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The Good Old Daze of the Pokemon Trading Card Game

Posted by Matt Soukup at 02:05 PM MST on 2012-12-31

The year was 1999. I was a super-charged, hyper-consuming twelve-year-old kid, looking to unregretfully dive head-first into any heavily pushed childhood craze. Following the Beanie Baby crash of '98, it was only a matter of time before I would fall prey to a peculiarly named video game trend from Japan.

Pokemon was first met with skepticism, but once I learned to let go, I really let go. I was watching, recording, and re-watching episodes of the anime. I was spittin' pokeraps to phat beatz like WHAT. I was crafting bad 90s websites replete with background MIDIs, scrolling marqees, and animated GIFs. Surprisingly, the one thing I wasn't doing was playing the video game itself. I mowed lawns like a fiend to save up for a Game Boy color and the Pokemon Blue Version. Once I bought it, nothing else mattered. I remember pouring an ungodly number of hours just mindlessly leveling my team in Viridian Forest, which drew laughter from my friends. In my mind, they just lacked the determination of a true Pokemon Master. Life with Pokemon was good. Little did I know, I had yet to discover the most tantalizing outlet for my Poke-debauchery- the Pokemon Trading Card Game (TCG).

I remember opening my first booster pack. The fresh smell of cards, the dynamic colors, the suspense. **deep inhale** **slow exhale** Each pack had 11 cards: 2 energy cards, 5 commons, 3 uncommons, and 1 rare. My rare was a foil Alakazaam - my head nearly exploded. Sky cracked a foil Raichu, and his brother Wyatt cracked a foil Venusaur. My brother would eventually pull a foil Charizard. I couldn't wait to collect them all and master each of them.

Our first foil rares
Our First Foil Rares

Over the next few months, I accumulated more cards through booster packs, theme decks, and trading. I traded a Tangela and a Bulbasaur (2 commons) for Wyatt's duplicate copy of a rare foil Venusaur, but it was worth it for him because he couldn't use his Venusaur without my Bulbasaur. Hopefully, he forgives me, and we'll both chalk it up to life-lessons-learned. FACT: Everything that you need to know about life can be learned through the Pokemon TCG.

On a fateful trip to Mankato, I discovered a games and hobby store that held Pokemon card tournaments. "Finally," I thought, "a way to prove my mastery." I couldn't wait to compete. In the beginning, I couldn't afford the good cards so I never made it too far in a tournament. I used powerful commons and uncommons like Kadabra and Dewgong as well as a playset of Energy Removal, but it could only get me so far. I looked to the Internet to find a new edge.

Budget player's cards
Budget player's cards

I was a net-decker even before that honorable credential had a name. Scott Gerhardt was editor at pojo.com, the main source for Pokemon TCG strategy at the time, and came out with a number of "killer decks": Potpourri, "Viagra", and The Sponge. I net-decked the 3-color Potpourri deck and handily went undefeated at a local tournament. Early on, it was clear that all Pokemon cards were not created equally.

The longer I played, the more trainers ended up in my deck. By the end of my illustrious career, my decks consisted of approximately 35 trainers (out of the allowed 60 cards), skimping dangerously low on basics and energy. Back then, evolving pokemon was too much of a liability so I stuck to basic Pokemon and cast trainers with reckless abandon. My goal with these trainer-heavy decks was to have the option to obtain any card from my deck on any turn of the game (and, consequently, draw my entire deck on any of those turns). Those early years really were the wild west. Bill (literal 2-for-1), Professor Oak (literal draw 7), Computer Search (tutor), and Item Finder (Regrowth) were my base, and ridiculous cards like Plus Power, Energy Removal and Super Energy Removal did the rest. A single Lass would have blanked my entire deck, but alas, to us kids, that card was nothing more than a bad rare (like Devolution Spray) that every kid prayed would pass over his booster pack.

Power 9 of Pokemon
Power 9 of Pokemon

I remember one match in particular against someone sporting a "Raindance" deck. Raindance's Achille's heal was its reliance on weak basics like Squirtle and Magikarp in a world of Hitmonchans and Electabuzzes. This made Plus Powers and ways to find them especially awesome. He started with a lone Squirtle to my Electabuzz and luckily won the coin flip to start the game. Even more luckily, his Squirtle paralyzed my Electabuzz with his Bubble. That would usually portend a second turn Pokemon Breeder into Blastoise, who would one hit KO my Electabuzz with Hydro Pump. Instead, on my first turn, I proceeded to Bill, Oak, Item Finder, and Computer Search until I had assembled a Lightning energy, 2 Plus Power, and the coup-de-grace- my singleton Full Heal to remove the paralysis. My opponent was stunned. Nice game, brah.

Miser's Full Heal for the Win
Miser's Full Heal for the Win

Another one of my fonder (albeit degenerate) memories stems from a deck called Rocket's Trap. The goal was to cast Imposter Oak's Revenge to reduce the opponent's hand to 4 cards, then cast Rocket's Sneak Attack to reduce it to 3, and, finally, hit them with The Rocket's Trap to reduce the hand to zero cards. This left them top decking on turn 1 and you likely with a hand double the size of your deck. There was one catch, Team Rocket's trap required you to win a coin flip, but you could still play with 4 copies plus Item Finders to better your odds.

Degenerate Pokemon combos
Degenerate Pokemon combo

Armed with my likely 35+ trainer Rocket's Trap deck, I handily made it to the finals of that tournament. On the first turn against my finals opponent, I reduced his hand to 3 cards but failed to destroy the rest of his hand by flipping three tails in a row (12.5% chance mind you). Coin flips are one of the more dreadful aspects of this game, especially considering that the tauntingly ill-conceived "Chansey" coin flipped heads approximately 87% of the time. (I didn't use that coin nor did I let my opponents use it.) At any rate, he Lassed my hand away, evolved into Dark Vileplume which disables all trainers, and my grossly unassisted Movie Promo Mewtwos were left fighting his psychic resistant Snorlaxes while I drew blank after blank after blank.

Disabled trainer cards
Disabled trainer cards

Since Nintendo took over the game from Wizards of the Coast, I understand that cards have become a bit more balanced, and some of the flaws have been patched with rules changes. For example, the player that starts a game cannot cast any trainer cards. I think never reprinting Professor Oak, Energy Removal, or Super Energy Removal helped keep things in check, as well. I believe Bill actually got reprinted as a "Support" card which is a special type of trainer that can only be played once per turn.

I played Pokemon through Gym Heroes (circa July 2000) before beginning my transition from trainer to magician- my transition to a real man's TCG - Magic: the Gathering. I remember winning my first Magic tournament with Blastoderms and rebels. Disappointment followed protest as my fellow magicians saw me put my store credit towards a Rocket's Scyther.

From then on, I played magic exclusively. Fast forward to my senior year in college, a combination of being overworked and overstressed led me to regress back to my former, hyper-consuming twelve-year-old self. I fired back up the Pokemon Trading Card Game for Game Boy and started winning auctions on ebay to rebuild my decks. It was at that time that I had a bright idea. Since 90% of Pokemon cards were unplayable in tournaments, bringing the concept of drafting (which I had learned from Magic) to Pokemon would breathe a revitalizing new life into those misfit 90%. I bought a booster box of Base Set 1 off of eBay.

Photo of Base Set booster box
Booster box of Base Set

Unfortunately, I never got around to assembling the 6 required Pokemon trainers to partake. Instead, it is now likely destined to permanent residence within my personal time capsule.

Thanks for reading!

Scans courtesy of http://pkmncards.com, a website that is very well put together

#pokemon, #retrospective

YOU, sir, have the right idea. Pokemon's NEVER gone out of style. I'm in my 20's, and I recently put together a complete collection of Base Set 1 cards, complete with a first-generation binder, and official accessories!
Posted by Matty Trueman on 2013-02-18 at 03:51 PM MST
You make some good points. I see some real talent in you kid! Have you ever considered making Welkup into a movie production company? I see bright things going down that path...yes very bright things indeed! There is this man in southwest MN. I believe his name is Michael. He has some real talent. The kid can act, write, and trick people into getting what he wants. Well that is all for today. I wish you luck and have a very GLICE day.
Posted by Larry Hoover on 2013-07-18 at 08:00 AM MST
why is there so much writing
Posted by andrei on 2016-09-23 at 07:27 AM MST
Thank you for any other wonderful post. The place else may anybody get that type of information in such an ideal way of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I am at the look for such info.Regards: Eve Hunt
Posted by Eve Hunt on 2019-06-19 at 05:47 AM MST
I have never commented on top lists, but putting all those forgettable indie games while neglecting Starcraft II is too egregious of an error to ignore. Not every game can make it in a top 25 list, but this list was full of curious decisions and at least that one big omission.
Ragerds:Moses Brodin
Posted by Moses Brodin on 2019-06-28 at 05:50 AM MST
Some of these are just cinematic pict uresused to temp guys into playing theie game. People need to stop falling for clickbait


Victoria Tegg
Posted by Victoria Tegg on 2019-08-02 at 11:03 PM MST
Ahhh, my favorite system. always has been and always will. - I think Super Metroid could have arguably been #1 with Link to the Past as #2, but that's just me- Star Fox, although I love the game is top 15, top 20 at best. You could have easily replaced it with Turtles in Time which I think is the definitive side scrolling beat 'em up for the SNES. While we're on the subject, Street Fighter 2 could have been omitted since it's multi-platform and it was originally an arcade game. Could have easily replaced it with Secret of Mana. - Glad to see you guys included Diddy's Kong Quest. Most list have the first one but I think DKC 2 was the definitive game in the trilogy. Just much more polished and complex compared to DKC1 Otherwise, great list!
Harold Burton
Posted by Harold Burton on 2021-07-21 at 09:56 AM MST
As much as l like nowadays games such as GOW series, or COD, GT and the hyper realistic GTA, as well as recognizing that graphics are awsome and had been the aim of many videogames, you know, to get it improved, but I feel thar videogames have lost its charm. I mean, videogames with top graphics are more and more like imitations of reality than a paralel world that might not be as good looking, but inspired a lot more of imagination. I know kids arent the same anymore, but I miss the way a simple game like mario world, DK, top gear, even older ones like sonic, got me do involved by sparking my immagination. It's like reading a book compared to Watching a movie, no effects can match your mind.
Joseph Donahue
Posted by Joseph Donahue on 2021-08-27 at 12:24 AM MST
So, who wants to help me? England, UK, 2002 (give or take), SNES (one assumes), and RPG overworld game (I think). The question is, what game did I use to play? Help me find my memory. I am half thinking of a 'marketplace' and half thinking of 'open fields', finding monsters along the way -- but I was 6 at the time, lest we forget. Not sure if the game was A Link to the Past, Breath of Fire II, Secret of Mana, Soul Blazer, or something else! Anybody know which were known/unknown at that time and place?
CrazyAsk
Posted by Ashley Jones on 2021-09-04 at 09:36 AM MST
I was recommended this website by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my difficulty. You’re wonderful! Thanks!
Kelly Hubbard
Posted by Kelly Hubbard on 2021-09-19 at 07:43 AM MST
This top 25 sucks!!! even if you made a poll, what people think about games because they remember and an expert opinion from reviewers are totally different thing. To say that both earth worm jim are above super castlevania 4 or that final fantasy 3/6 doesn't even hit the top 10 is blasphemy. That dk is better than dk2 shame on ya, that mk1 made the cut is ridiculous lmao. Star fox is all hype since it did a lot in the graphical department and push the hardware to something that might be somewhat impossible however the gameplay is not even that fun(not saying is bad either).

If you ask me for a top 5 i could easily say:

The Legend of Zelda - A link to the Past
Chrono Trigger
Super Metroid
Final Fantasy 3/6
Donkey Kong Country 2 tied with Mario Kart
Harold Burton
Posted by Harold Burton on 2021-09-23 at 02:15 AM MST
I do agree that all these games are the best for the snes,I would however put final fantasy 3 in the top five and replace Mario Kart putting it in the #6 spot instead and moving the others down,the reason I say this is cause final fantasy 3 was the best rpg on the snes in my opinion, I liked it just a bit more than chrono trigger,now as for a link to the past I do agree 100% that it should be in the #1 spot for lots of reasons, it was amazing,its a shame most kids today haven't played one of the greatest adventure game of all time,great job this list guys,you finally put out a top 10 I agree with
Jayme Silvestri
Posted by jaymesilvestri on 2021-12-03 at 04:47 AM MST
This feeling in my chest is brutal, to consider DKC anything but a top 3 game let alone the best game on the system. Then again, I realize I'm on the outside looking in when it comes to Zelda. I do like Link to the Past, but it never had that feeling of pure joy, awesomeness from literal minute 1. That, and it has one of the best overall soundtracks ever. Visually the game was stunning back then, and it still holds up well today with a very good art style.
Holly Hooper
Posted by Holly Hooper on 2021-12-05 at 07:01 AM MST

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