way to Mega Evolve their Pokemon-EX, their turn would end immediately, even if a Spirit Link were attached! The drawback of these guys is a lack of any real offensive power. They will need to be played with other attackers to make the most of their potential. I see Latios-EX and M Latios-EX as options, as they benefit from Psychic Energy and can work to pick off unwanted Pokemon from the field quickly, before they evolve. Just remember that your own Spirit Links won’t work if the Ability Banette is in play.
This Pokemon made top cut at U.S. Nationals earlier this month, but even before then proved itself a capable hitter to the surprise of many. Resistance Desert is a great attack, even with the three Energy cost. With access to Fighting support, it’s possible to make the attack hit up to 120 damage, enough to two-shot Mega Pokemon-EX that don’t resist Fighting, while being immune to their attacks for one turn. Hippowdon has a bulky 130 HP for a Stage 1, meaning he can take a hit or two if need be.
However, with such a hefty Energy cost, Hippowdon has almost nothing to gain from the accelerated evolution that Wally provides. The only reason you might consider Wally in a Hippowdon deck would be to get around Item lock, which I don’t feel is going to be as much of a threat in the future, though it will still exist. Like Beautifly, Hippowdon will also need to be paired with other attackers to deal with non-EX threats. Landorus-EX will be missed by many, but Lucario-EX and Hawlucha will be sticking around to give the big bad Hippo some backup.
What? It’s not 2014! Remember how much chaos this guy caused when he was introduced into the format? Pyroar‘s strength was quelled pretty quickly when Mega Evolutions became efficient, so it seems odd to think that I’m including him in my list, but like Vespiquen, Pyroar can take advantage of Ancient Origins’ Eeveelutions to exploit multiple Weaknesses. This can give him the power to one-shot popular Pokemon like M Rayquaza-EX while only giving up a single Prize, and you can stream Pyroar relatively easily with Blacksmith. There’s also still plenty of decks out there that rely on Basic Pokemon-EX to do their dirty work. You didn’t think Seismitoad-EX was leaving the format completely, did you? The blue Toad is still going to see tech play, and even feature in lock decks as an early game hitter. But losing both Garbodor and Hypnotoxic Laser means that Toad, as well as the new Giratina-EX, won’t be able to damage Pyroar on their own. Bronzong-based decks also have a natural enemy in Pyroar, especially if they aren’t running M Rayquaza-EX. The card’s usefulness will depend largely on what Mega Evolutions remain popular and the Weaknesses it can exploit, but Pyroar’s prospects of returning to the competitive scene look good.
Here’s a Pokemon that’s been seeing competitive usage for several months now, and has been paired with all sorts of partners to achieve many, many successes. As I mentioned earlier, Crobat unfortunately doesn’t gain any perks from Wally, as in order to use his Ability Surprise Bite (as well as that of his lower form, Golbat), he must be played from the hand. Still, as anyone who’s played against any “Bats” variant can attest to, these guys can be quite annoying, and the damage can really add up over the course of several turns. In addition, Crobat’s attack, while situational, can make for some really clutch plays. Combined with “Bat damage” from the Ability, these guys can pick off low-HP Bench-sitters with ease. At other times, the damage may instead be used on the Active Pokemon to supplement an attack and get a Knock Out that would not have otherwise been possible.
In the world of XY-On, we unfortunately lose the Zubat from Plasma Storm that could retreat for free. Thankfully, the Evolutions don’t have a Retreat Cost, so while this line loses a little versatility, I can’t see it becoming irrelevant. With Landorus-EX rotating, the Fighting / Bats archetype will have to rely less on snipe damage, instead using Lucario-EX and Hawlucha to bum-rush the opponent, focusing “Bat damage” on the Active Pokemon to take Prizes as quickly as possible.
M Gallade-EX and Wobbuffet will also make good partners for Crobat. In fact, with Dimension Valley in play, the entire Crobat line can attack without Energy! However, their ultimate application here should be for easily spreading damage around so that M Gallade-EX can swing at as many Benched Pokemon as possible.
Okay, so technically I’m cheating by putting a Basic Pokemon in this list, but Miltank was obviously intended to be placed in Stage 2 decks. With a one-Energy attack that hits for massive damage, the pink cow is no slouch. This card has already seen success in both past and present formats, paired with Empoleon, Crobat, and even Dusknoir. Any Stage 2 deck, including those only running them for support, can benefit from having a little “Muscle Milk,” and with its single Colorless attack cost, Miltank is extremely easy to fit into lists. Grass decks such as Vileplume and Beautifly will have the most benefits from this card, as you can get a Stage 2 Pokemon going consistently from the first turn. If Whitney’s Miltank gave you nightmares as a kid, I hope you have a flashlight and blanket handy.
It has been hinted, although not confirmed, that the Expanded format is going to be used at more events this season. This guy may be leaving Standard play, but since the Expanded format will remain as it is, I have no indication that the Elephant tank will be obsolete there. With Wally, opening the game with a lone Phanpy is no longer a nightmare, as you can evolve into a burly, 130 HP Stage 1 from the get-go, and if going second, can even set off a Spinning Turn to inflict some damage and pull him out of the Active slot. Being able to attack for only one Energy means that you can stream Donphan with ease. Even if your only Donphan on the field is Knocked Out, you can bench a Phanpy, then use Wally to get back into the game. It’s a shame to see Donphan leaving Standard play, but his prevalence this past season has shown that he can still make some noise, so long as the metagame is right for him.
Ah, Trev / Gor, the son of Goth / Gor. In Expanded play, this is a better option than Gengar-EX, as it requires only a Double Colorless Energy, and by shuffling itself back into your deck, makes sure those precious Special Energy never hit the discard. The puzzle-like structure of this deck makes it tricky for the inexperienced player, and the mass of Evolutions mean it can be slow to set up at times. Giant Plant Forest could be used to set up Accelgor quickly, allowing you to save Wally for Trevenant. In Expanded play, you once again have access to Float Stone and all the trimmings, making retreat a snap again. Giant Plant Forest both allows Accelgor to attack from the first turn and somewhat mitigates the need to run Mew-EX, as Shelmet can evolve immediately. Wally also helps bring out Dusknoir a turn early, letting you keep your opponent’s Active Pokemon stuck there, Poisoned and Paralyzed, while you Knock Out their Bench with Sinister Hand.
This little guy has never had a moment in the spotlight, and despite the masses of damage he’s capable of inflicting, simply can’t be played alone. Combined with Enhanced Hammer, Drifblim made for a great late-game sweeper, able to Knock Out Pokemon-EX with three Special Energy in the opponent’s discard and a Muscle Band / Silver Bangle. Drifblim’s demise came with the release of Lysandre's Trump Card, which allowed players to recycle their previously unrecoverable Special Energy (not to mention everything else) and set the Drifblim player back to square one. However, now that LTC has been banned, Drifblim’s role as a sweeper is once again viable. With so many decks relying on Double Colorless Energy, Drifblim should more often than not be able to do his job in Expanded play. He could make for a great cleanup attacker in a Seismitoad-EX deck, as once much of the opponent’s Energy has been Hammered away, he can swoop in and potentially hit for more than Grenade Hammer for far less Energy. A 1-1 Drifblim line can be squeezed into all manner of decks, and could make a big difference in those that would not be able to one-shot Pokemon otherwise.
EX players, brace yourselves, because the Stage 1 and 2 Pokemon are tired of living in your shadows and are out for revenge. Ancient Origins is bringing us a lot of new toys, but losing several cards to rotation is also making non-EX Pokemon easier to play. While much of this is just thoughts, there is a lot of potential in these cards, both new and old. Playtesting will reveal the strengths and weaknesses of these cards, and we can certainly expect some surprise hits to pop up. But mark my words: non-EX Pokemon have already made their way out of the hands of rogue players, and are gradually forcing their way into the spotlight!
I hope you enjoyed my very first article as much as I did writing it! Comments and feedback are always welcome, and if you would like to discuss deck ideas, need help with a ruling, or just want some conversation in your lonely life, feel free to drop me a message. I wish everyone playing in the World Championships the best of luck, and as for the rest of us… we’ve got a whole new format to start testing for!
Until next time, may your top decks ever be in your favor!