The TCG Design Thread


@CyrusTyler @baby_mario

baby_mario is correct; power creep is more or less a constant in TCGs. For the most part, I consider it the “easy but risky” way to keep fans of a TCG interested. You need a rotating format or a customer base willing to abandon their own cards for “the new thing” quite easily, and the real kicker is… it mostly needs to be a matter of overall inflation. No one notices that in the long run, the new stuff is no more powerful than the old stuff relative to the format in which it is being played. Pokémon has most definitely not managed such a thing. One can argue that there is some power creep seen even going from the original Base Set to the first expansion, Jungle. Sadly thanks to the influence of certain cards (my own testing indicates the true culprit to be Energy Removal and Super Energy Removal), most of the Base Set and most of Jungle are “filler”, not worth competitive play. Still out of what worked and sort-of worked, you at least see Base Set Farfetch’d being replaced by Jungle Scyther.


Dude. Just write an article everything you just wrote about here. Please. I need the whole mid-game late-game offense/defense/support thing fully expanded with examples and deck lists and theories. I’m a huge theory junkie.

That being said. I agree with both Otaku and baby_mario when EX Pokemon are concerned. Yes, EXs do deprive us of so many Pokemon that could have, in different formats, made for good decks. As a random example of ingenuity, Pooka posted a video on YouTube about a Cacturne Outrage deck. 60 damage one energy plus 30 to one of your benched Pokemon. Pair that up with Reshiram, Kyurem-EX, etc. It could work, but when there’s a whole metagame being run by 90+30 for a single Energy or 100+ for a DCE, decks that are unique get stifled and never find the recognition they deserve.

But EX Pokemon also provide pacing. Early game offense: Landorus and Mewtwo. Mid-game offense: Charizard and, in my opinion, Yveltal. Late game offense: Shaymin and Lugia. I’m sure there’s more I’m missing, these are just hasty examples. I think EX should have been marketed as more support Pokemon to stage 2 decks. Make stage 2s the real engine and power, have EX as special helpers. Is this making any sense? I feel like I’m monologuing.


I totally agree with all of this. And yes, I can understand it perfectly.


@Otaku 's proposal (if I understand it correctly) is that proper pacing depends on a) Pokemon not doing significant damage on the first couple of attacking turns and b) having separate, defined roles.

Mewtwo and Landorus fail condition a) because Hammerhead and X Ball can both deal big damage very early game. They also fail b) because both are good attackers for the mid and the late game.

The point is to balance the power of Big Basics and hard-hitting attackers by giving them a specific role. Not have them being great to use all through the game. Landorus and Mewtwo are pretty great examples of the kind of cards that ruin pacing and make Pokemon a 1-2HKO slugfest from the moment you flip over the cards.


Ah, okay, I must have misunderstood what Otaku was saying.


@baby_mario @CyrusTyler

Yeah, baby_mario was able to clarify. Cyrus, I think you did get part of what I was saying. I guess I should have underscored that certain roles are not healthy for game balance, especially when merged with other roles.

I’ve tried to write articles on this, and the problem is that without near instant feedback, its hard to parcel out. My first attempt I had people needing me to explain “why” the game ought to work that way, forcing me to then start over with explaining the business side of things.

The other problem is that what I think the game needs to do, the game rarely does. That is actually how I came to many of these thoughts; I saw what wasn’t working, and started asking “What’s left to try?” Some of what I suggest comes from the track record of trying fixes as well; halfhearted attempts, or those that still require near perfection are not worth trying.

I want to eliminate damaging attacks for at least Turn 1 and 2 (that is the first turn for each player). Even 10 damage is too much, because it creates a risk with all damage boosting cards. Eventually low damage attacks might return, but for now all have to go. This eliminates the risk of a true donk (a term which, as I understand it, means losing via your only opening Pokémon being KOed the very first turn of the game, before you even get a turn) or near donks (going first but not getting anything else in play, and losing because your only Pokémon in play is effectively OHKOed).

Mewtwo-EX is a good “bad” example. It can be an early game offense the first turn you can legally attack! That leaves no time for set-up. Its offensive capacity scales with both the Energy attached to it and those attached to the Defending Pokémon; in many cases the harder you work to KO it, the easier it can KO whatever attacks it. It actually has another good attack, it is just the format made X-Ball even better. If we cut all Energy acceleration, Mewtwo-EX would still be “too good” as it could be powered up and attacking in two turns, hitting for at least 40 damage, and one more turn (in a deck that now has to run a source of [P] Energy, which should be the norm instead of the exception as it actually is) would allow 120 for three. This is all on frame that outside of Weakness and similarly powerful combos, is going to survive two or three turns. So in the end, Mewtwo-EX is both an amazing early game offense, mid-game offense, and even late game offense! It doesn’t need another Basic acting as a early game support, helping it to set-up. Coupled with the current non-Pokémon support we have, there is very much incentive to build decks around very few big, Basic Pokémon, with low Energy requirements, and a mess of Trainers… so that one can basically “throw” large chunks of one’s deck at one’s opponent!


Those Pokemon which are not the Big Basics and have those larger energy requirements (Black Kyurem PLS, Lugia-EX, even Zekrom-EX) seem to be the more balanced kind of EX Pokemon. Obviously with BKEX and Lugia there’s ways to amp them up in single turns to abuse attacks which shouldn’t take single turns to use, e.g., Black Ballista and Plasma Gale, both of which are easily one-turn power-up attacks. In my opinion, however difficult this is to force out, Deluge was in my opinion the prime example of a good stage 2 engine with an EX. Of course, had BKEX never been printed, Blastoise itself might have been seen as less of a valuable card. Blastoise might have been used as an actual attacker, just as Delphox would have been used as an attacker if paired with Emboar had Rayquaza-EX never been printed.

I guess it just goes to show you that if the slug-fest Big Basics like Mewtwo and Landorus (are there any others?) were never printed, maybe the meta would be tilted towards more stage 2 balance. And yes, Black Kyurem-EX PLS is fine in my opinion. There’s Druddigon to counter that for now. When it was printed though, it should have been [L][L][W][C] instead of [W][W][L][C] for Black Ballista. Would have made it harder to pull off.


[quote=“CyrusTyler, post:27, topic:2318”]
I guess it just goes to show you that if the slug-fest Big Basics like Mewtwo and Landorus (are there any others?)[/quote]


And that’s just the popular ones. EXs like Xerneas, Zekrom, Reshiram, Groudon etc etc, still follow the slugfest model, they just don’t do it as well as the others.

[quote=“CyrusTyler, post:27, topic:2318”]
And yes, Black Kyurem-EX PLS is fine in my opinion. There’s Druddigon to counter that for now. When it was printed though, it should have been [L][L][W][C] instead of [W][W][L][C] for Black Ballista. Would have made it harder to pull off.[/quote]

I still think you’re missing the point somewhat.

The idea is to make balanced cards in the first place, not to make overpowered ones and then print a hard counter, or give it an Energy cost that makes it virtually unplayable.


baby_mario speaks wise again. We’ve seen what happens when you make overpowered ones but print a hard counter or give them Energy costs intended to make them virtually unplayable. I don’t consider it balanced when I’ve got to run Card X or Countercard X (the latter counters Card X): it isn’t fun either. I detest making intentionally bad cards in the first place (and that is also part of the problem, just a lesser part). “Bad” cards always have a risk of being overpowered through unintentional combos, especially when there are about 500 (estimate) unique “new” cards coming out each year (often more).

Let me focus on something simpler for a bit (though I’d be happy to answer specific questions): Weakness. For that matter, Resistance as well, but it is Weakness where the problem has become unbalancing; you can’t use a multiplier. I don’t think it works too well even in the video games, but for sure in the TCGs, doubling damage is just too much. I won’t claim that it was problem free, but Weakness needs to just add to damage: for a time they actually did that. If it can’t be varied per card (as it was during that time), then a flat bonus would be adequate.


Yes! I totally agree! Also, if they are going to use a multiplier, than they should make resistances bigger. -20 is NOTHING in this metagame. It should be -30 to -60. In the video game, “it isn’t very effective” means it does x0.5 damage. Not -20 damage. I think that half damage for resistance would be too much though, even if it was rounded up (50 damage would become 30 not 25 and not 20)


I believe that Otaku and I “spoke” on this topic briefly.

The main problem I see with Stage 2 Pokemon is this:

In order to play Charizard, I have to play both Charmander and Charmeleon (assuming no Rare Candy). This means I have to play 3 cards for each copy of Charizard I want to potentially use.

Someone playing Moltres (assuming Moltres and Charizard fill similar roles and are of similar power) needs to only devote 1 slot per Moltres. This means that the Moltres Player has 2 extra slots for Energy, Trainers, or other Pokemon, per Moltres over the Charizard Player.

During my first turn, I have a weak basic Pokemon that may or may not be damaged or KOed before I can get a chance to evolve it.

During my second turn, I might be able to evolve to Charmeleon (if I have it in hand). Then I have a slightly less squishy Pokemon out there that may get KOed or wounded before it can become a Charizard.

During my 3rd turn, if I managed to get Charmeleon out last turn and I have a Charizard in my hand this turn, I can finally evolve to the Pokemon I wanted out the whole time. Now I am on equal footing with my opponent’s Moltres.

Does anyone else see a problem here?

We could give Charmander and Charmeleon some consistency Attacks/Abilities (Search for an energy/Pokemon for next turn), but all that does is counteract the lack of consistency of playing a Stage 2 line. If such Attacks and Abilities are the same or worse than Trainer Cards, then there is no point in playing Charizard over Moltres. If the Attacks/Abilities are better than any Trainer Cards we have, then we can just play Charmander and Charmeleon with Moltres.

The advantage of being able to bench a Pokemon far out weighs having to hold it in your hand until it can be played. My opponent could disrupt my hand and shuffle or discard my Charizard before I get to play it. I might want to play a Juniper, but not want to discard that Charizard I need next turn.

As far as I am aware, aside from Legendary Pokemon and Megas, Stage 2 Pokemon tend to be more powerful than Stage 1 or Basic Pokemon in the VG. (I’m sure there are exceptions)

I would propose some sort of special treatment for Legendaries. Probably a a 1 copy per Legendary per deck ruling and limitations on what can search out a Legendary or shuffle one back in to my deck after it gets KOed

I would like to see Megas given a “one Mega per deck rule”, instead of the current rule. Maybe require a Mega Stone tool card. (Depending on how powerful they are)

I would also balance everything else based on a tier system as follows:

Tier 1: Stage 2 Pokemon

Tier 2: Stage 1 Pokemon (Fully evolved)

Tier 3: Stage 1 Pokemon (not fully evolved), Big Basics

Tier 4: Basics (in a Stage 1 Line)

Tier 5: Basics (in a Stage 2 Line)


I’m not a big expert on the VGC, but concepts of what make a Pokemon powerful are a lot more complex than they are in the TCG.

That’s not surprising when you consider that there are a lot more stats to consider, a greater variety of attacks, plus stuff like STAB, movepools, and little technical attacks like Follow Me and Taunt which can be great in VGC, but are really hard to implement in the TCG in an effective way.

I guess that’s why you see a little Pachirisu walling attacks and messing with the big guys on its way to winning Worlds this year.


Just for the record, that Pachirisu was a total tank. I never expected it to last as long as it did.

Do you think that if they ever got the Big Basics cycled out and they printed EX Pokemon in a balanced manner that stage 1 and stage 2 deck dominance could return? Accelgor/Trevenant is probably the best example of a dominant stage 1 deck with a supporting EX Pokemon (Mew-EX). It was based around stage 1 Pokemon, was all about getting those stage 1 Pokemon out, and only relied on the EX for support or for hitting a Psychic weakness. Dusknoir usually showed up mid to late game and tended to be useful for taking your last two to three Prizes in one fell swoop.

I remember in that Magmortar was being complained about in the article that was previously linked. Back in that time, stage 1 or stage 2 decks were all that were being run. Disregarding nostalgia and turning bias aside, is turning back to that metagame the best option for TPCi right now? I remember there being Pokemon ex which required you to have up to the stage 1 Pokemon out (Blaziken ex) and then there were Primes and Lv.X Pokemon which required all the way up to the stage 2 in order to get them out (Gallade Lv.X and Machamp Prime come to mind). The ease and usability of Big Basics has progressed Pokemon from a longer, what some people see as a more casual game to a faster, quicker-paced game. Again disregarding nostalgia, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Most of these questions are kind of rhetorical, I guess.

In truth, with the printing of Mega Gengar and Mega Manectric, I don’t see EX Pokemon going away any time soon. It won’t be long before the era of Big Basics cycles and the era of Mega Evolution begins. The only way Megas can outshine Big Basics is with Spiritlink cards, of which only Gengar’s has been printed. Are evolution Pokemon decks destined to remain cluttered in the back or struggling to reach the top for the rest of the metagame as we know it?


There’s no reason why you can’t have Basics, Stage 1s, and Stage 2s competitive in the same format (see 2010 with Luxchomp, Gyarados, and Gengar as the big 3).

The goal isn’t Stage 2 dominance. Even having all 3 Stages competitive doesn’t guarantee a healthy game in itself. Variety for the sake of variety soon gets old (and pointless). The game now is too fast and too simplified. It’s attach/attack/hope I get something good off the Juniper. The TCG has some very deep-seated problems and the solutions are long term and not superficial

Primes and LV Xs were very different things. ‘Primes’ were just a rarity and a card design style with no mechanics attached to them. LV X cards were like an extra Stage, except you could only Level Up an active, and they were included in the 4 per deck limit.

(I think you mean Gardevoir LV X - there was no Gallade)


I agree. I also feel like decks now are simplified, and lack some of the strategy and thinking ahead that made the game sort of a mental challenge. It is just now, attach, attack, juniper (as you said)


@baby_mario Yes, I did mean Gardevoir. Thanks for catching that. For further reference, I got into the TCG around the time Legendary Treasures was printed so I’m still trying to catch up on the past 14 years or so.

I am also in agreement with you on the attach/Juniper/attack combos. I hear that today’s Supporter line isn’t nearly as good as it has been in the past. It seems each new set brings either a Supporter form of a once-strong Item card or a useless, uncompetitive card with no real reason for printing.

Take Hugh for example. Under what circumstances would you actually consider running Hugh in your deck? It’s outshined by Bianca in terms of draw support, and Bianca is then outshined by both N and Professor Juniper. Hugh is also a poor card when compared to Bicycle, which you can then use in conjunction with a Supporter card for your turn. Don’t get me started on the Hooligans or Cedric Juniper.

I think Korrina is a nice shift in the direction that Supporters should be doing. Provided that you have an energy in your hand, you can have a backup attacker as soon as your next turn if not that very same turn. It’s a natural fit for the set it was printed in and it helps cards from previous sets become moderately useful (Dugtrio XY). Battle Reporter had good intentions, but I think it would have been more useful as an Item card.


If you won’t get started on it, than I will.

1)It is totally pointless
1a) you would be better off just running cheren or teirino if you want to draw 3
2) has the VERY slight chance of helping your opponent.
3) takes up too much time in matches to think about a pokemon, and guess up a height.
4) the only way anyone is going to guess the height is either if they are a total pokemon nerd and just happen to know every pokemon’s height (yes, there is probably someone out there who does), or has the same pokemon in their hand.
5) as an item, ok, but a supporter? Waste. Heck, even Hugh would be a better choise to run
6) Just… Wow…


Also, does anyone think the Xatu card’s 1 at attack it really pointless? Is this Rock Paper Scissors, or Pokemon TCG? Could be a good effect (draw 3, opponent discards 3 from top if deck) if there wasn’t the whole side game involved.

I still can’t believe they made a side game with in a game. Talk about time consuming.


Favoring and coming from 07 and 2010 being 2 formats I liked a lot, the reason behind it was the fact that evo decks had as much support as basic decks did (SP or ex), where as now I start to see that support tend to slip away, basic pokemon tend to be slowly getting the larger end of the stick while evo decks have seemingly been struggling to find it’s place in the meta.

Evo cards have been gaining more power but no support, for instance the evo rule, the evo rule from those formats let you evolve the same turn, yet currently we have to wait a turn, and against basic decks which can see from a turn ahead in a best of 3 format have more room for choosing to take out what could seem like a dangerous card before it becomes dangerous. Ultimately the loss of level ball is by far the biggest hit to evo decks, and in being in a format that relies on supporters for draw and increased consistency for a large part, again giving your opponent a turn to gain the upper hand hurts more in the long run then being able to do something with it the turn it’s played. So my beef is stage cards may do well, but don’t have the overall consistency that basic decks have.

I also wished that they would offer more use to cards, by retrospect seem to do less now then what they did 4-7 years back, yes the power creep offers options of play that didn’t exist, but so does adding more options for a card to do,

Why can’t megaphone do what it already does for your opponent but also do what tool retriever does?
Why can’t Shauna shuffle for 6 instead of 5?
Why can’t Korrina search for 3 things instead of 2?
Why can’t herbal energy also heal status conditions?
Why can’t we get supporters that dramatically change deck construction after 2 years instead of being stuck with the same things for 4 years currently?
Why can’t we have EX or Non-EX trainer cards and more of them?


Something I’m seeing in the microcosm of the game’s history that is the transition from NXD-on to BCR-on is the decreased being garnered utility coming from each slot. For example Recovery, which was previously Super Rod-one card to recover both Pokemon and Energy-now requires two slots to garner a similar effect (Sacred Ash, Energy Retrieval). Search was dramatically impacted by the loss of Level/Heavy Ball, as the only suitable replacements are increased Ultra Ball counts (in some cases, decks already played 4, meaning this isn’t an option) or Pokemon Fan Club, which requires the use of the Supporter slot, which is essential to the flow of early draw support. With the occupation of the supporter slot, or just weaker search overall, Evolutions are simply being overrun by early pressure from things like Lucario, Landorus, etc.