Blast From the Past – A Comprehensive Intro to the Legacy Format

Hello, friends. I’m PMJ, an actor and Pokemon enthusiast from Wisconsin. I’ve been a member of PokeBeach for over a decade and don’t see myself leaving any time soon! In terms of the TCG, I’ve been playing since Base Set, though I didn’t start playing competitively until much later, around FireRed & LeafGreen. Today I’m going to talk to you about the Pokemon TCG’s latest format – Legacy. It’s quite new, only exists on the official simulator, and came into being as an attempt to solve something that some players didn’t see as a problem. In this article I’ll be giving a history lesson on how the Legacy format came to be, what some popular decks are, and how you can start playing Legacy matches yourself – especially if, like me, you don’t have a lot of cards from the LEGEND era. There’s a lot of information to cover, so let’s get right into it!

Unlimited – the Ignored Format

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Almost there!

Since its inception, the Pokemon Trading Card Game Online (PTCGO) has offered four formats for battles: Theme (where only theme decks can be used), Standard, Expanded, and Unlimited. Just like in real life, the Unlimited format allows players to use cards from any set; however, PTCGO only supports cards from HeartGold & SoulSilver and further, because that was the first set implemented. That’s still plenty of sets to build decks with, though! When the Versus Ladder system was implemented in 2015, it gave players a further incentive to build decks in Unlimited; after all, you would match against players who also played Unlimited, and winning would grant you progress towards that sweet, sweet final prize. Still, Unlimited remained the realm of those who’ve played since way back in 2011 and amassed a huge collection… but why?

In 2013, it became a lot harder to get cards from pre-Black & White (BW) sets. If you recall, packs used to contain codes that could be redeemed for Booster Credits which could be used for any set of the player’s choosing. With the release of Plasma Storm, this program was altered so that the codes found in physical booster packs could only be redeemed for packs of the same set. On top of that, Booster Credits were only allowed to be redeemed for any set from Next Destinies to Boundaries Crossed, rather than any set. This meant that all of the LEGEND-era cards and early BW-era cards had all become virtually impossible to obtain unless you already had them (the BW-era packs could still be purchased in the shop until the rotation to XY-on). It was fun to play with and see all the older cards, but unless you had enough to build a decent deck, you could forget about winning on the ladder. So many players, like myself, stuck to Standard and Expanded to try and grind out those 2000 points. Then, on August 15, 2015, something happened that turned the Unlimited Versus Ladder on its head.

Ancient Origins and the Rise of Shiftry

The release of Ancient Origins shook up Standard in ways you might expect a new set to. Mutual Item lock found its way back into the format on Vileplume; Vespiquen was a new, improved Flareon; and Giratina-EX would later prove to be one of the most powerful and annoying cards in Standard. We also got a few cool Trainer cards, not the least of which was Forest of Giant Plants. This card was reminiscent of Broken Time-Space from Platinum that allowed each player to instantly evolve any Pokemon put into play. It’s the backbone of what would eventually become Vespiquen / Vileplume. And it is this card that many people would claim broke PTCGO’s Unlimited format, because it gave rise to one of the most brutal decks ever seen: Shiftry donk.

By itself, Shiftry, from Next Destinies, was a lackluster card. Its Ability, Giant Fan, was the best thing about it; you flipped a coin and, if you got heads, you shuffled one of your opponent’s Pokemon back into their deck. While it was a disruptive and cool power, it wasn’t really enough to warrant building a deck around, especially since Shiftry’s attack was awful. Forest of Giant Plants changed all that by allowing Shiftry to come into play immediately as long as you were using a Grass-type Nuzleaf, which we got in Flashfire. It didn’t matter that Shiftry wasn’t Grass; only that the Pokemon in play evolving was. So you could play Seedot, evolve into Nuzleaf, evolve into Shiftry, use Giant Fan, play cards like Super Scoop Up or Devolution Spray to get Shiftry out of play, re-evolve instantly, use Giant Fan, etc. With a bit of luck and a massive Item-based draw engine supplemented by Shaymin-EX, players could wipe out their opponents before they even got a single turn.

Problem, Shiftry?

Shiftry was swiftly banned in Expanded, both in real life and on PTCGO… but it wasn’t banned in Unlimited. Players flooded the Unlimited Ladder with Shiftry donk decks, which only became more potent with access to amazing LEGEND-era cards like Junk Arm. While a force to be reckoned with, it wasn’t unbeatable. The deck relied completely on luck, meaning that you could draw all the cards you wanted, but if you didn’t hit heads enough times on Giant Fan, it was time for an embarrassing concession. People came up with a unique counter in the Ancient Trait Theta Stop, which prevented Giant Fan from completely wiping their board. Cards like Baltoy and the Celebi you see to the right were teched in decks with otherwise “valid” strategies specifically to stop Shiftry from donking them (though Shiftry players countered this by using Seeker to force their opponents to pick these Pokemon up so their last Pokemon could be blown away). Many people started complaining about how Shiftry had ruined Unlimited, but it would be seven months before The Pokemon Company International (TPCi), the publishers of PTCGO, stepped in.

Introducing the Legacy Format and Common Legacy Decks

On March 30, 2016, PTCGO was updated with a new format called Legacy. Legal sets for this format are all sets from HeartGold & SoulSilver to Legendary Treasures. With this update, Unlimited was retired from the Versus Ladder, but not from the game (you could still play Unlimited in private matches). The intent of this update was to preserve the integrity of being able to use old cards without having to worry about being steamrolled by Shiftry, who had dominated the format. The card is technically usable, as Next Destinies is legal in Legacy, but Forest of Giant Plants–the card that makes the deck–is not.

The Legacy format was met with mixed feelings from the player base. Some people saw it as a welcome change, a breath of fresh air that Unlimited needed and allowed players to ladder in the format they preferred without having to worry about a broken strategy ruining their days. Others hated the change, thinking that Shiftry wasn’t as big an issue as people were making it out to be. They dismissed it as a joke deck that was easily teched against. While I disagree about its status as a joke deck (“if a dumb idea works, it’s not dumb”), Baltoy was widely available as a Basic Pokemon with Theta Stop and did a good job of making Shiftry players scoop. Even seeing it on your Bench was enough to make most Shiftry players immediately concede unless they were one of the few who had Seeker. A lone Baltoy or Celebi start, however, was an automatic win against the deck. Shiftry was also a one-turn wonder deck. If you didn’t win on the first turn, it was good game since you’d be likely be out of resources. It also suffered from dead draws like any other deck. Still others were glad to see Shiftry gone, but were worried that the Legacy format would quickly stagnate since, unlike Standard and Expanded, it wouldn’t have new sets regularly added. I think it’s a bit too early to draw conclusions on that. The format is still very new, and there are at least half a dozen decent decks out there. Let’s talk about some of them.

Virizion-EX / Genesect-EX

The combination of Virizion-EX and Genesect-EX proved to be fast and lethal when it was legal for Standard, and it’s just as fearsome in Legacy. VirGen provides energy acceleration, board control, status protection, and huge damage potential all in the same deck. In a format where the Hypnotoxic Laser / Virbank City Gym combo is legal, being able to protect yourself against Special Conditions is excellent. Easily a contender for best deck in format. Silver Mirror definitely helps here to keep Genesect-EX at bay, but watch out for Red Signal and, of course, Tool Scrapper.


Another contender for best deck is Weavile from Plasma Freeze. Part of the reason this deck is so good in Legacy is due to access to both Junk Arm and Exeggcute. This allows the deck to use Computer Search–basically for free–up to five times in a match. The deck attacks for big damage by recycling Exeggcute and provides disruption thanks to virtually unlimited access to any Trainer card in the deck. Silver Mirror helps here since Weavile is a Team Plasma Pokemon, but don’t expect it to stick longer than one turn.

Eel variants

Eelektrik from Noble Victories is a popular support Pokemon for any powerful Pokemon that can utilize Lightning Energy, such as Zekrom, Rayquaza-EX, and Raikou-EX. This deck, like VirGen, is very EX-heavy, so cards like Pokémon Catcher and Silver Bangle will shine in this matchup.

Blastoise / Keldeo-EX

If this sounds like a deck straight out of Expanded, that’s because it is. Blastoise (or the slightly worse Feraligatr (Prime)) and Keldeo-EX team up to take on all comers in Legacy, with Deluge providing an endless stream of Energy and Keldeo-EX swinging for huge damage. As a Stage 2 Pokemon, Blastoise is just a little bit harder to get into play than Eelektrik. As a result, taking out their Blastoise and cutting off their Energy supply should be your top priority. Without a way to consistently get Energy into the hand and in play, the deck folds. It’s still very good, though, so don’t underestimate it.

Typhlosion (Prime)

This deck functions like the opposite of Blastoise / Keldeo-EX. Instead of raining down Energy from the hand, this deck utilizes Typhlosion (Prime) to suck up Energy from the discard pile, powering up strong Fire-type attackers like Reshiram. The attachment comes at the cost of 10 damage a pop, though, making it quite undesirable. In addition to that, it requires the player to set up multiple Typhlosion to consistently stream Energy, which is a lot easier said than done.


This deck’s main attacker is Seismitoad. Its Round attack does 30 damage times the number of Pokemon you have in play that have the Round attack. In Legacy, the only Pokemon that have Round as an attack are Seismitoad, Palpitoad, and Meloetta-EX, also shown to the left. By utilizing Rare Candy and Double Colorless Energy, Seismitoad can attack quickly and cheaply while doing large amounts of damage. This deck is probably the weakest in format since you need multiple low-HP Pokemon-EX as Bench warmers, your main attacker is a Stage 2, your main source of Energy is susceptible to Lost Remover / Enhanced Hammer and, if you do decide to run basic Psychic Energy, Meloetta-EX takes three turns to power up.

Tool Drop

Tool Drop, the attack of this Trubbish from Plasma Storm, is a unique attack that does 20 damage times the number of Pokemon Tool cards both players have in play. The Trubbish player boosts damage by stacking multiple Tools on Sigilyph and uses Masquerain to move them around at will. It uses a wide variety of Pokemon Tools, some of which include Silver Bangle, Silver Mirror, and even Life Dew for Prize denial. It doesn’t rely on Pokemon-EX at all, so you can guarantee your opponent will have to KO six of your Pokemon to win the game (by utilizing cards like Revive, all six of those Pokemon could be Trubbish!). Exp. Share allows your Trubbish to attack constantly by recycling Energy from dead Trubbish, but the deck’s over-reliance on Tools to be effective means a well-timed Tool Scrapper can cost you the game.

Hopefully I’ve piqued your interest a bit! These decks are definitely not the only decks out there. Darkrai-EX lurks in the shadows. Accelgor decks are strong, even without factoring in cards like Junk Arm. Sigilyph is out in full force to block Pokemon-EX. And speaking of Pokemon-EX, Mewtwo-EX is just as much of a jerk as he ever was, and TDK (Thundurus-EX / Deoxys-EX / Kyurem) is a very strong, very versatile deck. It’s definitely going to be interesting to see how the format develops now that players are able to combine BW-era cards with LEGEND-era cards for the first time. VirGen players found Celebi (Prime) to be a godsend for their decks, allowing them to attack on the first turn, something they normally couldn’t do even if they went second. Getting access to Junk Arm turned Weavile into a powerhouse. Professor Oak's New Theory is one of the best shuffle-and-draw cards in the format, and it’s one that every deck can use. Only time will tell what techs will pop up once the meta settles down. Maybe we’ll see a brand new, Legacy-exclusive archetype! How cool would that be? I’ll tell you – super cool.

Building a Legacy Collection

So you’ve read up on Legacy’s windy beginnings and learned a bit about some cool decks, and now you want to play. Well, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is that most of the top attackers in Legacy come from BW-era set. Many more people had access to these sets than LEGEND-era sets, so chances are good that you already have the start of a collection going! You can get Legacy-legal cards in-game by playing in Legacy tournaments, where you will win at least one pack if you win your first match. These packs are tradeable as well, so you can always hoard them and trade them off for something you really need.

To play in Legacy tournaments, you’ll need a Legacy deck. Both Tool Drop and Round are both pretty easy to build if you’re building on a budget. Meloetta-EX is one of the worst cards out there, which means you can get it for pretty cheap. Seismitoad was originally printed in Noble Victories, but it received a reprint in Legendary Treasures, making it a little bit easier to obtain. Neither deck requires LEGEND-era cards to function, so people like me whose PTCGO collections start somewhere in the Black & White era aren’t left completely in the dark.

The bad news is that Round is awful. You might lose more than you win. All right, I don’t know who I’m kidding; you will definitely lose more than you win. That said, if you’re trying to grind out packs from tournaments, all you need is one win, and Round is definitely capable of beating the scrub decks of people who throw a mishmash of random things together.

If you are starting completely clean, you will need to spend some money on codes. Fortunately, codes are pretty cheap (I was able to spend about $20 USD and pick up fifty codes, which is fifty packs). Now, remember, codes are no longer obtainable for any set pre-Boundaries Crossed, so I’ll spend just a moment detailing the good cards you can get out of the sets you can actually get your hands on.

Plasma Freeze

If you’re looking to start competing in Legacy tournaments, this set will do you no wrong. It has tons of usable cards: Weavile, the uncommon Exeggcute, Leafeon, Flareon, Chandelure (your option if Typhlosion (Prime) is unavailable, but remember that Chandelure pulls your Energy from your deck, not your discard pile), Kyurem, Electrode, Thundurus-EX, Mr. Mime, Deoxys-EX, Float Stone, Frozen City, Ghetsis, Shadow Triad, Superior Energy Retrieval, full art Professor Juniper, Team Plasma Ball, and Life Dew. Quite notably, this set features really good secret rares; Garchomp and Garbodor are both good trade bait cards if you don’t need them, and the secret rare Ultra Ball is one of the most expensive cards in the game, even in Standard! On PTCGO, the secret rare Ultra Ball is one of the most, if not the most, sought after cards for people who like to bling their decks out (Weavile players are especially guilty of this as they also get to flaunt their playset of secret rare Exeggcute). If you can manage to pull it, consider yourself very lucky! The chances of pulling these good secret rares, plus the ability to build 2 top tier decks (Weavile and TDK) with cards from this set alone, make it a premier choice.

Plasma Blast

This set also has quite a few decent cards: in addition to the secret rare Exeggcute, it has Virizion-EX, Genesect-EX, Suicune, Blastoise, Toolbox Sigilyph, Jirachi-EX, Professor Juniper, Rare Candy (and its secret rare counterpart), Silver Bangle, Silver Mirror, and Ultra Ball. It even has the secret rare Dusknoir, part of Flygon decks. Boundaries Crossed is a little hard to come by, though, so you might be able to just use it for trade bait if you pull it.

Plasma Storm

Standouts from this set include Victini-EX, Manaphy, Magnezone, Trubbish, Klinklang, Cobalion-EX, and Lugia-EX. In terms of Trainer cards, they are all useful, but top mentions go to Colress, Hypnotoxic Laser, Virbank City Gym, Dowsing Machine, and Scramble Switch.

Legendary Treasures

This is a set comprised mostly of reprints, but if you don’t have copies of a card’s original print, this is a good set to pick up. Players wanting to build Round decks will want Seismitoad. Other notable reprints include Victini, Victini-EX, Emboar, Reshiram, Reshiram-EX, Keldeo-EX, Zekrom, Mewtwo-EX, Safeguard Sigilyph, Garbodor, Meloetta, and Crushing Hammer. This set also features the first Radiant Collection subset; this is where you’ll find Meloetta-EX (which is not a reprint) and the full art Mew-EX (which is), as well as full art gold versions of Reshiram and Zekrom. One of this set’s unique cards, Chandelure-EX, is also only obtainable here, but it’s not that great a card.

LEGEND-era Cards

HGSS3_EN_8One of the most fun aspects about Legacy is using cards from really old sets. You can’t buy the codes for these sets online, and many of the Trainer cards found in these sets are quite powerful. Fortunately, now that the Legacy format exists, you can win LEGEND-era packs from tournaments. This has drastically increased the pool of cards available, but don’t think that means they’re common now. Most packs you will see come from either Unleashed or Undaunted, and the majority of Pokemon in these sets are garbage. The main draw to opening these packs is getting the Trainers inside. Opening Unleashed packs can get you Dual Ball, Engineer's Adjustments, Judge, Life Herb, and PlusPower; the only useful Trainer cards from Undaunted are Energy Exchanger and Flower Shop Lady, but it does have Smeargle and its tremendously useful Poke-Power, Portrait.

Ironically, the two sets from this era that would arguably be the most helpful to new Legacy players, HeartGold & SoulSilver and Triumphant, are still absent from the tournament rewards, meaning these cards are still quite rare. The former set gives us Pokémon Collector and Professor Oak's New Theory, and the latter set offers Junk Arm, Seeker, and Twins.

Call of Legends, the LEGEND era’s reprint set, has some cool stuff in it: Smeargle, Dual Ball, and Professor Oak's New Theory all received reprints. Call of Legends is also the only set with Lost Remover, which is a more powerful Enhanced Hammer.

Finally, be sure to check the in-game Shop. The Shop is updated every Wednesday, and sometimes they will include Legacy-friendly bundles. With the recent release of Fates Collide, Shop bundles have been incorporating that set, but we’ve got over two months until Steam Siege drops. That’s plenty of time for possible Legacy bundles. You can also search for trades for the cards you need. Packs of the most recent set, along with Roaring Skies, are seen as the most wanted currency, but you can try offering anything and trying your luck.


The Legacy format is super fun. If you’re sick of Night March, can’t stand another Quaking Punch, and want a refreshing change of pace while taking a trip down memory lane, the Legacy format could be right for you. Ever since its creation I’ve been trying to build up my collection of old cards. I’m currently running Tool Drop because it’s better than Round and I’m sick of TDK. Tool Drop is also really fun to play and fits my play style more. If you have any questions about this unique and satisfying format, or any advice for me as a writer, please don’t hesitate to contact me; I’m always glad to assist a player in need.

Your pal, PMJ