Almost every year, after the World Championships in August, Play! Pokémon rotates the oldest four to eight sets from the tournament season, meaning those cards are no longer legal for tournament play. Set rotations are part of all major TCG tournaments, and there are four main reasons for them:
1. Accessibility of Old Cards
After a few years pass, some of the older cards become difficult to find. Booster packs of older sets are no longer available in stores, and they become more of a collector’s item online, raising the price. By rotating old sets, Play! Pokemon ensures that newer players have easy access to all tournament-legal cards.
Once the booster packs have been sold to stores, there’s no more money left to be made by the company. After the boosters sell out at stores, the only money made on older cards is made in the secondary market, from vendors and individuals selling single cards. The company itself is no longer profiting from these cards.
Sometimes a format becomes dominated by one particular deck. Though new expansions usually stir things up a bit, there are times when one particular deck or a similar group of decks are dominating the metagame. (An example could SP-based decks in 2010.) By removing an entire block of sets, the metagame usually takes a pretty strong shift, ensuring that players don’t grow bored of the format.
4. Rules Changes
Every few years, some fundamental aspect of the game is modified, and some older cards create confusion with the newer ones. For example, when LV.X Pokémon debuted in 2007, there was a lot of confusion over which type of cards could retrieve them from the deck. “Search your deck for a Basic Pokémon or Evolution card” used to allow you to retrieve any Pokémon from your deck, but LV.X Pokémon weren’t either of those. The same would apply to LEGEND Pokémon that were released in 2009.
The first thing competitive players always look at when speculating about a rotation is what the format will be like. Will there be a wide variety of cards, and, more importantly, a wide variety of decks? Players generally agree that a format dominated by one or two decks is stale and boring, and they hope for a format that allows creativity and variety. However, I do think a more important issue is related to #3 above, and that is the compatibility of the cards.
At the release of Black & White, the definition of Trainer cards has changed (yet again). Here’s a breakdown of the history of Supporter & Stadium cards:
2000: Stadium Cards, a new type of Trainer card, debuts in the Gym Heroes expansion. They stay in play until your opponent plays one to get rid of it.
2002: Supporter cards, a new type of Trainer card, debuts in the Expedition expansion. Only one can be used per turn.
2007: Supporter cards & Stadium cards officially become their own type of cards with the release of the Diamond & Pearl expansion. New cards that refer to Trainers only refer to Trainers that are not a Stadium or a Supporter. Cards before the Diamond & Pearl expansion that refer to Trainers include Trainers, Stadiums and Supporters.
2011: Supporter cards and Stadium cards again become forms of Trainer cards with the release of Black & White. Supporter cards no longer stay in play, but are immediately discarded after use. Trainer cards are broken into three categories: Items, Supporters, and Stadiums.
This was a bit confusing at times. If you play Pokémon TCG competitively, you may not even realize this, but there are some inconsistencies in the current HGSS-on format. Take Vileplume (Undaunted), for example. It’s Allergy Flower Poké-Body reads “Each player can’t play any Trainer cards from his or her hand.” By today’s definition, that would include Items, Supporters and Stadiums. However, Vileplume was printed before Black & White, when Supporters & Stadiums were not considered Trainers. Because of this, Vileplume should technically be played as if it read “Each player can’t play any Item cards…” similar to Gothitelle’s Magic Room Ability.
What am I getting at? The first example of four game changes that occurred at Black & White make the game simpler to learn. And why does that matter? Because when a game is easy to learn, it’s easier to teach new players. When it’s easier to teach new players, it’s easier to grow the game. And here rests my entire argument for a BW-on format for the 2012-2013 Season: It will help bring new players into the game. Here are five things that are improved in the mechanics of the TCG thanks to a rotation of BW-On.
Having consistent text amongst cards avoids confusing situations. New players will have trouble knowing which cards came before and after the rules changed and won’t know whether or not “Trainer” means “Trainer” or simply “Item.” When you remove the sets before BW, you don’t have this confusion.
#2 First-Turn Restrictions
Competitive players often complain about the tremendous advantage of playing first. In previous formats, players who played first were not allowed to play any Supporter, Stadium or Trainer (now Item) cards on the first turn. In an even older format, the player who played first would not draw a card on the first turn. These two ideas (especially the no Trainer/Supporter/Stadium restriction) kept going 1st vs. 2nd more balanced. Japan would remove the restrictions on playing first beginning with the Black & White expansion, but I don’t believe it’s because they wanted to create a larger advantage for the player playing first. I believe it’s because they share my belief that small sacrifices can be made to ensure the game remains easy to learn.
#3 Special Darkness Energy & Special Metal Energy
You may not have even realized this, but Special Dark and Metal Energy were not reprinted after Call of Legends. That means a BW-on format will not see these cards and we will be left with only Basic Metal Energy & Basic Darkness Energy. Yes, Special Dark & Metal were kind of fun to play with, especially back in the Neo days. Here’s some more history for you. In 2000, Metal Energy & Darkness Energy debuted in only Special forms. There were no Basic versions of these cards until years later. Special Metal Energy and Darkness Energy worked similar to how they do today, but not identically. Metal Energy would reduce damage any type of Pokémon took, not just Metal Pokémon. However, if the Pokémon it was attached to wasn’t Metal-type, the damage it did was also reduced by 10. (There were some non Pokémon that could actually exploit this to their advantage because it would reduce damage those Pokémon did to themselves by 20, not 10.) As for Darkness Energy, it increased damage done to the defending Pokémon by 10 damage regardless of whether or not it was attached to a Darkness-type Pokémon. But if you attached it to a non-Darkness-type Pokémon, that Pokémon would get a damage counter in between turns, just like Poison.
2000: Metal Energy & Darkness Energy debut, only in special forms. Rainbow Energy can be used to provide Metal/Darkness Energy for attacks, but with no added benefits.
2009: Basic Metal Energy & Basic Darkness Energy debut in the Diamond & Pearl set. From this day forward, anytime someone attached a Metal Energy or Darkness Energy to a Pokémon, you’d hear the opponent ask “Is that a Special or a Basic?”
This confusion between Special & Basic Metal/Darkness Energy is the reason I believe Japan has not reprinted the cards. They’re not essential to the game, so why create more confusion amongst players?
#4 The Lost Zone
Though it didn’t see any play in competitive Pokémon until the release of HS Triumphant in 2011, The Lost Zone debuted in the Platinum expansion in 2010. Let’s face it: The Lost Zone was a gimmick. There really is no reason for it to exist. It’s just another short-lived idea and I’ll be glad to see it go for the sake of simplicity. Something about a sideways Unfezant above my prizes just weirds me out.
Ready for more history?
1999: The Pokémon TCG debuts in the US with some Pokémon having special abilities called “Pokémon Powers.” They generally cannot be used if the Pokémon is Asleep, Confused or Paralyzed.
2003: Pokémon Powers disappear and are replaced by Poké-Body & Poké-Power. The clarification is made in whether or not the ability is activated or always working. A Poké-Body is an effect that is always on. A Poké-Power would be activated, but could not be used if that Pokémon was affected by what was now called a “Special Condition” (Burn, Poison, Paralysis, Sleep, Confusion).
2011: Black & White debuts, replacing all Poké-Powers & Poké-Bodies with Abilities. All Abilities can now be used even when that Pokémon is affected by a special condition unless stated otherwise.
I don’t have to tell you why I like this simplified version of Abilities the best.
Now, besides simplifying the game, there’s two other neat little bonuses of BW-On:
#1 Turn One Losses Basically Disappear
I have yet to meet a person in my 13 years of playing Pokémon TCG that likes having Turn 1 wins in the game. They’re just lame. No one likes to spend the remaining 29 minutes of the round sitting in a corner by themselves while their opponent awkwardly passes by afraid to make eye contact out of guilt after just Mischievous Punching your Cleffa or Tynamo back to the stone age. When we rotate HeartGold SoulSilver, we rotate Tyrogue as well as the baby Pokémon it would often Turn 1 KO. Sure, some unlucky nit is still gonna get his Tynamo DCE + X-Balled on turn one, and we’ll never hear the end of it, but it will be uncommon. The relatively-high HP of all Pokémon in a BW-On format make them capable of handling just about any attack you throw at them Turn 1.
#2 Speed of Games
Japan finally has the right idea: Keep the game fast and easy to learn. The variety of cards will always allow for a game that is deep in strategy, even if the rules are kept simple. With the release of EX Pokémon and cards like Pokémon Catcher, games became more fast-paced as KOs are dealt more quickly. We don’t necessarily need to rotate old cards to allow these already strong cards into the format, but there’s some other slower cards that will rotate out. Baby Pokémon, for example, often created some wasted turns. Not anymore… They’re gone. Those Twins stalemates in the Truth vs. Truth mirror? Gone! About the only time-consuming card left in the game is Reuniclus, which Raikou EX basically has its way with, anyway.
Will the format be terrible if there is no rotation this year? Absolutely not! I’m sure it’d be great. And I wouldn’t mind having the extra Supporter options, either. (The BW-On Supporter pool is quite limited at the present time.) I will say, though, that any rotation in-between HGSS-on and BW-on is kind of silly, as it would only keep a few sets that are inconsistent with B&W rules. I’ve heard several people suggest Call of Legends-On, which is just a total disaster. Call of Legends is the last set before B&W on, and it would just make no sense to allow only one expansion that uses the Lost Zone, Special Dark/Metal energy, and inconsistent wording on Trainers to be in the format.
#3 Japan is Already Playing B&W On
The format of the United States (and rest of the world) has dictated the World Championship format every year. If we keep a pre-B&W Set in 2012, that means Worlds 2013 will force Japanese players to return to a format including cards they rotated out well over a year prior to the tournament. Sure, watching Komatsuda rip that Uxie LV.X to beat Pramawat might make you vengeful, but at least try to win in a format that’s fair for everyone.
So will we see a BW-On rotation in September? If I was a betting man (and I am), I’d say yes. Given Japan’s early move to BW-On, I’d be very surprised if the rest of the world did differently.