Table of Contents
- Rocket-On: What Changed?
- Modified in Action: The 2001 East Coast Super Trainer Showdown
- Crobat and the 2001 West Coast Super Trainer Showdown
- Rocket-On in 2002
- Playing the Rocket-On Format
- Team Rocket–Legendary Collection (2002) Legal Set List
- Slowking Errata
- Basic Strategies
- Decks & Tips
In Fall of 2000, Wizards of the Coast responded to the growing number of players who had become frustrated with a game that had been taken over by overpowered Trainer cards. Their answer was a new format, called Prop 15/3, which limited decks to 15 Trainers. Their hope was that this new format would slow the game down and also bring more Evolved Pokémon into play. While the format did accomplish those goals, it ultimately ended up being unpopular with players, who mostly found it boring and luck-based. This led Wizards to scrap the format after using it at only one event, leaving them back where they started.
Fortunately for players (and also for Wizards), the Neo Genesis set would debut just a month after this failed experiment, bringing some new life to the game. The set’s most iconic Pokémon, Cleffa, gave players a defense against the hand-disrupting Trainer cards that had taken over in 2000, and a variety of new Pokémon and Trainers began making their way into decks. The format remained far from perfect, however. An unlucky player could have their 30 HP Cleffa knocked out on the first turn and a mistranslated Slowking created games that felt like only one person was playing. Meanwhile, another new powerful Basic Pokémon, Sneasel, had emerged, which was capable of scoring one-hit KOs for only two Energy. With decks still abusing the powerful Trainers of Base Set and yet another Basic Pokémon dominating, many players felt like not much had really changed.
Wizards of the Coast felt the same way. While they were certainly happy to see Cleffa create more interactive matches, the state of the game was still far from how they envisioned the perfect Pokémon TCG format. In 2001, preparing for their second pair of Super Trainer Showdown events, Wizards brainstormed ways to create a healthier format. That April, they made their enthusiastic announcement that the East Coast Super Trainer Showdown (the first of two STS events that year) would use their newly-created Modified format, which would “rotate out” Base Set, as well as the Jungle and Fossil expansions, leaving players with cards from Team Rocket onward to build decks. (The format was aptly referred to as Rocket-On.) This rotation of older sets was modeled after the most popular format in Magic: The Gathering, Wizards’ most iconic and successful TCG, and it formed the basis for the Standard format players continue to enjoy today.
Rocket-On: What Changed?
Rotating out Base Set meant the game’s most powerful Trainers would be phased out. Without Energy Removal & Super Energy Removal to strip away Energy cards and without Gust of Wind & PlusPower to score quick knockouts on weak Basic Pokémon, Evolved Pokémon finally had a format they could thrive in. Though Neo Genesis was included in this new format, its Sneasel was considered too powerful. It became the only otherwise legal card to be banned in the Modified format. (It was also the first time Wizards banned a specific card from competitive play.
Here’s a breakdown of the game’s first 12 sets, showing what sets were rotated out to create the Rocket-On Modified format, what sets were legal at the birth of the format and what sets would join the format later, following their release. The dates in parentheses indicate the US release date of each set.
|Rotated Out||Legal at 2001 ECSTS||Joined Format Later|
Base Set 2
| Team Rocket
| Neo Discovery
Modified in Action: The 2001 East Coast Super Trainer Showdown
The night before the 2001 East Coast Super Trainer Showdown, excited players battled and showcased their Rocket-On creations. Spread across tables were decks featuring all kinds of Evolved Pokémon: Typhlosion, Blaine’s Arcanine, Steelix, Feraligatr, Erika’s Victreebel. I remember sharing this enthusiasm for all of the Evolved Pokémon that had for so long only sat in our binders. But despite there being no shortage of fresh ideas, when it came time for the actual event the next day, one single deck dominated the event.
Feraligatr: King of Modified
Feraligatr decks were dominant in the Rocket-On format for two reasons. The first was that Feraligatr’s Riptide Attack could one-hit KO anything it encountered. In a format filled with high-HP Evolved Pokémon, this was a huge advantage. The second was that the deck could fully utilize Misty’s Wrath. For most decks, discarding five cards was a steep drawback. Feraligatr decks, however, benefited from the discarding, filling the discard pile with Water Energy to increase Riptide’s damage. And while most decks in Rocket-On would need to spend the first few turns using Cleffa’s Eeeeeeek to set up, Misty’s Wrath allowed Feraligatr decks to often bypass it altogether, going from a Totodile on Turn 1 to Croconaw on Turn 2, then an attacking Feraligatr on Turn 3.
The 2001 Super Trainer Showdown events were both broken into two identical back-to-back events, one for each of the two days the events ran. Although a Neo Genesis Slowking deck (more on Slowking later) would win the 15+ division on Day 1, Feraligatr was no doubt the star of the show, winning on Day 2 and dominating the other age divisions. More than once, Feraligatr decks made up at least four of the Top 8 decks at the STS events.
Though the Modified format hadn’t created the diversity everyone had hoped for, players still enjoyed finally being able to play and attack with Stage 2 Pokémon and players also seemed to prefer it to the Standard format. Wizards would stick with the format during its final two years producing the game, all but abandoning the Trainer-filled Standard format.
Crobat and the 2001 West Coast Super Trainer Showdown
For the fourth and final Super Trainer Showdown, held in California in December 2001, Wizards stuck with the Rocket-On format. However, in the six months between the East and West STS events, two new sets had joined the game: Neo Discovery & Neo Revelation. These sets brought a small handful of playable cards into the format, the most notable being Neo Revelation Crobat, the first Crobat card to be printed.
With an Evolution line composed entirely of free-retreating Pokémon, Crobat decks could easily abuse
Rocket-On in 2002
Following the final STS event, interest in competitive Pokémon across the world began a sharp decline, as Wizards of the Coast had begun phasing out the 15+ division, leaving many players frustrated and in search of new hobbies. Meanwhile, players ages 14 and under could continue playing Rocket-On to qualify for the 2002 World Championships, the game’s first official World Championship.
With the release of the fourth and final Neo set, Neo Destiny, some new powerful Stage 2 Pokémon joined the format. Among them were Dark Gengar and Dark Feraligatr, both of which could compete with Feraligatr decks. Leading up to the 2002 World Championships, Wizards also released Legendary Collection. Though this set was composed entirely of reprints from the game’s first four sets, Wizards was careful to avoid reprinting the powerful Trainer cards of Base Set. Professor Oak, Lass, Computer Search, Gust of Wind, PlusPower, Item Finder and Energy Removal & Super Energy Removal were all very purposefully left out, ensuring Evolution-based decks would continue to thrive.
Playing the Rocket-On Format
Rocket-On holds a special place in the game’s history as the first format that allowed evolved Pokémon to truly shine. Unlike the era’s previous Standard formats, Rocket-On does not involve a constant assault of Energy Removal & Super Energy Removal, ensuring you can build and attack with a variety of powerful Evolved Pokémon. Most of these evolved Pokémon would never make the cut in a format that contains Base Set’s powerful Trainer cards, so playing the Rocket-On format can be a fun way to see some of them in action.
Team Rocket–Legendary Collection (2002) Legal Set List
Like all formats, Rocket-On began composed of only a few sets, growing in size each time a new expansion was released. If you’re going to play Rocket-On and are wondering what particular place on its timeline you should build decks from, I recommend skipping ahead to its final phase, when Legendary Collection became the eighth and final set to join the format. This will ensure you have the opportunity to build and play as many decks as possible. Below, you can see exactly what sets and cards were legal in the Team Rocket–Legendary Collection format.
- Team Rocket
- Gym Heroes
- Gym Challenge
- Neo Genesis
- Neo Discovery
- Neo Revelation
- Neo Destiny
- Legendary Collection
- Southern Islands Promo Set
- Wizards Black Star Promos #1–49
Banned Cards: Sneasel (Neo Genesis)
In addition to the Sneasel ban, I recommend you play with an errata on Neo Genesis Slowking, explained below.
As you may have previously read, Neo Genesis Slowking was mistranslated when it made its way overseas from Japan. The mistranslation allowed its Pokémon Power to work from the Bench, not just the Active position, as originally intended. This game-changing blunder went uncorrected until after the Rocket-On format had shifted to a Neo-On format, but I highly recommend playing the Rocket-On format (and any Neo-inclusive format) with an errata on Slowking’s Mind Games. Without an errata, Slowking is not only overpowered, but un-fun to play against, as you’ll spend more of your own turn watching your opponent flip coins than you will playing your own Trainer cards.
There’s other cards in this format that had more minor (but still significant) mistranslations. Though most went uncorrected at the time, I recommend playing those too as originally intended. You can view all Wizards era erratas here.
Cleffa: Your Best Friend
Just as it does in the Base–Neo format, Cleffa easily reigns supreme as the best Pokémon in Rocket-On. With Feraligatr one of only a few exceptions, Rocket-On decks will rarely develop and evolve their Pokémon without at least one Eeeeeeek from Cleffa. Starting the game with an Active Cleffa is not only important to allow you to begin using Eeeeeeek as soon as possible, but also to force your opponent to flip a coin in order to Eeeeeeek themself. That’s why nearly all decks play four.
Professor Elm: Your Best Trainer
The strongest card-drawing Trainer you have in Rocket-On is Professor Elm. You’ll want 4 in all of your decks. The key to properly using Professor Elm is to not always play it simply because you have no other cards to play. If you’ve already attached Energy and don’t have any Pokémon you need to play on that turn, you may be better off simply attacking with Eeeeeeek and saving the Elm for later in the game.
Double Gust: Key to Winning
Double Gust plays a key role in nearly all Rocket-On games, functioning primarily as a weakened
Focus Band: A Game Decider
One of the reasons the Rocket-On format is so exciting (albeit luck-based) is that Focus Band flips often determine who the eventual winner will be. Having a powerful Evolved Pokémon survive with 10 HP means that next turn your opponent’s Pokémon might not. It isn’t uncommon in the Rocket-On format to exchange successful Focus Band flips back-and-forth with your opponent, with the first Tails determining the eventual loser. Focus Band isn’t limited to your strongest Pokémon, either. It can help slower decks protect their Cleffa in order to secure more Eeeeeeek attacks and can also make your Pichu or Magby more difficult to KO, punishing opponents who rely heavily on Pokémon Powers.
Good Manners & Pokémon Trader: A Great Pair
Both Good Manners & Pokémon Trader will help you set up the Evolved Pokémon your Rocket-On decks rely on. They also conveniently pair well with each other. When your hand is stuck with a Basic Pokémon you either can’t or don’t want to bench, you can use Pokémon Trader to shuffle it into the deck, permitting you to then use Good Manners. Similarly, you can use Good Manners to bring any Basic Pokémon into your hand, giving you something to then trade with Pokémon Trader for an Evolved Pokémon.
Curious what deck lists look like in the Rocket–Legendary Collection format? Head over to Page 2 for 20 complete lists.