The Pokémon Trading Card Game is celebrating 25 years of entertaining Pokémon fans this year, and who better to look back at some of the coolest and most exciting cards than some of the titans of the game. We’ve brought together five of the most dedicated and celebrated members of the Pokémon TCG community to tell us what their favorite cards are and why. If there was a Pokémon TCG Hall of Fame, these four stellar players and one decorated Professor would almost surely be in already.
We’re starting with the Sword & Shield Series and working our way back through the history of the Pokémon TCG each month throughout the year. Check back to see what other cards these luminaries of the game will highlight next.
Oranguru from the Sword & Shield expansion has one of the most elegant gameplay designs I have ever seen on a card. It does not look like a great card at first glance, with a relatively unimpressive attack, but it has a unique Ability that immediately caught my eye. The Primate Wisdom Ability lets you swap a card from your hand with the top card of your deck once a turn. At its base, this still does not sound amazing, but when you start looking into the most-played cards, you can discover how relevant this Ability can be. With Marnie being one of the most common Supporters, Primate Wisdom lets you preemptively put the key card you want to keep for next turn on top of your deck, ensuring that you will still draw into it after a disruptive Marnie from your opponent.
Further, often you will find yourself in a situation where you must discard your whole hand, either with Dedenne-GX or Professor’s Research. Primate Wisdom will allow you to save one of the crucial resources you don’t want to discard, simply by putting it on top of your deck first.
Capture Energy from the Sword & Shield—Rebel Clash expansion is probably one of my favorite cards ever printed. When you attach this Colorless Energy card to a Pokémon, you can search your deck for a Basic Pokémon and put it onto your Bench immediately. This makes the card not overly powerful, since it cannot be used to activate powerful Abilities that happen when the Pokémon comes into play from your hand, such as Dedenne-GX, Crobat V, or Eldegoss V. The effect is reminiscent of Nest Ball, but as an Energy card instead. Similarly, this comes with both a flaw and a perk. The flaw is that you cannot use multiple in the same turn, but it comes with the huge perk of fulfilling the manual Energy attachment for the turn. Historically, having cards in your deck that can search out Basic Pokémon has been a necessity for decks to function properly. This card accomplishes two of the most crucial things you can do in a turn, setting up your field and attaching Energy for the turn. Fulfilling both conditions in a single card makes it extremely satisfying to play, and I can guarantee that you will feel joy when you see this card in your hand.
It was all the way back in 2008 when Uxie and its Set Up Poké-Power changed the way Pokémon was played. Allowing you to draw your hand up to seven cards when played, Uxie made its way into virtually every deck, shifting the primary draw engine decks used from Supporters to Pokémon. After a brief hiatus, card draw in the form of Basic Pokémon came roaring back (pun intended) with the now-banned Shaymin-EX in the XY—Roaring Skies expansion, which allowed players to draw through most of their deck in a single turn. Today, Crobat V's Dark Asset Ability, alongside Dedenne-GX’s Dedechange Ability, is pivotal in allowing decks to execute their goals. Easily retrievable with both Pokémon Communication and Quick Ball, Crobat V helps you find the cards you need, including on the very first turn when your options would otherwise be limited. Whether it’s finding that eighth Darkness-type Pokémon to max out Eternatus VMAX’s Dread End attack or digging for the game-winning Boss’s Orders, Dark Asset makes these plans a reality, which is why you see Crobat V in so many winning decks.
The concept of a Trainer card dragging up one of your opponent’s Benched Pokémon is as old as the Pokémon TCG itself. Beginning with Base Set’s iconic Gust of Wind (93/102), players could target weak Basic Pokémon on their opponent’s Bench and knock them out before they could evolve into their more powerful forms. This effective strategy was eventually weakened when Gust of Wind was replaced by weaker variations of the card. First, it was Double Gust (Neo Genesis 100/101), then Pokémon Reversal (Expedition 146/165). Over a decade later, Gust of Wind returned as Pokémon Catcher. Like Gust of Wind, Pokémon Catcher too would end up dominating the game, and it was issued an errata to require a coin flip, which is where it stands today. Eventually, the game would allow this effect without the coin flip (or any other stipulation, as seen on Great Catcher), but required you to spend your once-per-turn Supporter to use it. This began with Lysandre, then Guzma. Today, it’s Boss’s Orders. In a lightning-fast format where players race to six Prize cards, there's no question that it's worth spending your Supporter for the turn to pick off an easy two-Prize target (like Crobat V or Dedenne-GX) from your opponent's Bench.
Coalossal VMAX is one of the hottest Pokémon from the Sword & Shield generation. This Pokémon wins in both the aesthetic department and playability. This Pokémon is also a living, breathing coal furnace, which makes me have a burning passion to play it. These two aspects put together make Coalossal VMAX one of the best-designed Pokémon.
The attacks on this card are pretty good as well. Eruption Shot lets this card accelerate Energy while doing a good amount of damage to the opponent’s Pokémon. In order to set this attack up to hit an Energy card, use Oranguru from Sword & Shield or Rotom Phone to help manipulate the top of the deck. Putting Stone Fighting Energy on top of the deck for Eruption Shot can give Coalossal VMAX enough defense to make it survive multiple hits. Eruption Shot also sets up G-Max Boulder to dominate the field—240 damage is enough to Knock Out any Pokémon V and take down a Pokémon VMAX in two hits.
Charizard from Sword & Shield—Vivid Voltage is one of the best-designed cards that has been printed in quite some time. The Battle Sense Ability introduces a level of consistency to decks that is hard to find in current card design, which are normally one-time uses. It also has synergy with its own attack Royal Blaze by being able to discard any Leon you find. This Ability also helps you to do the most fun part of the Pokémon TCG: evolving. It is very rewarding to start with a small Pokémon like Charmander and end with a great card like Charizard.
Charizard’s greatness is further enhanced by its attack. Royal Blaze is the big payoff for getting multiple Leon in the discard pile. It starts at 100 damage and does 50 more for each Leon, so playing a Leon before using Royal Blaze can boost it high enough to Knock Out almost any Pokémon in the game. This is power befitting a fully evolved Pokémon that took time and effort to get onto the field. Charizard is a great card, and I hope to see more like this one in the future.
Cramorant V is a Basic Pokémon that for 1 Colorless Energy searches for any 2 cards in your deck with its Beak Catch attack. That is incredible search power, and yet, it’s very clearly the least effective of Cramorant V’s attacks! Its real strength is Spit Shot: 160 damage anywhere is a great number, as it’s the exact HP of Dedenne-GX, one of the most-played cards in the game. With the help of Telescopic Sight or Galarian Zigzagoon, Cramorant V can also Knock Out other prominent support Pokémon Crobat V or Eldegoss V. Players need to consider from the very first turn of the game whether they should play Dedenne-GX down when facing decks with Cramorant V. I call it “The Closer” as many games are finished by a Spit Shot to a Dedenne-GX or Crobat V. Spit Shot is often best as the final move in order to mitigate the drawback of discarding all its Energy. You’ll find Cramorant V in just about any deck that can attach three Energy in one turn, with cards like Welder, Porygon-Z, and Coalossal. If I haven’t convinced you to fear Cramorant V yet, just stare into its big, emotionless green eyes. Menacing.
Galarian Sirfetch’d V
One of my favorite new features in the Pokémon world is alternate forms of old favorites from the original games. This began with Alolan Pokémon in the Sun & Moon era, and continues now with Galarian Pokémon in the Sword & Shield era. Farfetch’d not only got a new form, but also a new Evolution. Galarian Sirfetch’d V’s Meteor Smash is fairly strong, but its real strength is the Resolute Spear Ability. As long as you have a couple Energy on the board, Galarian Sirfetch’d V lurks as a threat to attack immediately, even if it’s not in play yet. It may grab Energy off of a damaged Pokémon VMAX, which likely won’t be Knocked Out in one attack. Or, you can build up Energy on single-Prize Pokémon that your opponent won’t really want to waste resources to go after. With some incredibly strong Pokémon like Eternatus VMAX and Pikachu & Zekrom-GX being weak to Fighting, Galarian Sirfetch’d V is a game changer in many matches.
Usually, cards introducing a new mechanic are less powerful and easy to understand. Cards in later sets using that mechanic become more complex, introducing more strategies and power. Those earlier cards then tend to not be played as much. Not so with Zacian V, the first Pokémon V that was revealed. It is still a linchpin for the most-played deck even now, one year later.
Zacian V combines two powerful features into one card. Its Intrepid Sword Ability helps speed the first player’s first-turn setup, allowing them to draw extra cards and/or attach extra Metal Energy, powering up one of their Pokémon for a massive attack on their second turn. This relieves much of the downside of going first when, starting with Sword & Shield, that player can’t attack and also can’t play Supporter cards, making those restrictions negligible.
Second, Zacian V’s powerful attack will take out most Pokémon in one shot. While it can’t be used again the next turn, players are able to play around that restrictive effect. It has performed very well with Arceus & Dialga & Palkia-GX from Sun & Moon—Cosmic Eclipse, but even when that leaves the Standard format, it will still be a Pokémon to be reckoned with.
Professor’s Research (Professor Magnolia)
Professor’s Research doesn’t look like an innovative card at first glance. There have been Professor cards that allowed the player to get a fresh hand since the beginning of the game. Every new series has brought a new lead Professor along with it. As new series come and go, the new Professor’s name was used for this card effect. And therein lies the problem. This has caused problems with the Expanded format, which has retained every Pokémon TCG set released since Black & White. Organized Play had to come up with a specific rule to disallow including both Professor Juniper and Professor Sycamore in the same deck, as it was too powerful to have more than 4 cards with this effect in one deck.
The card designers realized that this was going to become an ongoing problem. The innovative solution was to have one name that would be used for all Professor cards going forward: Professor’s Research. The individual Professors would be referenced in two ways; by the card art and by having their name in smaller text off to the side of the card. This would allow the powerful card effect to be restricted to 4 copies in a deck without creating complicated tournament rules.
This solution has now also been applied to cards representing the main antagonist in each series. Boss’s Orders is following the same templating with Giovanni pictured in Sword & Shield—Rebel Clash and now Lysandre being on that card in the new Shining Fates expansion.
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.