The Pokémon Trading Card Game is in an interesting place. As we move towards the end of an era - with Sword and Shield’s second-to-last set, Lost Origin, about to release - we’re long overdue a refresh. High-level matches are dominated by Mew VMAX and Palkia VSTAR, resulting in a game that’s almost entirely focused on taking out opponents within five turns.
Interesting long-setup decks and matches that go down to the last few cards have been replaced with hyperfast energy generation and big hits. In the VSTAR and VMAX era, the name of the game is power, but with the return of the ex mechanic, that’s all about to change.
As announced during the closing ceremony of this year's Pokémon World Championships, Pokémon-ex will be returning to the format with Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, the first expansion based on the new video games. The expansion will launch next year, bringing with it the first new Pokémon-EX cards since 2016’s XY Evolutions.
As we say goodbye to the Sword and Shield era, this kind of reset is exactly what the card game needs. Not only because cards have realistically gotten as powerful as they can without becoming laughable, but because the Pokémon TCG has lost a lot of the strategy of lower-HP eras in favour of cage fights that are over in minutes.
The Pokémon TCG has lost a lot of the strategy of lower-HP eras in favour of cage fights that are over in minutes.
The power curve is an issue in every trading card game, but Pokémon in recent years has gotten to the point that high-level cards look like those fake Pokémon cards you’d get on holiday. You know, the Magikarp that had 700HP and did 40,000 damage? The power curve in the Sword and Shield era was getting so intense that if The Pokémon Company introduced a card more powerful than the mighty VSTAR, it would probably need to have 500HP and award four prize cards in order to be balanced.
One of the most interesting parts of the announcement was the reveal that ex cards will appear at every stage of the evolution line. When Pokémon-ex last left the format around five years ago, it was only fully evolved or Mega Evolved Pokémon that got EX cards, meaning they were mostly used for absolute powerhouse attacking and defending capabilities.
Now, with both basic and first-stage Pokémon included, it’s going to be fascinating to see how these Pokémon-ex fit into the meta, what kind of stats they’re going to have and how frequently they’ll appear in competitive decks.
This is one of the biggest transitions for the Pokémon TCG meta in recent years, but it’s way overdue.
Are basic Pokémon going to have 100 to 150 HP and still cost two prize cards when defeated? That might make them a harder sell. Absolutely jacked cards are usually worth playing because even if you lose two or three prize cards, you’re probably going to take just as many off your opponent, if not win the game.
What would make these weaker Pokémon special is if they have abilities that make up for the lack of HP in relation to the prize cards they give up. For example, what about an ability that totally stalls energy acceleration by removing energy from opposing Pokémon, or stopping your opponent assigning energy on their next turn? How about an effect that limits your opponent from even playing basic Pokémon from their hand? It’s that level of strange strategy that the Pokémon TCG is missing, and this is a great opportunity to introduce those elements.
Ultimately, it’ll be a few rotations before the Pokémon TCG’s tournament scene is exclusively ex-focused once again. There’s going to be a strange era where VSTARs and exs are both in rotation - it’ll be interesting to see how, and if, that’s going to balance out before they’re dropped out of the meta. This is one of the biggest transitions for Pokémon TCG meta in recent years, but it’s way overdue. While the kaiju battles of the current format are fun - and they’re not the only way to play - the card game thrives when scores of decks are viable.
The new Pokémon-ex might also be a way to introduce lower-priced decks into the meta, making the game more accessible for more players. If you want to go down to your local hobby shop and actually compete, you shouldn’t have to buy multiple booster boxes, or spend the equivalent money, to have a viable deck. Pokémon-ex at multiple stages of the evolution tree should hopefully mean a much kinder drop rate and thus more playable cards at a cheaper price.
Of course, as with all new Pokémon expansions, there will be some cards that become the meta of the meta. We all remember the days of Mewtwo EX and Darkrai EX absolutely dominating the format for what felt like a decade. But Pokémon TCG is a much better game when you don’t know exactly how a game is going to go when you sit down against your opponent and they draw their first hand. Hopefully, with Pokémon TCG: Scarlet and Violet, we can get that back.