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Pokémon: Revisiting the Base Sets

Collectable trading card games have been around for a pretty long time at this point, with many different games having come and gone. Be it sports-related trading cards to collect, exchange, and display, or niche competitive games that didn’t survive into the 2000s with archaic rule sets that are now finding a home in the digital frontier, trading card games have become a highly profitable and easily recognizable hobby that has generated billions of dollars in revenue and connected people all around the globe under the banner of a shared interest.

It’s generally agreed upon that the first modern trading card game is Magic the Gathering, from Wizards of the Coast. Magic is a perfectly fine game that many have dabbled in, myself included, but I want to talk about another trading card game that was brought to market by Wizards of the Coast. I am, of course, talking about the Pokéon trading card game. While I may not be a fan of Wizards of the Coast as it exists today, they were a fundamental part of what would grow to be a lifelong interest in Pokémon.

From 1998 through to 2003, Wizards of the Coast were solely responsible for the translation and distribution of all Pokémon trading cards that were made by Media Factory, who were the Japanese publisher and distributor for the entire Pokémon franchise from 1996 through to 2011. In this time, Wizards of the Coast released a number of card sets, from Base Set to an e-Card series and helped create what continues to a thriving TCG scene to this very day.

A sampling of WOTC Theme Decks.

As a collector and investor in original WOTC (Wizards of the Coast) Pokémon TCG products, I seek out the Base Set, Jungle Set, Fossil Set, and Rocket Set. These are the original four unique sets that Wizards of the Coast if we don’t include Base Set 2. Base Set 2 wasn’t particularly popular and combined Base Set and Jungle Set into a new box and did away with the glass counters for damage tracking, replacing them with cardboard tokens for the sake of costs. If there’s one good thing that came out of Base Set 2, it’s the beautiful, crisp booster packs.

Simple and striking Base Set 2 Boosters.

When I think back to the Base Set, it’s not just from a position of nostalgia; it comes from a place authentic appreciation for the beginnings of something that would grow to tremendous proportions. When I think about the Base Set, the original 102 cards, I’m reminded of a time when the Pokémon TCG was a closed system. All there was for every player around the world was 102 cards to choose from when constructing a deck. The meta shifted drastically from person to person, as each tried to build a deck that was competitive and unique.

With only 102 cards to choose from, and no modern deck tactics like Milling, each match played out like a protracted Pokémon battle where the focus was on domination through weakness advantages and resistance advantages. This would change dramatically with the arrival of the Jungle and Fossil sets.

*(Milling forces your opponent to draw and discard cards from their hand or deck, bringing the Decking Out rule into effect. Players who cannot draw a card from their deck because it has all been discarded or drawn into the hand automatically lose)

In base set, there are three particularly well known deck types that grew to become a dominant deck list no matter where you went. They are:

The Haymaker – A hard hitting and quick to action deck that draws on Pokémon with low energy requirements and hard hitting attacks while also using advantageous Trainer cards to find the required energy for their own Pokéon while removing Energy from the opponent. Hitmonchan and Electabuzz were often the key to Haymaker Decks with their high HP and decent attack power for a single Energy. Hitmonchan + Plus Power would hit for 30 with only a single Fighting Type Energy whereas Electabuzz would hit for 10 and potentially paralyze on a single Electric Type Energy.

The Rain Dance – The Rain Dance is basically an exploit of the original game’s rules. Blastoise has the Pokéon Power which gives the deck its name, Rain Dance. This allows the player to stack as many Water Type Energy cards on their Water-Type Pokémon as they like in each turn. With 100 HP and a Hydro Pump that can put out 40 base damage and 60 when given additional Water Energy Cards, Blastoise opened the floodgates one high strength Water Guns from other low energy requiring cards like Seadra and Lapras.

Do the Wave – Another high damage output deck, but with a twist. Wigglytuff’s “Do the Wave” attack required three Energy cards of any type. The attack does 10 damage + 10 damage for each additional Pokémon you have on your bench. This means it can do a maximum of 60 damage, plus an additional 10 with Plus Power, while you fill your bench with chaff to facilitate your incredibly strong slap. Clever players, however, would fill the bench with Hitmonchan and Electabuzz, Haymaker style, so that when the Wigglytuff bites the dust they can revert to hard hitting low energy back-benchers who can pick and choose who they’re fighting with Gust of Wind. A sacrificial Kangaskhan with the Fetch ability could also help draw cards that would help facilitate the strategy.

Eventually, these decks would become known and somewhat hated among tournament players because of how frequently they turned up. There’s a story that some players would tear up a Wigglytuff prior to each tournament game, simply so there was less Do the Wave decks in the world. Whether or not that’s true, I don’t know, but it gives you an idea of how the mood was at the time.

The WOTC era Pokémon TCG is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s casual fun without the multiple new mechanics and card types that have been introduced to the game in an attempt to make it feel fresh. Perhaps I’m just being a bit of a curmudgeon, but this will always be the era of TCGs that I’ll call home. By the way, you can experience the WOTC era TCG on the go, and that’s pretty great.