Table of Contents
- 2011–2012: New Pokémon Pair Up with Prime Pokémon
- 2012–2013: The HS Sets Rotate Out
- 2013–2014: Black & White’s Finishing Touches
- 2014–2015: The Next Phase
- The Black & White Format
- Key Cards & Strategies
- Decks & Tips
Whenever a new generation of Pokémon have entered the TCG, they have been accompanied by some new rules and new mechanics. Whether it was the second generation of Pokémon in Neo Genesis, the third generation in EX Ruby & Sapphire or the fourth in Diamond & Pearl, each of these brought with them new elements for players to learn and enjoy. Pokémon’s fifth generation, however, can be considered a shining exception. Continuing the trend of the HeartGold SoulSilver sets, Black & White made the game more inviting to new players by making things less complicated. Here’s how Black & White did this when it made its international debut in 2011:
- There were no longer any restrictions on the player going first. Just like during the Wizards of the Coast era, if you won the opening coin flip, you’d draw a card, you could play any kind of Trainer and you were able to end your turn with an attack.
- Special Energy versions of Darkness & Metal Energy stopped being printed, leaving only the Basic versions introduced in Diamond & Pearl. Special Darkness & Metal Energy from the HeartGold SoulSilver sets lingered alongside their Basic counterparts for one more season, but would exit the game following the rotation of Call of Legends in 2012.
- There were no more Poké-Powers and Poké-Bodies. These were both replaced by the universal Abilities. Keeping things even simpler was the fact that Abilities could be used regardless of whether or not the host Pokémon was affected by a Special Condition.
- Supporter cards were now discarded immediately after being played, instead of being set next to a player’s Active Pokémon until the end of the turn. (This definitely took some getting used to for players!)
- Stadium and Supporter cards were again considered Trainers. You may remember that the Diamond & Pearl set began classifying Supporters and Stadiums as their own unique type of cards, different from Trainers. This trend continued into HeartGold SoulSilver, but ended at Black & White. Trainers were now divided into three sub-categories: Supporters, Stadiums and the new Items, which covered every Trainer that wasn’t either a Supporter or Stadium.
While these rule changes made it easier for new players to pick up the game, the removal of Turn 1 restrictions restored a heavy advantage to the player playing first. This advantage only grew as subsequent Black & White sets brought more powerful Pokémon and Trainers into the format. Let’s take a look at how it happened, starting with the 2011–2012 season.
2011–2012: New Pokémon Pair Up with Prime Pokémon
HeartGold SoulSilver–Black & White: Dark Explorers
The 2011–2012 season followed a World Championship where Pokémon from the Black & White set had just made their first splash. Their first successful archetypes combined them with Pokémon from the HeartGold SoulSilver sets, such as the duo of Typhlosion Prime and Black & White‘s Reshiram.
Also seeing success was the pair of Magnezone Prime and Emboar, which formed the basis of 2011 World Champion David Cohen’s Twinboar deck.
As the 2011–2012 season began, the second Black & White set, Emerging Powers, was released, bringing more of the new fifth-generation Pokémon into decks. Emerging Powers Gothitelle was paired with Black & White‘s Reuniclus, which could keep the 130-HP Stage 2 clear of damage while denying the opponent the use of Item cards.
But the most noteworthy card in Emerging Powers was Pokémon Catcher, a reprint of Base Set’s iconic Gust of Wind. Pokémon Catcher entered the game in a format where HS Triumphant’s Junk Arm was still legal, allowing players to easily and repeatedly target their opponent’s Benched Pokémon.
After Emerging Powers was Noble Victories, which brought Pokémon that enabled the creation of several new decks:
- Eelektrik could be paired with strong Lightning-type Pokémon, like Black & White Zekrom, allowing players to easily power expensive attacks.
- Durant relied on Pokémon Catcher & Crushing Hammer to stall the opponent while Devour milled through their deck.
- Vanilluxe formed a deadly combo with the new Victini, giving players a nearly 95% chance of Paralysis.
Following Noble Victories in February 2012 was the most important moment of the season: the release of Next Destinies, which brought Pokémon-EX to the game. All Pokémon-EX were Basic Pokémon, making them easy to fit in decks. The most noteworthy of these was Mewtwo-EX, which proved not to be over-hyped. By equipping Double Colorless Energy, Mewtwo-EX could effortlessly deliver substantial damage with its X Ball attack. Since Mewtwo-EX was weak to Psychic, it could easily be knocked out by another Mewtwo-EX, creating a format where players readily exchanged two-prize KOs.
The following set, Dark Explorers, brought more Pokémon-EX into the format. The strongest of these was Darkrai-EX, which could take advantage of new Item cards made just for Darkness-type Pokémon.
Evolved Pokémon could no longer keep up against these powerful new Pokémon, which were capable of scoring knockouts as quickly as the first turn. (Remember, there were no first turn restrictions!) By the time the World Championships arrived, Pokémon-EX had taken over the game. The Masters Division Top 8 at the 2012 World Championships ended up composed entirely of Pokémon-EX decks, seven of which relied on Darkrai-EX. Only a single Evolved Pokémon (one Espeon in one deck) was present in all eight decks. The Finals mimicked the same type of lightning-fast shootout as every other Top 8 match, with Mewtwo-EX and Darkrai-EX trading KOs. In the end, Igor Costa of Portugal was able draw his sixth prize in Game 3 before his American opponent, Harrison Leven, making him World Champion.
Igor Costa’s Pesadelo Prism
🥇 1st Place Worlds 2012
|Pokémon (12)||Trainers (34)||Energy (14)|
Costa’s winning deck was built to draw prize cards. With Smeargle’s Portrait, he could play two (sometimes three!) Supporters in one turn, discarding Darkness Energy along the way so that Darkrai-EX could be powered by Dark Patch. Once attacking, Junk Arm allowed him to easily retrieve Pokémon Catcher, ensuring most of his turns ended with a meaningful knockout. As the game progressed, Costa would accumulate Energy in play, waiting for the perfect opportunity to use Shaymin’s Celebration Wind to deliver a massive X Ball attack from Mewtwo-EX. While his deck may have looked similar to many of the other decks at Worlds 2012, one key difference was his inclusion of the Fighting-type Terrakion, which gave him a small edge against other Darkrai-EX decks.
2012–2013: The HS Sets Rotate Out
Black & White–Plasma Freeze
The 2012–2013 season rotated out the HeartGold SoulSilver sets, creating a Black & White-On format. The first expansion to join the new format was Dragons Exalted, which introduced Dragon-type Pokémon to the game. The Dragon-type Rayquaza-EX now became the preferred partner for Eelektrik, replacing Mewtwo-EX.
Also in Dragons Exalted was Garbodor, finally giving players a way to block Abilities. Tool Scrapper debuted in the same set, ensuring things stayed fair.
Following Dragons Exalted was Boundaries Crossed, which featured a Water-type duo too obvious to not become an immediate archetype.
Plasma Storm followed, bringing Hypnotoxic Laser & Virbank City Gym, a lethal combo that gave decks a way to deal quick and easy damage.
The final set to join the 2012–2013 format was Plasma Freeze, which contained a powerful trio of Team Plasma Pokémon that would form the basis of a new deck.
Blastoise decks also gained Superior Energy Retrieval, allowing them to easily repeat powerful attacks, like Black Kyurem EX’s Black Ballista.
One month before the World Championships, at the US National Championships, Plasma seemed to be the deck to beat. Edmund Kuras accomplished this with the popular combination of Accelgor and Gothitelle, defeating Ryan Sabelhaus’s Plasma deck in the Masters Division Finals.
Though Gothitelle/Accelgor was a fairly popular deck at the 2013 US National Championships, it wouldn’t see as much play at the World Championships, where players were better prepared for it, often running two Keldeo-EX to break free from Accelgor’s Paralysis. Instead, Worlds 2013 saw a contest of Plasma, Darkrai-EX, Blastoise and Eelektrik decks all battling it out.
Piloting a Darkrai-EX deck, I relied on the combination of Sableye’s Junk Hunt and Enhanced Hammer to defeat Plasma decks, earning my invitation to the World Championship at the Last Chance Qualifier the day before the event.
With incredible luck, I made it all the way to the Finals, where I stuck to my original strategy to defeat Simon Narode’s Plasma deck and win my third World Championship.
2013–2014: Black & White’s Finishing Touches
Black & White: Next Destinies–XY: Flashfire
The 2013–2014 season began as the final two Black & White sets debuted. First, there was Plasma Blast, which introduced a new deck built around the Grass-type duo of Virizion-EX & Genesect-EX. Also in Plasma Blast was Jirachi-EX, which offered players some insurance against Supporter-less opening hands.
The final Black & White set, Legendary Treasures, contained mostly reprints and did not have a major impact on the competitive metagame. Then, in February 2014, XY debuted. Though XY brought some powerful new Pokémon, including Yveltal-EX, Virizion-EX’s Verdant Wind proved too valuable in a format where Hypnotoxic Laser remained popular. Worlds 2014 saw two Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX decks face off in the Masters Division Finals, with Andrew Estrada of Canada defeating 2012 Champion Igor Costa.
2014–2015: The Next Phase
Black & White: Boundaries Crossed–XY: Roaring Skies
Only five Black & White sets remained in the format following the 2014–2015 rotation. While Hypnotoxic Laser & Keldeo-EX continued to see play, not much else from Black & White could keep up with the impressive new cards of the XY sets. Most of Black & White’s remaining cards got left behind as the Pokémon Trading Card Game entered its next phase.
The Black & White Format
The Black & White block contains a total of 12 sets (including the Dragon Vault subset), plus 101 promotional cards:
- Black & White
- Emerging Powers
- Noble Victories
- Next Destinies
- Dark Explorers
- Dragons Exalted
- Dragon Vault
- Boundaries Crossed
- Plasma Storm
- Plasma Freeze
- Plasma Blast
- Legendary Treasures
- Black & White promotional cards (BW01–BW101)
Playing with all 12 Black & White sets produces a skill-based and fun format that is very similar to the Worlds 2013 format, but with two additional sets: Plasma Blast and Legendary Treasures. The importance of including the Plasma Blast set should not be understated, though, as it adds game-changing cards to the format, like Virizion-EX and Jirachi-EX. You’ll read about both of these cards below, as we take a look at the key cards of the Black & White format.
Black & White Format: Key Cards & Strategies
Functioning just like the Pokémon-ex from the EX sets of 2003 through 2007, Pokémon-EX (with a capital E-X) surrender two prize cards when knocked out. The only difference between these two nearly identical types of Pokémon is that the Pokémon-EX of the Black & White sets are all Basic Pokémon. With high HP and powerful attacks, Pokémon-EX play a major role in the Black & White format. Nearly all decks play at least some and many rely on them as their main attackers.
Tropical Beach is unique in that it is the only World Championship promo to have a major impact in competitive Pokémon. The card was issued to players and staff at two consecutive World Championships, first in San Diego in 2011 and then with new artwork in Hawaii in 2012. It’s first notable tournament appearance occurred only a day after it was issued to players, with Masters Division Finalist Ross Cawthon making the last-minute addition to his 2011 World Championship The Truth deck. Tropical Beach was widely used during the initial part of the 2011–2012 season and remained popular throughout the 2012–2013 and 2013–2014 seasons. It’s even still used in some Expanded-format decks today! Because it could only be obtained by participating in or staffing the 2011 or 2012 World Championships, a limited supply of these cards exist, making them difficult to come by. If you’re trying to collect them for your deck, consider seeking out all language versions of them. English and Japanese tend to be the hardest to come by, but the card was printed in five additional languages. (Spanish, French, German, Portuguese and Italian.) Alternatively, you can play casually with the World Championship deck version. (There’s three in Clement Lamberton’s Anguille Sous Rouche 2013 World Championship deck.)
There are four key Supporter cards that you’ll see repeated throughout Black & White decks.
- Professor Juniper is your most reliable form of draw, always giving you 7 cards, but it comes with the steep cost of discarding your hand. You’ll have to be careful playing Professor Juniper in decks with lots of Evolved Pokémon.
- N is not only solid early in the game, where it gives you a new hand of six cards, but also a great way to disrupt your opponent’s hand, particularly on the turn following your Pokémon being knocked out. Many games in the Black & White format are determined in dramatic fashion by what one player manages to draw from a late-game N. While the cards a player draws from N are determined by luck, preparing for your opponent’s N by thinning out useless cards from your deck, as well as preserving your own N for the perfect moment both require an element of skill.
- Skyla is great in decks built around Evolved Pokémon, particularly Stage 2 Pokémon, as it allows you to retrieve either Tropical Beach or Rare Candy on early turns. It’s also useful to search out situational Item cards. Sometimes, though, you’ll use Skyla simply to retrieve a better Supporter to play on the following turn.
- Colress works best in decks that routinely fill their Bench. While you’ll love to see it in your hand late in the game, seeing it as the only Supporter in your opening hand usually means trouble, since Benches will be small on the first few turns.
The Pokémon Fetchers
One of the reasons decks function smoothly in the Black & White format is that it offers a variety of Pokémon-retrieving Item cards.
- Ultra Ball is the most versatile of the Ball cards, allowing you to retrieve any Pokémon, but with the cost of discarding two cards from your hand.
- Level Ball has no discard requirement, but can only grab Pokémon with 90 HP or less. It works best in decks based around Evolved Pokémon, allowing you to grab the earlier evolution stages.
- Heavy Ball, like Level Ball, has no discard requirement, but is limited to a very narrow range of Pokémon it can retrieve.
- Pokémon Communication, like Ultra Ball, can retrieve any Pokémon, but will require you to trade in another one from your hand. Few decks play enough Pokémon to utilize this card.
Given the importance of Supporter cards, you’ll usually want to include a Jirachi-EX in your decks, which is easily retrievable thanks to Ultra Ball and Level Ball. Though its 90 HP make it an easy 2-prize target, this drawback is a small price to pay to ensure you aren’t passing your turns. Some decks, mainly those that benefit from discarding Pokémon, can afford to play multiple Jirachi-EX. A few others are so tight on Bench space that they can’t afford to play even one.
Hypnotoxic Laser’s poison damage can add up quickly, especially with Virbank City Gym in play. Making it even deadlier is the chance of leaving the Defending Pokémon Asleep. Throughout 2013 and 2014, and even 2015, countless games were ended by a devastating Tails on Sleep produced by Hypnotoxic Laser. If your deck doesn’t have a way to deal with this powerful card, you will struggle to win in the Black & White format. Two of the best counters to Hypnotoxic Laser are Pokémon-EX: Virizion-EX and Keldeo-EX.
Virizion-EX is the best way to deal with Hypnotoxic Laser, as its Verdant Wind Ability prevents both Poison and Sleep. (It also removes existing Special Conditions once you attach a Grass Energy.) In addition to being the best anti-Laser card in the format, Virizion-EX makes it next to impossible to lose to Accelgor decks, which aim to win with a string of Paralysis attacks. While Verdant Wind requires Grass Energy, you can fit Virizion-EX into a variety of decks by using Prism Energy or Blend Energy.
Like all formats, most Black & White decks will want some type of card to switch their Active Pokémon. Rather than devote deck space to Trainers like Switch or Escape Rope, a popular strategy is to simply play Keldeo-EX and Float Stone. By attaching Float Stone to Keldeo-EX, you can always Rush In, then retreat for free, ridding your Active Pokémon of any Special Conditions in the process. This is particularly useful in decks that have multiple high-retreat cost Pokémon, as attaching a single Float Stone to Keldeo-EX is much more efficient than attaching one to each of these Pokémon.
There’s plenty of strong Abilities in the Black & White format and your only way of shutting them down is Garbodor’s Garbotoxin. Your best Tool to equip on Garbodor will almost always be Float Stone, which prevents your opponent from exploiting its high retreat cost by stranding it active with Pokémon Catcher. On the other hand, if you’re playing a deck that’s heavily reliant on Abilities, you’ll need to play at least one Tool Scrapper to deactivate Garbotoxin.
In the Black & White format, Pokémon Catcher is an Item card requiring no coin flip. (It wasn’t until XY that the card received an errata.) You’ll need to be aware of Pokémon Catcher at all times, especially when benching vulnerable Pokémon. For example, if you’re trying to evolve a Squirtle, you might need to bench two on the same turn in order to ensure that one survives.
Ace Specs are powerful Trainer cards exclusive to the Black & White sets. A total of 13 exist, but players are limited to one Ace Spec per deck, so you’ll need to choose yours wisely. The most popular Ace Specs are Computer Search & Dowsing Machine, but there are plenty of decks that benefit from using a different one.
Black & White Decks
Now that we’ve covered the key cards of the Black & White format, you’re ready to see some decks! Head over to Part 2 for 20 complete deck lists, as well as the rules you’ll need to know to begin playing.
HeartGold SoulSilver | Black & White | XY