Table of Contents


A 1st Edition Charizard, the crown jewel of Base Set

The Pocket Monsters Card Game first debuted in Japan in 1996, but it would be over two years before the game would make its way overseas. Its first international destination was the United States, where it was picked up by Wizards of the Coast, the Seattle-based game company known for producing Magic: The Gathering. Wizards unveiled the Pokémon Trading Card Game (as it’d come to be called internationally) in January of 1999, immediately igniting a Pokémon card craze that fed off of the popularity of the newly-debuted Pokémon video games and anime. Cards flooded into homes and schools as fans frantically searched stores for booster packs, hoping to unwrap one of the three coveted Pokémon featured on the pack art: Blastoise, Venusaur or the legendary Charizard. This enthusiasm for Pokémon spread across the globe, with cards quickly reaching 10 different languages. Most who bought these packs simply admired or collected their cards, some traded them with friends, but a few were dedicated enough to learn to play. They assembled their 60-card decks that were often nothing more than a jumbled assortment of cards, nonetheless enjoying the fun that was the Pokémon TCG. Capitalizing on those who wanted to do battle with their cards, comic book shops and toy stores began hosting tournaments, creating a demand for strategy articles that started to pop up in magazines and online. Not long after, players were reading about the types of decks and strategies that were winning these events. As the stats and articles started piling up, it was clear there was one deck that was outperforming all others. It was built around two strong Basic Pokémon: Hitmonchan and Electabuzz. These two Pokémon, alongside a heavy arsenal of Trainer cards, formed a now infamous deck known as Haymaker.



If you’re used to more recent cards and formats, Hitmonchan will certainly seem underwhelming.  70 HP and a maximum of 40 damage? What’s the big deal? But in a format where a typical Basic Pokémon looks like this:


…and a typical Evolved Pokémon looks like this:


…you’ll start to understand why it was so good.



In order to counter Hitmonchan, players relied on Farfetch’d. It resisted Fighting and could deal a respectable 30 damage. But the Haymaker deck had the perfect answer for this.



Like Hitmonchan, Electabuzz had 70 HP and could launch powerful attacks for little Energy. But what made it even better is the fact that its Lightning type conveniently countered the Pokémon that resisted Hitmonchan.

There’s no question that Hitmonchan and Electabuzz were the two strongest Basic Pokémon in Base Set. However, the strength of the Haymaker deck wasn’t derived solely from these two Pokémon. Rather, the Haymaker’s strongest asset was that it had plenty of deck space for Trainer cards.

The Trainers

Base Set contains several of the greatest Trainer cards the game would ever see, including some that would be overpowered even in today’s competitive formats. It’s these powerful Trainers that allowed Hitmonchan & Electabuzz to be as dominant as they were. And while the game’s first five expansion sets each brought some new Pokémon into players’ decks, the Trainers didn’t see much change. In fact, most of the Trainers players used at the dawn of the game continued to see play all the way until 2003, the final year they were legal in tournaments. Familiarizing yourself with these Trainers is a great way to introduce yourself to the game’s earliest formats since you’ll see them throughout multiple years and formats. Let’s have a look at the most commonly used Trainers from Base Set.

Draw Cards

All Trainers from Base Set (to 2002’s Neo Destiny set) function like Item cards do today, meaning there’s no limit to how many a player can play in a turn. There were no Supporters—even Stadiums didn’t debut until 2000’s Gym Heroes set. If you’re used to more recent formats, Professor Oak might appear to be the most overpowered draw card of all time. You might be surprised to learn, though, that Professor Oak is a balanced card in the earliest formats. The reason for this is that these formats lack ways to recover cards from the discard pile, making pitching your hand an often costly play.

Bill might seem like a card that belongs in every deck, and while you’ll want it in every deck, the reality is that you won’t always have the deck space to fit it. Since the 1999 formats are so heavily based around preserving your resources, Bill will often be a luxury card many decks, particularly Evolution-based decks, cannot fit. That’s because fitting Bill will often come at the expense of cutting other crucial cards.

You can play up to 4 Computer Search in your deck, but you’ll almost never want to. Like Professor Oak, the cards you need to discard with Computer Search hurt. Even with a hand of 7+ cards, you’ll still often cringe as you reach for that second card to discard.

Pokémon Trader works best in decks with Evolved Pokémon, as decks with only Basic Pokémon don’t have as many extra Pokémon to shuffle away. However, it’s important to point out that Pokémon Trader actually has two uses. The first and obvious is to retrieve a useful Pokémon. The second is to stow away a Pokémon for later. The latter is particularly useful in a format where Professor Oak is your primary draw card, as you can trade in an Evolved Pokémon to preserve it for later, instead of discarding it.

The Removals

Energy Removal & Super Energy Removal are the defining element of the 1999 formats. These two incredibly powerful Trainers dictate the way the game is played, essentially working to disqualify any Pokémon that needs 3 or more Energy cards to attack. While they can be agonizing to play against, they are by far the biggest reason the early formats are so skill-based. This is because they force players to come up with strategies to preserve and efficiently use their precious Energy cards.

The KO Assisters

Drawing six prizes in the earliest formats is not an easy task, but if you’re going to do it, you’re probably going to have to rely on timely uses of both of these cards.

The Switching Cards

With only six different Weaknesses and Resistance being a steep –30, both Weakness and Resistance play a large role in the earliest formats. You’ll need these cards to exploit them. Scoop Up doubles as a way to heal damage, which takes us to below.

The Healing Cards

Pokémon Center is the strongest of these three healing cards, as it can not only heal the most damage, but also multiple Pokémon.

The Recovery Cards

Energy Retrieval and Item Finder are the only two cards in Base Set that restore cards from the discard pile to your hand. Energy Retrieval gives you a chance at surviving Energy Removal & Super Energy Removal, while Item Finder needs no explanation in a format filled with so many strong Trainers.

Hand Disruption


Only one card from Base Set (well, technically two) can disrupt your opponent’s hand. That card is Lass. Since it hits both you and your opponent, it must be timed perfectly to avoid backfiring. The turns following Lass are often tense and exciting, as players nervously await to see who will draw the first useful Trainer card.

Playing the Base Set Format

If you want to experience the game’s very first format, you can build decks from Base Set’s 102 cards, leaving out all of the expansion sets. The format can feel a bit incomplete in that it doesn’t offer players a chance to build many different decks—some Base Set Pokémon don’t even have full evolution lines—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun to play.

Base Set contains Caterpie and Metapod, but no Butterfree, just one of several examples of Base Set Pokémon that didn’t see their final form until a later set

If you’re looking for a little more variety, you can skip ahead to the Base & Jungle or Base–Fossil format. Both of these offer a few more decks, but still play similarly to the Base Set format. To get the full 1999 experience, though, which includes seeing the strength of the Haymaker deck at its peak, start with the Base Set format. Since the formats that follow use many of the same cards, you can easily convert your Base Set decks without needing to obtain too many additional cards. Once you’ve made your way to Base–Fossil, I suggest going one set further into Base–Rocket, the final chapter in the true classic age of the Pokémon TCG.

The Decks

Below are what I consider the four strongest Base Set decks you can build. The most enjoyable matches to play are against the Haymaker deck, including the Haymaker mirror match, which tends to create very skill-oriented games.


🌠 Iconic Deck 🏆 Top Deck

Pokémon (12)Trainers (30)Energy (18)
4x Hitmonchan
3x Electabuzz
2x Farfetch’d
2x Doduo
1x Chansey
4x Bill
4x Professor Oak
4x Energy Removal
3x Gust of Wind
3x Scoop Up
3x Energy Retrieval
3x Item Finder
2x Super Energy Removal
2x PlusPower
2x Lass
9x Fighting Energy
7x Lightning Energy
2x Double Colorless Energy
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The classic Haymaker deck uses Hitmonchan and Electabuzz to put immediate pressure on the opponent. PlusPower allows you to take knockouts more quickly, while Gust of Wind and Energy Removal prevent your opponent from setting up a Pokémon that can overpower you. When your opponent attacks your Weakness or shuts you down with their own Resistance, Scoop Up allows you to easily switch your Active Pokémon and turn the situation around.


😃 Fun to Play

Pokémon (13)Trainers (36)Energy (11)
4x Zapdos
4x Voltorb
4x Electrode
1x Doduo
4x Professor Oak
4x Bill
4x Computer Search
4x Item Finder
3x PlusPower
3x Defender
3x Lass
3x Maintenance
2x Pokémon Trader
2x Energy Removal
1x Energy Retrieval
1x Scoop Up
1x Full Heal
1x Gust of Wind
11x Lightning Energy
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This hyper-aggressive deck goes all-in with one, sometimes two attacking Zapdos. Electrode’s Buzzap powers up Zapdos’s massive Thunder attack, while Lass follows to strip away your opponent’s Energy Removal & Super Energy Removal cards. In the turns that follow, you’re at the mercy of whatever cards make their way to the top of your opponent’s deck. If you can dodge the Super Energy Removal long enough, you’ll wipe out your opponent’s entire Bench, and win the game!

Tip: Defender can not only be used to protect Zapdos from damaging itself with Thunder, but also on the first turn of the game to help Voltorb survive Hitmonchan’s Jab.


Pokémon (21)Trainers (23)Energy (16)
4x Abra
2x Kadabra
3x Alakazam
3x Machop
2x Machoke
2x Machamp
4x Chansey
1x Doduo
4x Energy Retrieval
3x Professor Oak
3x Switch
3x Item Finder
2x Computer Search
2x Pokémon Center
2x Pokémon Trader
2x Pokémon Breeder
1x Maintenance
1x Lass
12x Fighting Energy
4x Double Colorless Energy
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With 100 HP, Machamp is an almost impossible one-hit KO for most decks. With Alakazam’s Damage Swap, you can move any damage Machamp takes to ensure it remains out of KO range. Four Chansey help to absorb this damage, with Pokémon Center there to erase it all when it starts to overwhelm your board. It takes a lot to get this powerful combo going, but when you pull it off, it’s nearly unbeatable.

Rain Dance

🌠 Iconic Deck

Pokémon (16)Trainers (30)Energy (14)
4x Squirtle
1x Wartortle
3x Blastoise
4x Magikarp
3x Gyarados
1x Chansey
4x Professor Oak
4x Computer Search
4x Energy Retrieval
4x Pokémon Breeder
3x Bill
3x Super Potion
3x Switch
2x Item Finder
1x Maintenance
1x Super Energy Removal
1x Lass
14x Water Energy
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The original Rain Dance decks focuses on attacking with Gyarados, using Blastoise’s Rain Dance to provide both the Energy it needs to attack. Meanwhile, your Lightning-weak Blastoise can remain safely on the Bench, waiting for its window to attack.

jungle-symbol Jungle


In Summer of 1999, fans were treated to the game’s first expansion, Jungle. Though Haymaker would continue its dominance throughout 1999, Jungle brought players some cards that could be used to challenge this mighty deck.

Base Set | Base & Jungle