Hey there Pokémon Trainers! I’m back again with another look at a major deck archetype that has been prevalent in the game since its debut. Today’s deck type could almost be seen as a sort of “opposite” to the one we looked at last time. Whereas last time we looked at decks that revolved around powerful Pokémon capable of getting by solely on their own merits, this time we’ll be exploring decks made up of cards that work best when used in conjunction with certain other cards.
“Combo” decks have been a major force in the metagame since its inception. The archetype primarily involves combining the effect of two or more cards to create a strategy that gives you a winning edge. These combined effects come in all forms and can range in application from powering up certain types of Pokémon to side-stepping the costs of other cards. Some card combos can even bend the basic rules of the game in your favor.
As a collectible card game, there is always a massive pool of cards to choose from when building your decks with many different card effects printed on them. Because of this level of variety, people are always discovering new and exciting ways that these cards can interact with each other. Creating combo decks is a great exercise in both deckbuilding and playing as it requires you to take every card in your deck into consideration when making decisions.
Since there are so many different kinds of card combos that define the archetype, I’m going to do things a little differently this time. First we’re going to look at a few interesting combo decks that have stood out throughout the game’s history. After that, we’re going to look at a handful of decks that are not only equally prolific but also made up entirely of cards that fall into the competitive Expanded format (that’s cards from the Black & White expansion and all expansions that followed it), so you can get an idea as to what kinds of combos you can expect to run into at a modern Pokémon TCG tournament.
Blastoise / Water Pokémon
As I mentioned briefly in my Big Basics article, the early competitive environment was plagued with cards that discarded energy attached to Pokémon. Energy Removal and Super Energy Removal were both very popular cards that made it difficult to play any Pokémon that required 3 or more energy to attack.
Blastoise was able to help its fellow Water Pokémon overcome this issue with its Pokémon Power, Rain Dance. Rain Dance allowed the player controlling it to break the fundamental one-energy-per-turn rule and attach as many energy as they could get into their hand. With plenty of draw power in the format and Basic and Stage 1 Water Pokémon capable of powerful attacks, this strategy saw plenty of success in the early days, going toe-to-toe with even the big, bad Haymaker deck.
Special Metal Energy not only provided energy for attacks, but it also reduced the damage received by Metal Pokémon. Scizor (Aquapolis 32) was a prime candidate for this energy type. Not only did the reduction in damage make this 80 HP, Poison-immune Stage 1 into a real tank, each Metal Energy attached allowed Scizor to flip a coin for an additional 20 damage with its Heavy Metal Attack. A Scizor with multiple Metal Energy attached was both an offensive and defensive force to be reckoned with.
The problem was consistently getting those Metal Energy cards into your hand. Being a Special Energy, it didn’t enjoy the convenience of cards like Energy Search that could be used to grab Basic Energy cards from your deck. That’s where Furret (Aquapolis 48) excelled as a partner. Its Scavenger Hunt Poké-Power lets a player (once per turn) exchange any two cards from their hand for any Energy card from their deck- Basic or Special. This provided constant access to the Metal Energy that helped turn Scizor into an unstoppable force!
Metagross δ / Dragonite δ
The Delta Species were unusual types of Pokemon. Metagross δ was one such Pokémon, being both Metal and Electric at the same time. For a Stage 2 Pokémon, its only attack, Crash and Burn, may have seemed underwhelming at first glance. It did only 30 damage with the option of discarding as many energy cards from any of your Pokémon as you liked for a boost of 20 damage per energy discarded. So getting the attack to consistently hit powerful damage numbers like 70 or 90 would mean burning through a lot of resources and eventually not being able to discard anything.
That’s where Dragonite δ came into play. Its Delta Charge Poké-Power allowed it to move 1 Lightning energy from the Discard Pile to a Benched Pokémon once per turn. Getting multiple Dragonite δ into play meant you could safely hit big damage numbers with Metagross δ while being able to recover and re-use the discarded energy on the following turn.
Gengar Prime / Lost World
The Lost Zone was a core game mechanic that existed for a short period of time. It functioned like a second discard pile but unlike the discard pile, cards in the Lost Zone were considered removed from play, and any card effect targeting the discard pile did not apply to the Lost Zone. During the time this mechanic was in use, a number of cards appeared capable of sending Pokémon and other cards to the Lost Zone.
One of the more interesting cards to be associated with the mechanic was a Stadium card called Lost World. When Lost World was in play, any player whose opponent had 6 or more Pokémon cards in the Lost Zone could declare themselves the winner of the game. It was an interesting alternate win condition, but required a card capable of consistently moving opponent’s Pokémon cards into the Lost Zone.
The Pokémon that rose to the task was Gengar Prime. Gengar Prime had two tools to help a player achieve a Lost World victory. First was its Poké-Body: Catastrophe. This made it so that any Pokémon Knocked Out while Gengar was in the active position would be moved to the Lost Zone instead of the discard pile. Its other, more devious tool was its first attack, the intimidatingly-named Hurl Into Darkness. This attack let the player look at their opponent’s hand and for each Psychic Energy attached to Gengar Prime, they could move 1 Pokémon they found there into the Lost Zone.
With the right plays and a little luck, Gengar Prime could easily help a player reach the required 6 Lost Zone Pokémon needed to win the game.
Modern Examples (Expanded Legal Cards)
Garchomp / Altaria (Fluffy Chomp)
Also adorably known as Fluffy Chomp, this was a deck that gained massive popularity following the release of the Dragons Exalted expansion. The initial concept of the deck was actually quite simple — Garchomp was capable of doing 100 damage for only 2 energy with its Dragonblade attack and Altaria‘s Fight Song Ability increased the damage dealt by all Dragon-Type by 20. This turned Garchomp‘s cheap 100 damage attack into a cheap 120/140/160 damage attack.
An equally important part of the deck, however, was Garchomp’s pre-evolution, Gabite. Gabite had the Dragon Call Ability that let a player search their deck for any Dragon-Type Pokémon once per turn, and put it into their hand. This allowed for some blazing-fast setups with multiple Altaria cards entering play as early as the second turn.
Rayquaza / Eelektrik
Rayquaza/Eelektrik functions similarly to the Zekrom/Eelektrik deck we covered last time, only to much greater effect. Rayquaza EX’s Dragon Burst attack first required at least one Fire and one Lightning Energy be attached, then the player could choose to discard all energy of either type to do 60 damage per card discarded.
Eelektrik was an easily searchable Stage 1 Pokémon whose Dynamotor Ability allowed it to recover 1 Lightning Energy from the discard pile and attach it to a Benched Pokémon each turn. Rather than be used strictly as a form of energy acceleration like in the Zekrom variant, Eelektrik’s role here doubled as a means of recycling the energy discarded for Rayquaza’s attack and keeping those high-damage hits coming.
Trubbish/Sigilyph (Tool Drop)
A strangely unique deck, Tool Drop was named after the attack used by Trubbish (PLS 65). For 2 energy, this attack did 20 damage for every Pokémon Tool card currently in play. While this was already a potentially powerful attack, it was best used paired with Plasma Blast’s Sigilyph.
Sigilyph had an Ability called Toolbox which allowed a player to attach up to 4 Pokémon Tool cards to it at once, rather than being limited to only one. This made it much easier to get many Pokémon Tool cards into play and increase Tool Drop’s damage to devastating levels.
Sadly, while this deck was a prominent force for quite some time, the introduction of Startling Megaphone (which discards all Pokémon Tools the player’s opponent has in play) has since rendered it largely unplayable as a competitive deck.
Keldeo / Blastoise
Blastoise featured a return to its roots in the form of its Deluge Ability. Much like the Rain Dance Pokémon Power that preceded it, Deluge let the controlling player attach as many Water energy as they liked during their turn. Unlike Rain Dance, which was primarily used to counteract energy removal, Deluge had a fantastic target thanks to the introduction of Keldeo EX.
Keldeo EX possessed both its fantastic Rush In Ability and a potentially very powerful attack. Secret Sword required 3 energy of any type to do 50 damage, but for each Water Energy that was attached to it, that damage was increased by 20. Combined with Deluge, this attack could have its cost covered quickly and its damage increased indefinitely. The combination of the two Water Pokémon proved very successful and variations of this deck topped the format for many months.
Virizion / Genesect
A match made in heaven, Virizion EX and Genesect EX were inseparable partners in crime for years. Virizion EX’s Emerald Slash attack dealt damage while simultaneously moving two Grass Energy from the deck and onto one of your Benched Pokémon. Its Verdant Wind Ability protected any Pokémon with a Grass Energy attached from status conditions — including those inflicted by the incredibly popular Hypnotoxic Laser.
The primary target of Virizion EX’s energy acceleration was Genesect EX. Its Megalo Cannon attack was already powerful, dealing 100 damage to its target as well as an additional 20 damage to a benched Pokémon. When the Pokémon Tool G-Booster was attached however, Genesect EX gained the use of a second attack that allowed it to deal a whopping 200 damage that was entirely unaffected by any other card effects.
Genesect also frequently made use of its Red Signal Ability which allowed it to switch the opponent’s Active Pokémon with a Benched one whenever the player attached a Plasma Energy to it. The combination of energy acceleration, high damage output and the ability to target benched Pokémon led this deck to the top tables of more than one World Championship.
Plasma Pokémon (TDK)
The Plasma Storm, Plasma Freeze and Plasma Blast expansions continued the card game’s long-standing tradition of including Pokémon that “belonged” to members of one of the video game’s many villainous teams. With these special Pokemon came card effects that targeted the Pokemon specifically, rather than others. This popular deck, known as TDK, made use of many of those Pokémon and Abilities.
The primary attacking Pokémon of this deck were Thundurus EX, whose Raiden Knuckle attack dealt damage while moving a discarded energy to a Benched Pokémon, and Kyurem, whose Frost Spear attack damaged multiple Pokémon at once. What brought the deck together was the support these attacking Pokémon had from other Plasma cards.
Deoxys-EX increased the damage dealt by Plasma Pokémon’s attacks by 10 and the effect could be stacked by having multiple Deoxys-EX in play. Colress Machine moved Plasma Energy from the deck and directly onto Plasma Pokémon, allowing for much faster setups and powerful attacks being used early on. The deck was a prime example of how far card synergy can go when you couple powerful attackers with great support effects.
Night March was another unique deck that still sees some play to this day. It revolved around a number of weaker, non-evolved Pokémon that all possessed the same attack — Night March. This attack had varying costs among the Pokémon that used it but it always did the same thing- inflict 30 damage for each Pokémon in your discard pile that also have the Night March attack. The cards that were paired with Night March were what really ingrained it as a powerful strategy.
Team Flare Gear – Battle Compressor allowed a player to quickly discard any 3 cards directly from their deck, getting those Night March Pokémon into the discard pile as early in the game as possible. Dimension Valley was a Stadium that reduced the energy cost of Psychic-Type Pokémon’s attacks by one colorless energy. This allowed Pumpkaboo to use its Night March attack for only a single Double Colorless Energy. Finally, Mew-EX could use its Versatile Ability to use the attack of any Pokémon in play (as long as it had the right energy attached to use the attack) turning it into an additional Night March attacker with higher HP than the rest.
The deck benefited greatly from its ability to knock out high-HP Pokémon-EX for 2 prizes, while only giving up a single Prize when its primary attackers were Knocked Out.
Ho-oh EX / Huntail
Another rather unique deck, this one revolved around Huntail and its Powerful Storm attack. The attack dealt 20 damage for each energy you had in play (among all of your Pokémon). A quick way to get more energy in play was to make use of Ho-Oh EX’s Rebirth Ability. This Ability had you flip a coin and if it was heads, move Ho-Oh EX from the discard pile to the bench and then attach three different types of Basic Energy from your discard pile to that Ho-Oh.
The general strategy of the deck was to use cards like Battle Compressor, Ultra Ball, Computer Search and Professor Juniper to get as many Ho-oh EX and energy cards into the discard as quickly as possible so you could use Rebirth to move them all into play, making Huntail’s Powerful Storm capable of dealing massive damage.
Try to keep in mind that these are only a few examples of what card combinations are capable of. Every time a new expansion is released or a new game mechanic added, all sorts of new possibilities emerge! You never know what card that barely sees play now may be the star of a top cut deck in a few months! It’s up to you to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. You may be surprised to find a couple cards that enhance each other’s best points perfectly.
Stay tuned for the next article where we jump from all these card combos that do amazing things to strategies that excel at doing… nothing at all!