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Pokemon Card Game 2-Player Starter Set

For many newcomers to the world of the Pokémon Trading Card Game in the mid to late 90s, the 2-Player Starter Set was their first step into the game. This set was incredibly important to the game and has cemented itself as one of the most iconic TCG starters ever released. Unlike the various Theme Decks that were available to players with preconstructed decks, the 2-Player Starter Set actually works within its own rule set to help players figure out whether or not they actually like the game. This was great; you didn’t need to have a significant investment in the game already to discover whether or not it was for you.

Designed with the intention of teaching players the game, the set comes with 61 cards that you were to split down the middle into two separate decks. More on that in a moment. Inside the box you also found a horrifically reflective coin that was liable to blind you if you looked at it in the wrong lighting, and a rulebook which would teach you the fundamentals of the game. One of the biggest selling points for the 2-Player Starter Set, however, was the exclusive inclusion of a holographic Machamp card, which aside from being one of the most overtly powerful cards when it came to raw damage, couldn’t be pulled from Booster Packs, so players the world over were buying this set purely to get their hands on that card. The fact that the set came with 2 Machoke and 4 Machop, which completes the evolutionary line, was just gravy.

Machop gives the usual low energy, low damage attack output that can be useful in the early game, and Diglett basically does just the same, with Machoke pulling the heavy lifting duty when it comes to looking for power.

Charmander and Charmeleon, on the other hand, can both deal out good damage, 30 and 50 respectively, while Ponyta and Growlithe struggle to find a place in the deck due to less than perfect energy requirements when compared to their other flame-based teammates.

And then we have Rattata and Dratini, two Pokémon with no purpose in this deck other than to bring up the numbers. The absence of their evolutionary lines was always a bit questionable, as it could have helped myriad players learn more about how varied the Pokémon can become.

The general idea is that each player would select a deck to battle with, with the deck having been made up of the 61 cards in the box, split in half along a predetermined grouping and having removed the Holographic Machamp who would have played merry hell with the balance were it included. With 30 cards apiece, you would battle back and forth before trading off and swapping the decks.

Deck One was comprised of:

2 Chameleon

4 Charmander

4 Ponyta

1 Growlithe

1 Energy Removal

1 Bill

1 Gust of Wind

2 Switch

14 Fire Energy

Deck Two was composed of:

4 Machop

2 Machoke

3 Diglett

2 Rattata

1 Dratini

1 Energy Removal

2 Potion

14 Fighting Energy

It’s generally agreed upon that the decks are not well balanced, with the Fire Deck having access to numerous trainer cards that can swing the game in their favor. While it’s true the opponent would have pokémon like Machoke, who can hit quite hard, in play, it doesn’t really matter if you have a Gust of Wind ready to get rid of it, or an Energy Removal to strip it of its ability to attack. Some argue that this was to teach players just how fierce the game can be with a meta that requires you to plan ahead and make sure you have refined your deck, whereas others think that game balance wasn’t too important because people were going to buy the set for Machamp anyway, and I can’t really argue against either point. Both may well be onto something.

Ultimately, the 2-Player Starter Set is what brought so many new gamers into the fold, so whatever the intent behind the balance of the set, it’s of little consequence. It did its job, and it did so admirably, now holding a place in the hearts of many as a nostalgic collectors piece, whereas so many others see it as a profitable mc’guffin from a by-gone age of TCG games, having skyrocketed in price over the years due to the value assigned to it sentimentally, and legitimately because of that factory sealed First Edition Holographic Machamp.

It’s the little box that could. It’s the little box that did!