Table of Contents


XY. It was the set that introduced the short-lived Fairy type and brought powerful new attacks, like Yveltal-EX’s Evil Ball.

It also debuted the ultra powerful Mega Pokémon-EX.

The first Pokémon Catcher card with the coin flip requirement. Previous versions received an errata to require this coin flip.

At the same time, XY seemed to have the noble goal of slowing the game down. Evolving into one of these new Mega Pokémon-EX ended your turn. A new rule disallowed attacks on the first turn of the game. The almighty Pokémon Catcher was nerfed and now required a coin flip.

But barely one year after these exciting new cards and promising changes, things would spiral out of control as the result of a few troublesome cards. To understand how this happened, let’s first go all the way back to 2014, when XY debuted.

2013–2014: XY Comes in Hot

Black & White: Next DestiniesXY: Flashfire
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dragons-exalted-symbol dragon-vault-symbol boundaries-crossed-symbol plasma-storm-symbol plasma-freeze-symbol plasma-blast-symbol legendary-treasures-symbol xy-symbol flashfire-symbol

XY debuted late in the 2013–2014 season, immediately bringing some new decks into play. The clearly powerful Yveltal-EX took advantage of Dark Patch‘s final season before it would be rotated from Standard, allowing players to deliver massive Evil Ball attacks that could one-hit KO even high-HP Pokémon-EX.

Other players tried out the new Fairy type, combining both new and old Pokémon-EX with the duo of Xerneas & Aromatisse.

XY‘s Trevenant became the new partner for the trusted Accelgor (Black & White: Dark Explorers), replacing the Stage 2 Gothitelle that had the same Item-blocking Ability.

The second XY set, Flashfire, brought back a guaranteed Gust effect in the form of Lysandre. Players now had a way to switch their opponent’s Active Pokémon without needing to flip a coin, but they’d have to spend their Supporter to do it.

Another intriguing card in Flashfire was Pyroar. Since many of the top decks were relying heavily or even exclusively on Basic Pokémon, Pyroar’s Intimidating Mane was a huge hassle for them.

At the 2014 US National Championships, Pyroar proved to be more than just interesting, taking unprepared players by surprise. Three Pyroar decks made it into the Masters Division Top 8, one played by Michael Pramawat, who took his all the way to the Finals. His speedy version played four Pokémon Catchers and two Lysandres, aiming to knock out any Basic Pokémon before it could evolve and attack through Pyroar’s Intimidating Mane. In the Finals, though, Pramawat finally met his match. His opponent, Brandon Salazar, played evolution lines of both Raichu and Garbodor in his Landorus-EX deck. This duo of evolutions was too much for Pramawat’s deck to handle and Salazar became National Champion.

Heading into the World Championships, players and fans wondered if Pyroar was a one-hit wonder or if it might make its mark at Worlds too. The former turned out to be the case, with seemingly no Pyroar decks in sight. Instead, Yveltal-EX and Aromatisse decks battled it out with proven archetypes from the previous season, like Plasma and Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX. In the end, Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX bested the new XY Pokémon, with Andrew Estrada winning a mirror match Finals against Portugal’s Igor Costa.

2014–2015: The Format Gets Wild

Black & White: Boundaries CrossedXY: Roaring Skies
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Heading into the 2014–2015 season, players enjoyed a format that could be described as both interactive and skillful. Games involved quick turns with plenty of opportunities to play cards and test your strategic prowess.

The first expansion to join the season was the third XY set, Furious Fists. As the name implies, this set was themed around Fighting Pokémon and contained several cards that offered support for them.

Lucario-EX and Hawlucha were both solid attackers that took advantage of the new Strong Energy.

The set’s most notable card, Seismitoad-EX, needed nothing more than a Double Colorless Energy to hit for 30 damage and block the opponent from playing Items. While the attack’s modest damage would seem to keep it in check, Seismitoad-EX became a lethal attacker after equipping Muscle Band and supplementing its damage with Hypnotoxic Laser.

In November 2014, the fourth XY set, Phantom Forces, debuted. This set was packed full of cards that would shake up the metagame, including VS Seeker, which hadn’t been seen since the Platinum era. VS Seeker allowed players to more easily chain Lysandres, creating a format where Benched Pokémon were increasingly under attack.

Phantom Forces also released some really wild cards, including a new type of Pokémon Tool called Team Flare Hyper Gear. These bizarre Tool cards were attached to your opponent’s Pokémon instead of your own, producing a harmful effect on the Pokémon they were attached to.

While they were certainly fun to play with, the bright red borders weren’t always enough to help players remember to reclaim their Flare Tools after each match. It became common at events to see players scrambling to hunt down their previous round opponents after realizing their deck still contained an opponent’s Head Ringer.

Phantom Forces also brought the first Mega Pokémon-EX to make a major wave in the competitive scene: M Manectric-EX.

M Manectric-EX was a simple, but effective attacker. Its Basic had two good attacks and it benefited from the new Spirit Link Pokémon Tool cards.

With a Manectric Spirit Link attached, players could evolve into M Manectric-EX and attack as quickly as the second turn. From Phantom Forces onward, all new Mega Pokémon-EX (and even some older ones) would get their own Spirit Link Pokémon Tool.

Phantom Forces also brought the infamous trio of Night March Pokémon, all of which had the same attack, though for varying Energy costs.

The three Night March Pokémon

This new type of attack, fueled by how many of these Pokémon were in your discard pile, wouldn’t by itself have been very impressive. After all, it would take several turns to get enough of them into your discard pile before Night March could hit for substantial damage.

But the game’s designers were apparently in no mood to wait for Night March to be the next big thing. In that same set was Battle Compressor, an Item that allowed players to discard any three cards from their deck—an effect that might otherwise be baffling if it hadn’t debuted alongside these Pokémon.

The designers did recognize they might be unleashing a monster with this combination of cards, though, as they also included a fail-safe in the same set: Lysandre’s Trump Card. This card kept Night March decks in check, but it also single-handedly destroyed the prospect of any viable stall decks in the format.

Another card that fit the discard pile theme of Phantom Forces was Bronzong, a Metal-version of the Noble Victories Eelektrik that saw competitive success in the Black & White era.

Bronzong was paired with Metal-type Pokémon-EX, like Cobalion-EX and the new Aegislash-EX, both of which could exploit decks’ over-dependence on Double Colorless Energy.

Since Accelgor had rotated, Trevenant needed a new partner. Gengar-EX worked perfectly, using its Dark Corridor attack to end the turn with Trevenant in the Active spot.

Another Pokémon that used this hit and run strategy was Donphan, which had previously gone unnoticed since its debut in Black & White: Plasma Storm. Improved by Strong Energy & Korrina from Furious Fists, Donphan became the focus of a new deck after Phantom Forces brought it two new useful Pokémon to switch into with its Spinning Turn attack: Wobbuffet & Robo Substitute.

Following Phantom Forces, things began to get a bit wild. The fifth XY set, Primal Clash, brought a pair of Supporters that only further expanded the type of Turn 1 craziness players could accomplish: Archie’s Ace in the Hole and Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick.

These two cards worked in perfect combination with Battle Compressor. Players would use Battle Compressor to place a Water or Fighting-type Pokémon in their discard pile and then, with the help of Items like Ultra Ball and the new Acro Bike, they could achieve the 1-card hand needed to play Archie’s Ace in the Hole or Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick. The final result was a powerful Pokémon, like Blastoise or Empoleon, down on the Bench, plus 5 new cards—all as early as the first turn!

Archeops was eventually banned in Expanded

In the Expanded format, players could use Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick to land something even deadlier: a first turn Archeops!

Primal Clash also introduced Ancient Traits to the game, special built-in abilities that could not be disabled by any card. One notable Ancient Trait was Ω Barrier, which made a Pokémon immune to Trainer cards. Primal Groudon-EX (another type of Mega Pokémon-EX) boasted both 240 HP and Ω Barrier. Seismitoad-EX players found Primal Groudon-EX particularly difficult to deal with since they couldn’t target it with Lysandre, strip away its Energy with Crushing Hammer, or poison it with Hypnotoxic Laser.

And that takes us to the most dramatic moment of the XY series: the release of Roaring Skies. Leading up to this point, you see the trend of boundaries being pushed, of the game getting faster, of players being able to do more and more on their first turn. Still, though, the card creators were careful not to go overboard. That is, until Roaring Skies.

Why, oh why? If you ever ask me what I think was the single most harmful card to be printed in the TPCi era, my answer will always be Shaymin-EX. What’s particularly frustrating about Shaymin-EX is that the consequences of its Ability on the game were predictable. Less than seven years earlier, Diamond & Pearl—Legends Awakened had brought Uxie to the game.

Uxie had a nearly identical Ability, drawing one more card than Shaymin-EX’s Set Up. Its Power, which could be used multiple times per turn by benching multiple Uxie, enabled long, drawn-out turns. With the help of some Trainers, Uxie players could even draw through most of their deck in a single turn.

If you were the one playing this type of deck, it was certainly amusing, but it’s not hard to understand why it wasn’t fun to be on the other side of. You’d sit idly, watching your opponent draw 20+ cards, sometimes only to have your lone Pokémon knocked out by a Turn 1 Machamp five minutes later.

To be fair, not all (or even most) uses of Uxie’s Set Up were this degenerate. Most of the time players were simply putting down a single Uxie for an early-game boost. Additionally, Uxie didn’t really become out of control until cards like Broken Time-Space debuted later. (There’s some foreshadowing here.) The thing is, though, the game didn’t need Uxie. There were enough Supporters and other forms of draw to allow a healthy pace to the game without all of the nonsense Uxie’s Set Up enabled. And if this kind of unbridled ability to draw cards did need to exist in the game, what was the purpose of limiting the best draw cards to once-per-turn in the form of Supporters?

Back to Shaymin-EX. So you might be thinking, Well, Uxie drew 7 cards. Maybe 7 was too many, but 6 should be okay! Unlike Shaymin-EX, though, Uxie did not exist in a format with Ultra Ball. There were limited ways to search out Basic Pokémon during the Diamond & Pearl era without spending your Supporter card. This was in contrast to the XY era, where you could easily bring a Shaymin-EX into your hand with a single Ultra Ball!

Players used Ultra Ball to find Shaymin-EX, conveniently lowering their hand size in the process so that Set Up could draw more cards. After using Set Up, they’d play through their cards, then bench additional Shaymin-EX to activate a second, third, even fourth Set Up. All the while, the opponent would endure a repeating cycle of cards being drawn and then played against them. This included dreaded Item cards like Hypnotoxic Laser and Crushing Hammer.

Just when your opponent had filled their Bench (or spent their final Shaymin-EX), and you felt relief knowing your turn was finally about to begin, you’d be disappointed to see them use one of several Trainers that allowed them to bring Shaymin-EX back into their hand, where it could then played again to reuse Set Up.

Can anything good be said about Shaymin-EX? Absolutely. It bailed out players that drew weak opening hands, preventing quick and disappointing games in the process. But for every one game where a Supporter-less player was saved by Shaymin-EX, there were probably four of five where Shaymin-EX delivered a player enough cards to immediately shut their opponent out of the game.

Shaymin-EX allowed Night March decks to pull off a massive attack both quickly and consistently. Previously, it usually took at least two turns to find enough Battle Compressors to build a hard-hitting Night March. But now, with Shaymin-EX’s Set Up, players could quickly find multiple Battle Compressors, dropping eight or nine Night Marchers into the discard pile on the first turn. With the XY rule change disallowing attacks on the first turn, Night March players increasingly began to opt to play second so that they could unleash this attack on their first turn.

Lysandre’s Trump Card, which up until this point was a luxury card players considered adding into their decks, now became almost necessary to play in order to control Night March. After a Night March player had spent most of their Shaymin-EX, you’d play Trump Card. Without Shaymin-EX’s Set Up, they would struggle to replenish their discard pile with Night Marchers.

Although Lysandre’s Trump Card did a good job keeping Night March in check, it started to become more of a force of bad than good. With Lysandre’s Trump Card to prevent deckout, players began using Shaymin-EX’s Set Up to go on reckless sprees of playing Item cards. Once their deck was low and their discard pile full of spent Items, they’d play Trump Card to shuffle it all back in.

Exeggutor was briefly competitive, losing strength at the debut of Shaymin-EX

Of course, when you played Lysandre’s Trump Card, your opponent got to shuffle their entire discard pile in too, but by combining Trump Card with attacks like Seismitoad-EX’s Quaking Punch or Exeggutor‘s Blockade (attacks that limited the amount of cards your opponent could play), the benefits of recovering all of these cards became one-sided.

As if Shaymin-EX wasn’t bad enough, Roaring Skies also brought us Wally, a Supporter that enabled a Turn 1 Item Lock via Trevenant. Shaymin-EX helped find Wally on Turn 1, but just in case Shaymin couldn’t find it, Roaring Skies also released Trainers’ Mail, an Item that could dig for Trainers (like Wally).

Roaring Skies was legal in time for the final three Regional Championships in 2015, which is where the Shaymin-EX + Lysandre’s Trump Card abuse began. Decks were maxing out on Shaymin-EX and having a field day burning through cards, then shuffling them all back in. I too was guilty of this Shaymin+Trump Card abuse, ruining opponents’ days with endless streams of Crushing Hammers & Hypnotoxic Lasers as I delivered Quaking Punch after Quaking Punch from Seismitoad-EX. Below is my Seismitoad-EX/Shaymin-EX list I used to win a Regional Championship in May 2015.

Jason Klaczynski’s Seismitoad-EX/Shaymin-EX/Trump Card

🥇 1st Place Spring Regionals 2015 (Masters Division)

Pokémon (11)Trainers (45)Energy (4)
4x Seismitoad-EX
4x Shaymin-EX
1x Skrelp
1x Dragalge
1x Absol
1x Computer Search
2x Virbank City Gym
4x Professor Sycamore
4x N
1x Lysandre
1x AZ
1x Lysandre’s Trump Card
1x Team Flare Grunt
1x Xerosic
4x VS Seeker
4x Hypnotoxic Laser
4x Super Scoop Up
4x Crushing Hammer
4x Ultra Ball
3x Trainers’ Mail
3x Muscle Band
2x Head Ringer
1x Enhanced Hammer
4x Double Colorless Energy

This type of Toad/Shaymin/Trump Card deck quickly conquered the Pokémon world. The same day I used it to win Regionals, it also placed both 1st and 2nd at the UK National Championships. In the following two weeks, it did the same at National Championships in Australia, Italy, Norway, and the Netherlands.

TPCi had seen enough. They recognized the combination of Trump Card+Shaymin-EX was out of control and that players were having less fun as a result. On June 15, 2015, The Pokémon Company International put out the following statement, announcing their very first competitive card ban.

As of June 15, 2015, Lysandre’s Trump Card (XY—Phantom Forces, 99/119 and 118/119) will be banned from all sanctioned Play! Pokémon tournaments in most of the world. (The ban will go into effect in Japan on June 20.) This card has created an undesirable play environment because it:

  • Eliminates one of your opponent’s victory conditions (running out of cards in your deck)
  • Allows repeated use of powerful Trainer cards
  • Allows drawing through your deck quickly with minimal repercussions
  • Extends the time of battles

All sanctioned tournaments will be affected by this change, including Pokémon National Championships occurring after June 15 (except in Japan) and the Pokémon World Championships in August.

The only problem? They banned the wrong card. Lysandre’s Trump Card was not the problem. Don’t get me wrong: it was a problem. The game was certainly healthier when a player couldn’t use a single card to shuffle two entire discard piles back into decks. But the real problem was Shaymin-EX. Lysandre’s Trump Card wasn’t the card creating 5+ minute turns of Item after Item. It wasn’t the card enabling a 180-damage Night March or a 240-damage Emerald Break on a player’s first turn.

What’s Emerald Break? Oh, my bad. Amid my Shaymin-EX rant I almost forgot to tell you about M Rayquaza-EX.

All of this happened in Roaring Skies too. Every. single. one. of these cards. At Roaring Skies, Pokémon was converted from a back-and-forth game of strategy into a two-person talent show where you and your opponent each took turns trying to impress each other with the most outrageous turn possible.

With Lysandre’s Trump Card now banned, Night March became positioned to do well at the upcoming US Nationals. One card that remained effective against Night March decks, however, was Seismitoad-EX. Seismitoad’s Quaking Punch scored easy one-hit KOs on Joltik and Pumpkaboo, and the Item block was very disruptive to the deck, preventing them from recovering discarded Night Marchers with cards like Revive. Feeling good about my Night March match-up, I stuck with a Seismitoad-EX deck for US Nationals. With a 2/2 Garbodor line to turn off Abilities, I was prepared for anything I might face.

Wailord-EX’s 250 HP made for a difficult KO, especially for my Seismitoad-EX deck

Well, almost anything. In the wake of Lysandre’s Trump Card being banned, a group of clever players from Wisconsin recognized that the format was now ripe for a stall deck to take over.

Along my Swiss rounds I encountered this bizarre new type of stall deck for the first time. It played 4 Wailord-EX and no Energy cards, only a huge amount of Trainers that allowed the user to repeatedly heal Wailord-ex and discard cards from the opponent’s hand, board and deck. I found the deck clever, but didn’t recognize just how strong it was until I was playing against it again in the Finals, this time played by Enrique Avila.

Enrique Avila’s Wailord-EX/Suicune Stall

🥈 2nd Place US Nationals 2015 (Masters Division)

Pokémon (7)Trainers (53)Energy (0)
4x Wailord-EX
3x Suicune
1x Dowsing Machine
4x Rough Seas
2x Silent Lab
4x Pokémon Fan Club
4x Cassius
4x AZ
4x Team Flare Grunt
3x Skyla
3x N
2x Lysandre
2x Hugh
1x Shauna
1x Xerosic
4x VS Seeker
4x Hard Charm
4x Max Potion
3x Enhanced Hammer
1x Startling Megaphone
1x Trick Shovel
1x Sacred Ash

After two very close games, Avila and I ended up tied 1–1 in our Best 2-of-3 series when time limits, forever the Achilles’ Heel of stall decks, proved to be the downfall of Wailord. Forced to play a Single-Prize Sudden Death Game 3 after the time limit expired, Avila’s only way to win would be to deck me out without surrendering a single Prize card—a nearly impossible task. After an N to 1 left him scrambling to heal his lone Wailord-EX, Avila conceded the game by using AZ to return his lone Pokémon back into his hand, awarding me the Championship that had eluded me for so many years.

With US Nationals wrapped up, players prepared for the 2015 World Championships in Boston, wondering if Wailord-EX would make another splash. Like Pyroar in 2014, though, when the tournament started, Wailord-EX was nowhere to be seen. Well, not in the form of a 0-Energy stall deck at least.

Masters Division Champion Jacob van Wagner of the United States played a single copy of Wailord-EX in his Archie’s Blastoise deck, relying on its impressive 250 HP to avoid one-hit KOs from Night March decks. In the Finals, van Wagner squared off against Mees Brenninkmeijer’s (Netherlands) Seismitoad-EX/Crobat deck, but Brenninkmeijer stood no chance against van Wagner’s perfect starts. Facing a Turn 1 Blastoise with an attacking Keldeo-EX in both Games 1 & 2, Brenninkmeijer was immediately overwhelmed, conceding both games and the series after playing himself a total of only five turns.

Van Wagner’s incredible first turn in Game 2 delivered a 170-damage Secret Sword KO on Brenninkmeijer’s Mewtwo-EX.

Jacob van Wagner’s Archie’s Blastoise

🥇 1st Place World Championships 2015 (Masters Division)

Pokémon (14)Trainers (35)Energy (11)
3x Keldeo-EX
2x Jirachi-EX
2x Shaymin-EX
2x Exeggcute
2x Blastoise
1x Wailord-EX
1x Mewtwo-EX
1x Articuno
1x Computer Search
2x Rough Seas
2x Archie’s Ace in the Hole
2x Professor Juniper
1x N
1x Lysandre
4x Ultra Ball
4x Acro Bike
4x Trainers’ Mail
4x Battle Compressor
4x Superior Energy Retrieval
4x VS Seeker
1x Muscle Band
1x Float Stone
11x Water Energy

Van Wagner’s deck was all about getting that Turn 1 Blastoise. He’d use Battle Compressor to put Blastoise, Exeggcute and sometimes Archie’s Ace in the Hole, which could be recovered by VS Seeker, in his discard pile. Four copies of both Acro Bike and Trainers’ Mail helped him dig for the cards that allowed him to reduce his hand to the single Archie’s Ace in the Hole needed for that explosive first turn. From there, it was just a matter of using Blastoise’s Deluge to flood his board with enough Water Energy to deliver massive Secret Sword and X Ball attacks that would crush his opponent.

2015–2016: Even Crazier

XY—XY: Steam Siege
flashfire-symbol furious-fists-symbol primal-clash-symbol roaring-skies-symbol

While the 2015 Masters Division Finals definitely showcased how wild the format could be, it was tame compared to what was about to happen in the upcoming season. 2015–2016 began with the release XY: Ancient Origins, the final nail in the TCG as we knew it.

It was like it was being shoved in our faces that we just had to build a deck capable of some ridiculous, performative Turn 1. We already had the ability to secure a Turn 1 Trevenant, but apparently we needed an even easier way to Item lock opponents on the first turn. With four Shaymin-EX, players had no trouble digging through their decks, using various Items to help find the missing pieces they needed to end their turn with a Vileplume in play. Along the way, they were certain to pitch a lot of cards, including Pokémon, into their discard pile. To allow Vileplume players to capitalize on this, Ancient Origins gave them a perfect pair of partner Pokémon: Vespiquen & Unown.

The end result was a monstrosity of a deck that could take as long as a 10-minute first turn, all culminating with a titanic discard pile that fueled a 180+ damage Bee Revenge attack. By the time this whole process was over, the Vileplume/Vespiquen player might have left themself with only a few cards in their deck, but since they were attacking an Item-locked opponent for huge amounts of damage, this rarely mattered—the game ended quickly.

In Expanded, the crimes enabled by Forest of Giant Plants were even more egregious, since Shiftry from Black & White: Next Destinies (a card that went previously unused) evolved from a Grass-type Seedot and Nuzleaf.

Shiftry’s Giant Fan allowed players to score first turn wins against players, even those who started the game with several Basic Pokémon

Players tested out their Shiftry decks on Pokémon TCG Online, where Expanded became a contest of avoiding a Turn 1 loss to it. Wobbuffet became a popular counter to Shiftry, but if you didn’t start with Wobbuffet, even benching multiple Basic Pokémon didn’t guarantee you would survive your opponent’s first turn. That’s because players could evolve into multiple Shiftry for multiple uses of Giant Fan. Not only that, they could use cards like Super Scoop Up & AZ for additional attempts at it. With enough lucky coin flips, it was even possible for a Shiftry player to land a Turn 1 win against a player that had six Pokémon in play!

Both Vileplume and Shiftry were troublesome cards, but TPCi was compelled to deal with the one that was ending games before one player even got to take a turn. On September 1, 2015, just two and a half months after banning their first card, TPCi announced Shiftry’s ban in the Expanded format, never giving it an opportunity to ruin a player’s day at a tournament.

Going back to TPCi’s first ban (the one on Lysandre’s Trump Card), remember when I wrote how TPCi banned the wrong card? Take a second to think about this: If TPCi had banned Shaymin-EX, would players still have been able to consistently accomplish these lengthy turns that ended with a Turn 1 Vileplume? Would Shiftry have even been a threat in the Expanded format? The answer to both of these is no. That’s because Shaymin-EX was the root of all of these troublesome interactions. It simply gave players too many cards on a single turn. If you took away players’ access to this huge amount of cards, such grandiose turns would never have been possible.

Now, it seems likely—perhaps almost certain, judging by how obvious some of these card combinations were—that the designers didn’t consider these extravagant first turns bad. Imaginably they decided the Pokémon TCG did not need to be some kind of grindy chess match and instead wanted it to be more of a spectator sport, a contest of achieving incredible first-turn setups that fans could applaud and cheer at. But while these types of turns were certainly amusing, they were at the expense of players that had long enjoyed the more interactive contests of strategy enabled by previous formats.

Getting back to the 2015–2016 season, Ancient Origins was followed by XY: BREAKthrough. BREAKthrough, as the name suggests, introduced Pokémon BREAK to the game. Pokémon BREAK were placed horizontally on top of a Pokémon in order to evolve it, but unlike traditional evolving, these evolved Pokémon retained their previous Abilities, attacks, Weakness, Resistance and Retreat Cost.

Zoroark BREAK was one of the more popular Pokémon BREAK to be used.

The second BREAK-themed set, BREAKpoint, was full of playable cards. Unfortunately, they pushed the game even further down the path of lengthy first turns that could produce an enormous and immediate advantage for one player. Take the new Phantump. Trevenant decks already had Wally to allow players a first turn Trevenant, but now players going second didn’t even need a Supporter to achieve it; they could simply use Ascension to immediately Item lock their opponent.

Not only could you now more easily evolve into Trevenant, you also could now evolve Trevenant itself into the new Trevenant BREAK!


Trevenant BREAK’s 160 HP made for a much harder KO than the 110 HP Trevenant, helping players maintain their Item lock on opponents.

Garbodor was back, looking nearly identical to its predecessor from the Black & White era.

Max Elixir was used with a variety of Basic Pokémon and especially the new Darkrai-EX, which dealt more damage for each Dark Energy you had in play.

Darkrai-EX was often paired with Giratina-EX from Ancient Origins, which could equip Double Dragon Energy to further boost Darkrai’s Dark Pulse attack.

Basic Pokémon became even stronger thanks to the new Fighting Fury Belt. (Ever tried to knock out a 220 HP Seismitoad-EX?)

And while Item lock was becoming easier and easier to execute, Item cards themselves seemed to be getting stronger too. BREAKpoint also debuted Puzzle of Time, which fit best in decks that ran Trainers’ Mail, since they could more easily find pairs of it. Puzzle of Time was particularly strong in Expanded, where players could use Sableye’s Junk Hunt to recover both pieces, effectively recovering any two cards from the discard pile each turn they attacked. (Puzzle of Time would eventually be banned in the Expanded format.)

XY Greninja hadn’t seen much play, but with the release of a new Frogadier, Greninja and Greninja BREAK, it found a place in what became one of the best new decks.

Water Shuriken and Giant Water Shuriken were both lethal against Night March, since they knocked out the deck’s low HP Pokémon.

XY: Fates Collide was the last set to join the format before US Nationals, bringing a few more Pokémon into decks. Fighting type gained Zygarde-EX and Carbink BREAK. Carbink BREAK conveniently retained its Safeguard Ability when evolving.

Mew also made its way into a few decks, including Night March. At US Nationals, Masters Division player Nick Robinson didn’t bother with this new Mew in his Night March deck, instead preserving his deck space to fit a 3/3 Vespiquen line. This worked out well for Robinson, who ended up paired against a Seismitoad-EX deck in the Finals. Able to easily one-hit KO the Grass-weak Seismitoad-EX with Vespiquen’s Bee Revenge, Robinson became National Champion.

The final set to join the format before the 2016 World Championships was XY: Steam Siege, which contained new dual-type Pokémon. One example of this was the Fire/Water Volcanion-EX, which formed a deck with its baby brother, Volcanion.

Another impactful Pokémon in Steam Siege was Talonflame.

Talonflame, keeping with the theme of XY, could allow players a great start, but only if they were lucky enough to draw it in their opening hand. The deck that benefited most from its Gale Wings Ability was Greninja, since it played few other Basic Pokémon and thus had a high chance of starting with Talonflame.

At the 2016 World Championships, spectators enjoyed a thrilling (and shocking!) performance. That’s because Masters Division player Shintaro Ito of Japan took the entire world by surprise when his M Audino-EX deck got him all the way to the Finals.

Prior to Worlds, Mega Audino wasn’t even discussed, let alone played competitively. Yet here it was, squaring off against Cody Walinski’s (US) Greninja deck with a chance to win the World Championship. In a lob-sided Finals, Ito’s army of M Audino-EX plowed through Walinski’s Water Pokémon, making him into a Pokémon TCG legend overnight.

Shintaro Ito poses with his 1st Place trophy

The last time something like this had happened was all the way back in 2004, when three players from Japan: Tsuguyoshi Yamato (Masters), Takuya Yoneda (Seniors) and Hayato Sato (Juniors) all stunned the world by sweeping TPCi’s first World Championship with a Team Magma deck the rest of the world never saw coming.

But what made Ito’s stunning win with Mega Audino even more remarkable is that he pulled this off in 2016, after the game’s competitive scene had grown drastically and players now had access to a vast global network of players on Pokémon TCG Online. Despite this, Shintaro Ito still managed to find a deck his competitors had overlooked—and he won the World Championship with it.

2016–2017: Sun & Moon Takes Over

XY: Primal Clash–Sun & Moon: Burning Shadows
primal-clash-symbol roaring-skies-symbol

The rotation of the first four XY sets for the 2016–2017 season did away with Seismitoad-EX, Trevenant and Night March from the Standard format.

M Rayquaza-EX, Volcanion and XY‘s Yveltal-EX (reprinted as a promo) all remained relevant in the tournament scene. Vileplume too stuck around, though players were finding new partners to replace Vespiquen, which became weaker following the rotation of Battle Compressor.

Two decks that had been overshadowed during the era of Seismitoad-EX and Night March also re-emerged. The first was Gyarados, which could deliver huge Full Retaliation attacks for a Double Colorless Energy. Gyarados accomplished this by benching multiple Magikarp while Team Magma’s Secret Base was in play.

The second was built around M Gardevoir-EX.

M Gardevoir-EX’s strongest asset was that it was free to fill the bench with Shaymin-EX since it could then discard them for extra damage, denying the opponent easy two-Prize targets in the process.

The first expansion to join the 2016–2017 season was the final XY set, Evolutions. Evolutions could best be described as a novelty set. While admired by collectors, it didn’t shake up the format or bring any new decks into it.

But, as expected, things were shaken up by the new Sun & Moon set, which introduced Pokémon-GX to the game. Pokémon-GX were similar to Pokémon-EX, surrendering two Prize cards when knocked out, but they each possessed an ultra powerful GX attack. Players could only use one GX attack the entire game, so they had to find the perfect turn to use it. The first Pokémon-GX to make a big impact on the format was Decidueye-GX. Decidueye-GX benefited from Forest of Giant Plants, which allowed players to quickly gain access to multiple Feather Arrow Abilities.

Guardians Rising was the second Sun & Moon set, bringing one of the greatest Pokémon of all time into the game: Tapu Lele-GX. Tapu Lele-GX made all decks significantly more consistent, as every Ultra Ball now became a way to locate your preferred Supporter for the turn. And unlike previous support Pokémon, Tapu Lele’s 170 HP ensured it wouldn’t be an easy two-Prize target sitting on your Bench. In fact, players often brought Tapu Lele-GX into the Active spot to battle with its respectable Energy Drive attack!

Sun & Moon’s Lapras-GX became a contender thanks to the release of Aqua Patch.

Lapras could use Collect to gather Aqua Patches, as well as a variety of other Item cards, then shift into attacking in the turns that followed.

Decks’ heavy dependence on Item cards made Garbodor and its Trashalanche attack an immediate wrecking ball. Garbodor was paired with a variety of partners, the most popular being Espeon-GX and Drampa-GX.

There really was no way to build a competitive Pokémon deck without relying heavily on Items, which is why Garbodor’s Trashalanche would remain powerful throughout the entire season.

It’s at this point that the Pokémon from the XY sets began to be overshadowed by the stronger new Pokémon from the Sun & Moon sets. US Nationals was a landfill of Garbodor decks each exchanging one-hit Trashalanche KOs.

Players were intrigued to learn that the 2017 World Championships would add the Burning Shadows set, whose Gardevoir-GX possessed a GX attack that was a hard counter to Garbodor’s Trashalanche.

Fighting through the Garbodor decks, two Gardevoir-GX decks made it into Masters Top 8. There, they’d face off against six more of them! One of these Gardevoir-GX decks was played by long-time player Diego Cassiraga of Argentina, who had finished in Top 8 at both the 2007 and 2009 World Championships. In the Finals, he’d have to beat one more Garbodor deck: a unique Golisopod-GX/Garbodor mix piloted by Japan’s Naoto Suzuki. Just as he had in earlier rounds, Cassiraga used Twilight-GX to deny his opponent a late Trashalanche attack, securing his World Championship win.

The 2017–2018 season that followed was the final season to contain XY cards. Five XY sets remained legal, but few cards from these sets (especially the Pokémon) could keep up with the growing base of powerful new Pokémon from each additional Sun & Moon expansion. At the 2018 World Championships, less than 10% of Pokémon used in Masters Division Top 8 decks were from XY sets.

Playing the XY Format

The full block of XY sets that compose the XY format is nearly identical to the Worlds 2016 XY–Steam Siege format, only adding one more set: Evolutions.

  • Kalos Starter Set
  • XY
  • Flashfire flashfire-symbol
  • Furious Fists furious-fists-symbol
  • Phantom Forces
  • Primal Clash primal-clash-symbol
  • Double Crisis
  • Roaring Skies roaring-skies-symbol
  • Ancient Origins
  • BREAKthrough
  • BREAKpoint
  • Generations
  • Fates Collide
  • Steam Siege
  • Evolutions
  • Promotional Cards XY01–XY211
  • Sylveon & Noivern XY Trainer Kit
  • Bisharp & Wigglytuff  XY Trainer Kit
  • Latias & Latios XY Trainer Kit
  • Pikachu Libre & Suicune XY Trainer Kit
  • McDonald’s Collection 2014
  • McDonald’s Collection 2015
  • McDonald’s Collection 2016

One major difference between the Worlds 2016 format and the XY format is that the XY format can be allowed to unban Lysandre’s Trump Card. As a Pokémon TCG purist, I never like to remove cards from the eras they were intended to be played in. So keep Lysandre’s Trump Card. Keep Shaymin-EX. Keep and embrace all of the craziness that is XY.

While Lysandre’s Trump Card is certainly a format-changing card, if you play the XY format you’ll come to realize this card isn’t as powerful as you may have been expecting. That’s because much of its strength came from existing alongside the strongest Items from the Black & White era, like Hypnotoxic Laser and the Ace Spec Trainers. Without these Items, you cannot unleash the same amount of fury on your opponent each time you restore your discard pile.

XY Format: Key Cards

As usual, before we get to deck lists, let’s take a look at some of the most common cards you’ll encounter playing the XY format.


Nearly every deck in the XY Format will play Shaymin-EX. On those turns where you need a key card, but your Supporter doesn’t get you there, Shaymin-EX will give you extra chances at finding it. On other turns, you might find yourself Supporter-less, giving Shaymin-EX a chance to save the day by giving you new cards (and hopefully a Supporter too).

The beauty of Shaymin-EX is that it can be easily returned to your hand with its Sky Return, an attack paid for with Double Colorless Energy. In the process, you give yourself the option to re-use its Set Up Ability on a later turn.

Shaymin-EX’s biggest drawback is its modest 110 HP, which make it an enticing two-Prize target for your opponent. In addition to returning it to your hand with Sky Return, there are other ways to get Shaymin-EX off your board, denying your opponent this opportunity.

If you’re looking for cards to shut down Shaymin-EX’s Set Up, here are some of the ways XY decks can do it.

The Supporters

The XY block is full of Supporters and contains over three times the amount of unique Supporter cards as the Black & White series that preceded it.

Professor Sycamore & N: Your Best Draw

XY saw reprints of several popular Supporters from the Black & White Series, including Professor Juniper (reincarnated as Professor Sycamore) and N. These Supporters are essential to the flow of games and both appear in most XY decks.

  • Professor Sycamore is the strongest Supporter in the XY format, not just for producing a fresh hand of 7 cards, but also because the format has plenty of ways to recycle cards and also make use of a large discard pile.
  • N doubles as both an effective early-game Supporter and also a way to disrupt the opponent’s hand late-game.

Skyla, Teammates & Korrina: Your Searchers

  • Skyla, which also first debuted in the Black & White era, is a great way to find the perfect Trainer for the turn, be it a Stadium, a situational Item, or even another Supporter for a later turn.
  • Teammates can fit into any deck, but works best in decks that more frequently surrender knockouts. Decks with low HP Pokémon are able to most effectively use this card.
  • Korrina is a great fit for Fighting-type decks and you’ll see it in every list built around these Pokémon.

The Situational Stuff

The XY era significantly increased the amount of Supporters that had non-draw effects, like healing, switching and discarding your opponent’s cards. Lysandre is the most notable of these and ends up being the final card played on many game-winning turns. These situational Supporters gain strength from the presence of VS Seeker in the format, which you’ll read about below.

The Items

VS Seeker & Ultra Ball

In a format full of useful and situational Supporter cards, VS Seeker manages to show up in every XY deck, expanding players’ options by allowing them to retrieve any Supporter in their discard pile.

Ultra Ball, like VS Seeker, also appears in all XY decks, allowing players to find the Pokémon they need without spending a Supporter. With so many ways to take advantage of discarded cards, the discard requirement rarely creates a problem for most decks.

Mega Turbo & Max Elixir

In a format as fast as XY, you’ll need some help from Trainers to keep up with your opponent. This is especially true if your Pokémon need multiple Energy cards to attack. The most common ways decks accomplish this are with Max Elixir & Mega Turbo.

XY Format: Basic Strategies

Much of what happens in the XY format is out of your control. Before your first turn begins, you might have sat through a lengthy first turn that left you Item-locked by a Pokémon like Trevenant or Vileplume. At that point, you’ll usually need some lucky draws to stay afloat.

When you are the one in the driver’s seat, however, performing one of these long turns, it’s important to determine the proper order to play cards in. You’ll often have decisions like: Should I play this Acro Bike before or after Battle Compressor? Should I play Trainers’ Mail now or after using Shaymin-EX’s Set Up? There is always a correct order to do these things in and that order will change depending on the situation. With practice, you’ll improve your sequencing, giving yourself the best possible odds of the perfect turn and increasing your win rate as a result.

As games progress, some of your most important decisions revolve around which Supporter to play on a given turn. Should you play Xerosic to strip away an opponent’s Energy? Maybe Lysandre? Should you play Professor Sycamore to fetch 7 new cards or is it more important to play N to lower your opponent’s hand size? These decisions aren’t always easy, but like everything else, you’ll learn to make the right choice by playing more.

XY Deck Lists

Now that you’re familiar with the most common cards in the XY format, you’re probably wondering decks look like. Check them out here.

XY Quiz

Want to test your knowledge of the XY era? Try this 10-question quiz!

The Next Era: Sun & Moon

XY was followed by Sun & Moon, which further pushed the boundaries of the game with continuously increasing damage and HP. It was at this point in 2017 that I stopped playing with new Pokémon cards and became focused entirely on retro formats.

In the process, my enthusiasm and passion for the Pokémon TCG were reignited as I discovered decks and strategies that had been overlooked during their time. Excited to share my discoveries with other Pokémon fans, I expanded my blog, series by series, as I progressed through Pokémon’s timeline for the second time.

Having now taken you through the full Pokémon TCG journey I’ve lived, I leave it up to those who have played through Sun & Moon (and also those currently playing through Sword & Shield) to record the history of these years for players and fans to someday look back on and enjoy.

Black & White | XY