– Sword & Shield
April 30, 2020
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is horrible. 3 is average. 5 is great.
Crushing Hammer is a Trainer-Item that falls into the “tails fails” camp. If you flip “heads”, however, you select an Energy from one of your opponent’s Pokémon and discard that Energy. There are Special Energy that provide multiple units of Energy when attached, such as Double Colorless Energy or Twin Energy; you are allowed to pick one of those Energy, and if you do, both Energy are discarded. Throughout this card’s history, and even before, its varied from that card no one was playing to the one that the best decks maxed out.
Under normal circumstances, you’re only allowed one manual Energy attachment per turn, but you may play as many Item cards per turn as you wish and are able. This makes Item-based Energy discarding effects very potent. Crushing Hammer itself attempts to balance this out by being “tails fails”, but this doesn’t work too well. During a specific game or even an entire tournament, someone may be very lucky or unlucky. This includes not just flipping “heads”, but doing so when it really matters. Potentially, this elevates Crushing Hammer into a “Broke or fail” card… but there’s a bit more two it.
We need to look at the metagame and for that we need to count through the sets where we’ve had Crushing Hammer or Energy Removal 2, because this is an example of “New name, everything else the same.” Technically Energy Removal was considered a “normal Trainer” when it released, but that’s because we wouldn’t start referring to “normal Trainers” as Item cards until the term was introduced in Black & White. I’ll list each printings set, along with the month and year of the release. If there’s a link, that means it received a past Card of the Day.
Energy Removal 2
Energy Removal 2 was legal for all but the first month of the 2002-2003 Standard Format, and all of the 2003-2004 through 2007-2008 Standard Formats. Crushing Hammer debuted about two months into the 2011-2012 Standard Format and has remained legal until the present, barring a gap of about two months at the beginning of the 2013-2014 Standard Format. Unless I made a mistake, of course. Crushing Hammer has always been Expanded-legal.
I don’t recall Energy Removal 2 seeing much play at first, but even if my memories from nearly 18 years ago are accurate, winning decklists weren’t widely available. In the Unlimited Format, where you still had access to Energy Removal and Super Energy Removal, there was no need to run a “nerfed” version like Energy Removal 2. This can be expanded to include other competition both cards have or still face. There is only so much room in your deck; sometimes Enhanced Hammer and Crushing Hammer have worked together, sometimes they’ve replaced each other.
There were also many other, potent coin flip-based “broke or fail” cards around this time, and in both Formats, even in Modified (what we now call Standard). Even putting personal preferences aside, coming to rely on yet another unreliable card was questionable. Energy hits the discard pile when the Pokémon to which it is attached is KO’d (barring other effects), so if it is a metagame built around OHKO’s, you’ll rarely if every need effects to discard Energy. This is further exacerbated if there are Pokémon with strong attacks that run off of a single Energy attachment. Having to attach another Energy may hurt or may be trivial, so now you’ve got a figurative coin flip in addition to the literal one.
Which leads nicely into the prevalence and nature of Energy acceleration in the metagame, as that can make discarding Energy even from Energy hogs ineffective. Trainer or Item-denial both benefited and hurt cards like Energy Removal 2 and Crushing Hammer. Sometimes it aligned so that they weren’t worth playing because you might not actually be able to use them when needed, while other times the denial was combined with them to make sure it was just that much more difficult to replace discarded Energy.
There were favorable combos that made Energy Removal 2 and Crushing Hammer better at times, living up to the “broke or fail” line I keep using. With Energy Removal 2, there were a kind of “aggressive control” deck that evolved in the metagame. Evolved attackers that were strong enough to dominate so long as a little disruption was added to keep even bigger evolved attackers at bay. Pokémon such as Sableye (BW – Dark Explorers 62/108) and Oranguru (SM – Ultra Prism 114/156) have used their attacks to spam Crushing Hammer (when needed), sometimes in the then-current top deck. Other times, one of the better decks would be reliant on just a few copies of a particular basic Energy and… yeah, getting rid of it was well worth the coin flip.
Looking at the World Championship decks, which only date back to the 2003-2004 Standard Format, we’ve got some that used Energy Removal 2 or Crushing Hammer. Both “Bright Aura” (2004-2005) and Suns & Moons (2005-2006) maxed out Energy Removal 2. I was shocked to find zero World Championship decks contained Crushing Hammer. Reading the details, though, it seems to fit with what I said above. There were years I remember Crushing Hammer being big, and it was… which contributed to the dominant decks not being quite as vulnerable to it. Some lists were running Enhanced Hammer or other alternatives. Finally, one deck’s entry mentioned the runner-up losing in part due to each of his copies of Crushing Hammer coming up “tails”!
Energy Removal 2 is only currently legal in the Unlimited Format – which we don’t score – and the Limited Format – assuming you can find and afford old enough booster packs. If you do, its a must-run, great pull. Crushing Hammer is going strong in Standard, at least based on the results from “Limitless Online Series – Qualifier #1”. Not part of the official Championship Series tournaments, but those have all been canceled so… yeah, the biggest, recent event for which I have results. Even some decks in the Top 8 were maxing it out, like Cincinno Mill.
For Expanded evidence, we’ll have to go back two months to the Collinsville, IL Regional Championship. Crushing Hammer didn’t show up in that event’s Top 8, but we see a few control decks running them in the Top 70 (out of 640). For the Limited Format, it is the same as for Energy Removal 2, except more realistic due to pack availability. I don’t have any new data on the Legacy Format, so take it with many grains of salt as I go by what I last new… and that was Crushing Hammer as a good card some cards spammed, others included as TecH, and others left out completely.
The Theme Formats with Energy Removal 2 or Crushing Hammer are either so old they’re not part of the PTCGO or they’re there but very weak compared to modern Theme Decks. This affects Crushing Hammer’s score. If it gets re-released in a newer Theme Deck, Crushing Hammer would score a four-out-of-five; it is harder to deal with here. With the decks that do have Crushing Hammer, I’ll give it a two out of five because it can only help them so much.
Crushing Hammer is a card that can be great or a waste, and it isn’t just based on what you flip but what is being run. In what I would consider a well-balanced metagame – and I don’t think we’ve ever had such a thing – Crushing Hammer is a little too good. A 50% chance of doing nothing isn’t enough to balance out trading an as-many-as-you-like Item for a once-per-turn Energy card. The real Pokémon TCG deals with metagames that have a strange, heightened balance; crazy good cards, combos and decks versus other crazy good cards, combos and decks. Sometimes Crushing Hammer is part of this heightened balanced, sometimes it isn’t. Just as Energy Removal 2 was or wasn’t before it.
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