The Sinnoh era of the Pokémon TCG is near and dear to many of the amazing people we’ve invited to discuss their favorite cards. Not only was this an era of adventurous card designs with Team Galactic Trainer cards and Pokémon SP, these cards contributed to some of the most epic Championship matches in the game’s history.
Read what our group has to say about their absolute favorite cards from this era, and be sure to check out previous entries from the Sword & Shield, Sun & Moon, XY, and Black & White eras. Then, check back next month as our 25th celebration sets its sights on Hoenn.
Uxie from the Diamond & Pearl—Legends Awakened expansion introduced an incredible draw power to the game. Its iconic and fittingly named Set Up Poké-Power allowed the player to instantly draw cards until they had seven cards in their hand. The consistency-focused Pokémon we are used to from newer eras of the game, such as Dedenne-GX or Crobat V, have the big liability of giving up two Prize cards; Uxie’s only drawback was occupying a Bench spot. Unlike Crobat V, Set Up was also not limited to once per turn, which allowed decks to use multiple instances of Set Up to have explosive turns when needed. At the time, the most powerful Supporter cards had effects that allowed the player to search out Pokémon. Uxie could turn a search-based Supporter like Roseanne’s Research into a powerful draw effect, making it a staple in almost all competitive decks at the time.
Uxie’s Psychic Restore attack could be used to put Uxie and all its attached cards on the bottom of the player’s deck, freeing up Bench space and allowing the player to reuse Uxie’s Poké-Power later in the game. In a pinch, this attack could also be used to prevent the player from decking out.
Also from Diamond & Pearl—Legends Awakened, Azelf has one of the most fun and powerful Poké-Powers imaginable. In a Pokémon TCG game, one of the few things that’s normally out of your control is the content of your Prize cards. After enough games, one or more of your important Pokémon will be Prized. Azelf’s Time Walk Poké-Power allowed the player to fish out any Pokémon from their Prize cards and get access to it immediately. This gave players who used to deck search to deduce what cards were Prized a big advantage when deciding to use Azelf or not. Another big detail to note is that Time Walk did not require the player to shuffle the Prize cards afterwards. This meant that for the rest of the game, the player would know the location of every Prize card and be allowed to take them in the order they would deem the most optimal. Azelf essentially removed one of the biggest variance factors in the game.
The Lock Up attack was also more useful than it would seem at first glance. It could trap a plethora of weak Pokémon in the Active Spot to buy crucial time for setting up your own field.
Team Galactic’s Invention G-103 Power Spray
During the Power Spray era, players facing three or more Pokémon SP (Pokémon representing powerful Trainers from the Sinnoh region) would announce their Poké-Power, then anxiously wait for their opponent to give them the go-ahead. The Pokémon SP player might not even have a Power Spray in hand to stop you—it was up in the air!
Even the threat of a Power Spray forced players to rethink their plans. Let's say you played Roseanne's Research, hoping to retrieve two Basic Pokémon. You might want to grab a Uxie to use its Set Up Poké-Power, and a different Basic Pokémon to evolve later. But what if your opponent had Power Spray to deny you Uxie's Set Up? Without this pivotal Poké-Power, your game plan might immediately be upended. Perhaps you should forgo that other Basic Pokémon and instead go for two Uxie, then? This would make the opponent need two copies of Power Spray to stop you.
These kinds of decisions and interaction made for fun gameplay. And the fact that the card was easily retrievable by Cyrus's Conspiracy made it reliable and strong, as players anticipating an upcoming Poké-Power could grab Power Spray to be prepared.
This unique strategy to interrupt the opponent's turn was short-lived. After Power Spray rotated out of the Standard format in 2011, the game never again saw this kind of surprise interrupt card.
Gardevoir was the focus of my 2008 World Championship-winning deck and a deck that dominated throughout that season. Gardevoir's competitive success stemmed from the fact that it had so many different things going for it.
To start with, it was easily paired with Gallade. This provided Gardevoir players access to two powerful Stage 2 Pokémon while also saving deck space. Gallade was better on offense, using its Psychic Cut attack to deliver one-hit KOs. While Gallade attacked, Gardevoir could sit safely on the Bench, providing support with its Telepass Poké-Power.
These extra Supporters from Gardevoir's Telepass allowed you to achieve impressive setups of multiple Stage 2 Pokémon that would overwhelm your opponent. Pulling out thin Evolution lines (like a 1-0-1 Dusknoir line) via Rare Candy became easy.
When it came time to attack with Gardevoir, its Psychic Lock attack was sure to be disruptive, as decks relied heavily on Claydol's Cosmic Power. And though Psychic Lock required three Energy, Double Rainbow Energy and Scramble Energy allowed you to easily fuel multiple Gardevoir, ensuring you could keep the Psychic Locks coming. There were only so many of these attacks an opponent could handle before their board crumbled, leaving Gardevoir as the last Pokémon standing when the sixth Prize card was taken.
Team Galactic’s Wager
Team Galactic’s Wager is one of the most iconic cards in Pokémon TCG history. This card is unique in that it requires the players to play Rock-Paper-Scissors. Team Galactic’s Wager forces both players to shuffle their hand into their deck, then the winner of this showdown gets to draw six cards—while the loser draws only three. Forcing players to play a minigame over the fate of the larger Pokémon TCG match is something that is rarely seen even in the current version of the game.
This card dominated the tournament scene when it was Standard-legal. Pretty much every deck played this card, which caused some funny instances. The most famous instance of this card being played was when three-time World Champion Jason Klaczynski had an extremely long chain of Rock-Paper-Scissors in the top cut of the World Championships. This card, in combination with Gardevoir’s Telepass Poké-Power, made for an extremely disruptive combo that is seen as one of the best decks ever made in the game.
Claydol is possibly the best support Pokémon ever printed. The stats on this card are relatively unimpressive, but that is all secondary to its Cosmic Power Poké-Power. Claydol allowed the player to cycle bad cards from their hand and draw new ones every turn. In addition to this, if a player got out multiple Claydol, then they could use multiple instances of Cosmic Power each turn. This allowed players to go through their entire deck very quickly—and, as a side effect, to avoid decking out, because they were returning cards from their hand to the deck. The deck that made the best use of Claydol was undoubtedly Jumpluff. Jumpluff is very similar to current decks in the fact that it tries to draw and play as many cards as possible.
It isn’t too far off to say that the format during this time revolved around Claydol. Figuring out how to hinder your opponent’s Claydol was part of everyone’s strategy: Garchomp C Lv.X targeting Benched Claydol for a one-hit Knock Out was extremely common; Gardevoir used Psychic Lock to stop Cosmic Power; and even Power Spray was often used on Claydol.
Claydol was worth including in virtually every deck, making everything around it that much better.
Palkia G Lv.X
The Pokémon SP cards of the Platinum era made for some very powerful decks. Pokémon SP included many good Basic Pokémon and Pokémon Lv.X; and it worked with the dominant Team Galactic Inventions: Energy Gain, Power Spray, and Poké Turn. Some of the best Pokémon SP included Luxray GL Lv.X, Garchomp C Lv.X, and Dialga G Lv.X.
For my favorite Pokémon SP, though, I chose Palkia G Lv.X. Its Lost Cyclone Poké-Power created some really fun combinations, particularly with the trio of Mesprit, Uxie, and Azelf from Diamond & Pearl—Legends Awakened. Each of these Pokémon had great Poké-Powers that can only be used when they are put into play. The downside of such cards is they are pretty useless after that, hogging Bench space for little impact. Lost Cyclone fixes this, sending those Pokémon to the Lost Zone (a new concept introduced with the Platinum Series) and giving you room to use more powerful Poké-Powers next turn. Using Mesprit’s Psychic Bind multiple turns in a row was particularly devastating. Of course, you can also use Power Spray with enough Pokémon SP. This combination of cards could shut out Poké-Powers for practically the entire game! Against certain decks, limiting an opponent’s Bench with Lost Cyclone was also important.
This was a truly spooky card. If you had four or more Benched Pokémon, an opposing Dusknoir’s Dark Palm Poké-Power could send your best Pokémon on the Bench into your deck, along with all its attached cards. Your Active Pokémon wasn’t safe either, as Warp Point could send it to the Bench. The worst part was that if you immediately played a Pokémon back down, you’d be in Dark Palm range again. You would often have to wait until multiple copies of your Pokémon were Knocked Out until you were safe from Dark Palm, but by then you were probably too far behind to win.
Modern players may say, well, it’s a Stage 2 Pokémon, it can’t be that scary. Once you see Duskull, just Knock it Out or play around it. Well, young whippersnappers, back in these days, you could play Rare Candy on a Pokémon the same turn you played it down! That’s right—Dark Palm was always theoretically an option on the next turn, even with no Duskull in play. Many decks would play one Duskull, one Dusknoir, and one or more Rare Candy just because it could swing a game so easily. You were never sure that your opponent wouldn’t play Dusknoir and couldn’t Dark Palm you next turn if you Benched that fourth Pokémon. And it was very rare to win a game in which you were Dark Palmed.
Broken Time-Space was, well, broken. It allowed you to break the rule that Pokémon can’t evolve on either player’s first turn. It allowed you to break the rule that you can’t evolve a Pokémon on the same turn that you played it. And, finally, it allowed you to break the rule that you can’t evolve from Basic to Stage 1 to Stage 2 all in the same turn! In short, it made Stage 2 Pokémon a force to be reckoned with.
Usually, Stage 2 Pokémon suffered from a time drain. It normally took multiple turns to get one into play. And even if you were using Rare Candy, you were still limited to only a few Evolutions that way. By the time you got your Stage 2s out and powered up, your opponent who was playing “Big Basics” had already set up and taken half of their Prize cards.
But with Broken Time-Space, you could get out multiple Stage 2 attackers and Stage 2 support Pokémon relatively easily. A bit too easily, one might say. Take Machamp, for example. For one Energy, Machamp could Knock Out any Basic Pokémon, no matter how many HP it had. With Broken Time-Space, you could evolve Machop all the way up to Machamp early in the game and take out your opponent’s only Basic Pokémon. I doubt we’ll see another card with an effect quite that powerful again.
The Platinum Series introduced a range of Pokémon SP, usually Basic Pokémon that would normally be Stage 1 or Stage 2. One of the most widely used Pokémon from this series was Crobat G. While its attack wasn’t very strong, it had two attributes that put it in almost every deck. First, it had no Retreat Cost, which in itself could be very useful as a way to bring up a Pokémon to the Active Spot and keep your options open for retreating into something else without having to spend a Trainer card or discard Energy to do so.
But where it really shone was with its Poké-Power. Flash Bite allowed you to put one damage counter on one of your opponent’s Pokémon when you played Crobat G to the Bench. We have a similar card being used in the Standard format now in Galarian Zigzagoon. But Crobat G has the OG version of this effect. It was easily retrievable via deck search, and as a Basic Pokémon, you didn’t need to invest in a lot of Evolution cards just to get it into play. Since you could put the damage counter anywhere, it could act as a searchable PlusPower or snipe a damaged Benched Pokémon that was out of reach. And with the Poké Turn Trainer card, which allowed you to return a Pokémon SP from play back into your hand, you could place that critical damage counter again and again. I saw many games at World Championships end in victory for players who knew how to use their Crobat G well.
The Pokémon TCG community would not be the same without these five contributors to the game, and we appreciate their valuable insights. Be sure to check back throughout the year to see more of their reflections on their favorite cards from the long history of the Pokémon TCG.