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The Top 50 Pokémon Cards
Below I've ranked what I believe are the Top 50 Pokemon cards of all time. Now, you're probably wondering, how did I determine which cards were better than others? Well, for each card, I considered three different things:
#1 The Strength of the card
Self-explanatory. How good was the card? Did it win games? Was it easy to counter?
Over the card's lifespan, how long was this card good? Some cards were legal for more years than others, so I don't consider a card that was good all four years it was legal much better than a card that was equally good for the two years it was legal. Instead, I try to look at it by averaging its strength over its lifespan, but weighed slightly in favor of ranking the card in its prime.
#3 Versatility of the card
Cards that can be played in more decks are better cards. That's why you'll see a lot of trainers at the top of this list: these cards weren't just good, but they were used to win games in a variety of decks. You'll also see Pokemon that are used for Poke-Powers higher than a lot of Pokemon that require a specific type of energy.
Another way to interpret versatility was if a card was playable in both Standard and Modified. I gave a small bonus to cards that were good in both formats.
Not familiar with Standard and Modified?
Standard is the first tournament format used in the Pokemon TCG. It allowed players to use all Pokemon cards. While it technically still exists today (called "unlimited"), the last legitimate tournament for it was held in 2002, so anything from the first three sets (Base, Jungle & Fossil) rotated out in 2002, as far as me, common sense and this article are concerned.
The second format, called Modified, began in 2001. The first
modified format allowed cards only from the Team Rocket, Gym
Heroes, Gym Challenge and Neo: Genesis expansions. In the
modified format, the oldest four or five sets rotate out at
the end of each year, or "season." This keeps the game
interesting and also makes access to tournament-legal cards
easier for new players. Modified is the official format of
all sanctioned Pokemon TCG tournaments today, and the annual
Pokemon TCG World Championships.
Overall, I spent over 16 hours re-arranging and moving cards
off & on this list. After all, ranking cards isn't a perfect
science. For those of you that are long time players of the
Pokemon TCG, you will be taking a trip down Pokemon memory
lane. And for the rest of you who never really played
competitively, I'm sure you'll still get a kick seeing which
cards had the biggest impacts on the game.
#5 Computer Search (Base, Base 2)
Formats legal: Standard (1999-2002)
Since the Pokemon TCG was released, there were four of this card in every deck. It made every deck consistent by being another card to fetch out Professor Oak when you needed a new hand. It also was another good card to topdeck when your opponent used Rocket's Sneak Attack or Lass against you. So why isn't it number one? Well, Computer Search didn't affect the game as much as the next four cards you're going to read. Remove Computer Search from the game, and you still end up with the same Pokemon and concepts being powerful. The next four cards you are going to read changed the way the game was played.
#4 Super Energy Removal (Base, Base 2)
Formats legal: Standard (1999-2002)
Pokemon is a completely different game without Super Energy Removal, and maybe a much better one. Instead of Pokemon being dominated by strong basic Pokemon like Hitmonchan & Electabuzz it may very well have been a balanced game, with cards like Venusaur, Blastoise, Charizard & Zapdos giving these basics a run for their money. (Blastoise actually wasn't terrible because Rain Dance could withstand Super Energy Removal.) Throughout the history of the game, dozens of otherwise playable cards have been ruined by this one card. Anytime something needed three or more energy cards to attack, it was instantly unplayable. All because of this one card.
#3 Gust of Wind (Base, Base 2)
Formats Legal: Standard (1999-2002)
A staple in every deck since its release, Gust of Wind has probably won more games than any card in the history of Pokemon. These are two main ways the card won games: knockouts and stalling. And of those two strategies there were sub strategies.
Knock out strategies:
-Take knock outs on low HP Pokemon to quickly draw six prize cards.
-Knock out weak basic or stage one Pokemon before they evolve.
Stalling strategies involved bringing active a Pokemon with a retreat cost, usually one that could not attack. The higher the retreat cost, the more trouble your opponent could find themself in. Doing this allowed you to:
-Buy turns to draw cards when you have a bad hand.
-Attack your opponent's bench.
-Slow your opponent down to allow you some turns to evolve your Pokemon and set up.
Gust of Wind was another reason evolution decks didn't work the first few years of game.
#2 Professor Oak (Base)
Formats Legal: Standard (1999-2002)
No Pokemon card has seen more play in the history of the game than Professor Oak. Professor Oak defined the first three years of the Pokemon TCG. Without Professor Oak, Pokemon is a slow, boring, luck of the draw card game. With it, it's an exciting, fast-paced game involving series of knockouts. Not only was this card necessary in every deck, but the game needed it. Pokemon would not have been fun if this card did not exist.
Countless Pokemon games have been won by players who were lucky enough to topdeck this card at the right time. There is no draw card that will ever compare to this card. The speed and access to your deck this card provided will remain forever unmatched.
So, what is the best Pokemon card of all time? Well, the next card you are about to see changed Pokemon forever. I like to call it the dawn of "Modern Pokemon," where Pokemon became more than an Oak-fest trying to beat your opponent as quickly as possible. Instead, you now had to save your trainer cards for the right spots, and carefully manage your energy attachments.
#1 Cleffa (Neo: Genesis)
Formats legal: Standard (2000-2002), Modified (2001-2003)
Cleffa did not just change the game, it revolutionized it. As soon as it debuted, there were four (okay, sometimes three) in every deck, in every format, for the entire lifespan of the card. In standard, no longer could decks rely on a strategy playing three or four Professor Oaks on the first turn to take away your hand and score a quick KO. If they did and flipped tails trying to KO your Cleffa, one Eeeeeeek brought you right back in the game with the tremendous advantage of not having wasted all the resources your opponent had. (And if you had two Cleffas in play you could Eeeeeeek next turn no matter what.)
There was also a very powerful combination that worked with Cleffa's Eeeeeeek: Lass. Lass would remove each players' trainers, leaving each player stranded without many options. But, using Eeeeeeek gave you a brand new hand full of options while your opponent was left with only Pokemon & Energy cards. The best way to defend against this lethal combo was to run four Cleffa yourself to give you the best chance of opening with it. That way if your opponent opened with Cleffa and used Lass on the first turn you could also use Eeeeeeek to get a new hand.
Yet another reason Cleffa was so great is that it allowed a variety of new decks to become playable that would have otherwise not worked. More evolved Pokemon finally became playable, including Steelix and Typhlosion. Without Cleffa, these decks would not be able to compete against fast basic Pokemon & the disruptive trainers that accompanied them.
All of that was just Cleffa's strength in standard. In modified, you saw Cleffa in every deck as well. It allowed decks to consistently draw into the cards they needed to get their powerful evolutions out.
Cleffa not only made the game more skill-oriented, but more fun as well.
The first article I ever wrote on Cleffa (written nearly nine years ago): http://www.pojo.com/CardofTheDay/Jan182001Cleffa.html. The images may not work, but the article remains.
Noteworthy, but not included:
These are the cards that just missed my Top 50 list...
Special thanks to Theodore Johnpaul Adams, Aaron Curry, Drew Guritzky, Kyle Sucevich and Chris Fulop for helping me proofread and rank these cards.
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