Empoleon – Plasma Freeze
Date Reviewed: March 4, 2021
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is horrible. 3 is average. 5 is great.
This week’s Throwback is pretty nostalgic for me. Not only for the TCG but also the video games. Last week, a new pair of Pokémon games has been announced: Brillant Diamond & Shining Pearl are the Gen IV remakes coming to the Switch. In honor for these new games, I decided to venture through COTD archives looking for several TCG reviews of final evolved Sinnoh starters that we’ve looked at over the years, but the one that stood out the most for me was Empoleon (BW Dark Explorers 29/108, BW Plasma Freeze 117/116)! This card was only reviewed once (https://www.pojo.com/COTD/2012/May/23.shtml), and even though it entered the format that are unfriendly to Stage 2s as well as Lightning weakness and pre-errata Pokemon Catcher, this is still one of the best Stage 2s in its time.
That’s because it has a couple of features to work with. Being a Water type means it can hit double damage against Water weak targets at the time such as Reshiram-EX and Landorus-EX; Having 140 HP was a good amount at the time; And a retreat cost of 2 might be manageable. It’s Diving Draw ability lets you discard a card from your hand in order to draw 2 cards. This reduces over reliance of using Professor Juniper and makes other Supporter cards a bit more freely to use. And then there’s Attack Command, which costs a single water energy and does 10 damage for each Pokémon in play, which is between 20 to 120 damage. Although you have to get more Pokémon in play to make the most out of it (like a full bench on your side), 70 for 1 is still very cheap, albeit trading prizes with Empoleon can be questionable at times.
It wasn’t long until they released another great Stage 2 Water type. In Boundaries Crossed, Blastoise’s Deluge ability does the same thing the older Blastoise did back in the Base Set days, and players think that they’ll load up with Water energies instead of having an ability based draw. But it’s not just the BW series, everything else has changed while Empoleon didn’t change and got power crept into oblivion. Mega Evolutions, Pokémon-GX, and even Pokémon-V…they’re beyond Attack Command’s range. Which, speaking of Pokémon-GX, Zoroark-GX completely outclassed Empoleon! It has a bigger 210 HP body despite being worth 2 prizes, and Riotous Beating can do 120 damage comfortably without relying on your opponent’s setup. Perhaps the few things it can benefit from Expanded are Archie’s Ace in the Hole (best reserved for BCR Blastoise) and Empoleon BREAK.
At this point, Empoleon has an unfortunate case of being completely outclassed in Expanded, but can still compete to some extent in the Legacy Format. At least a errata-ed Pokémon Catcher means it’s safe on the Bench (no Boss’s Orders equivalent there). It also appears in the Shadows Theme Deck where Zoroark is the star of the show (despite being a water heavy theme deck, causing Zoroark to not be able to take advantage of its attacks), and Empoleon’s ability based draw can prove to be extremely valuable there, although the deck contents are underwhelming as a whole. And it doesn’t help that Swampert from SM Celestial Storm does a better job than Empoleon in both Expanded and the theme format.
This might seem like I’m giving a negative tone regarding this card, but this is 2021, not 2012, and everything changed over the years, so it makes sense not to use Empoleon anymore. I don’t even think it was nominated for being in the top X cards lost to rotation in 2015. Back when Empoleon debuted, this card was once great, recycling multiple past effects on one card. But that just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. If there’s one thing I learned about the Expanded Format, there are cards that continue remain powerful and that other cards that used to be good fell out of favor. I classify Empoleon to be on the latter.
Empoleon (BW – Dark Explorers 29/108; BW – Plasma Freeze 117/116) is today’s Throwback Card of the Day. The original print officially released May 9, 2012, with a slick looking Secret Rare reprint (featured above) dropping almost exactly a year later on May 8, 2013. The Pojo crew looked at it once before, on May 23, 2012; after we’d finished our countdown for that set. It was a Runner-Up from that countdown, the second ever set countdown we’d done. Apparently, I was busy, though. Let’s run through the card, then we can discuss how it actually performed in the past and what it is doing now.
Empoleon is a baseline Pokémon, worth only a single Prize when KO’d and no Rule Box. Nor does it belong to any other groups, which I don’t have a convenient catch-all term to describe. As a [W] type, and I don’t recall that being much of a help when it first released. It has been beneficial at different times since then, as the [W] has gotten some good or even great pieces of support, such as Archie’s Ace in the Hole and Dive Ball. [W] Weakness has sometimes mattered, sometimes not, [W] Resistance is found on most BW-era Grass types, and there are a few anti-[W] effects that actually did (maybe still do) matter, like Parallel City.
Empoleon is a Stage 2 Pokémon. No Piplup or Prinplup really stand out, so Rare Candy is your friend. Unless you’re running Archie’s Ace in the Hole and can afford to rely solely on it, and/or are using a less mainstream form of Evolution acceleration, like Meganium (SM – Lost Thunder 8/214). Empoleon has 140 HP, which was reasonably good for a Stage 2 back in the day, but is a little low now. [L] Pokémon could and still can wreck Empoleon, and it released when Eelektrik (BW – Noble Victories 40/101) was huge. While there have been times when it was a “safe” Weakness, the present isn’t one of them. No Resistance is typical, though technically the worst. A Retreat Cost of [CC] is neither high nor low, but hurts a bit because of Empoleon’s effects.
Empoleon has the Ability “Diving Draw”, which can be used once during your turn, before you attack, and per instance of it you have in play. In other words, you can’t spam the same Empoleon’s Diving Draw over and over in the same turn, but if you’ve got four of these in play, you could use each of their instances of Diving Draw once before you attack or do anything else that ends your turn. To actually activate Diving Draw, though, you need to discard a card from your hand. It can be anything, with easily recycled cards such as basic Energy or Pokémon being obvious choices. Your reward is getting to draw two cards. While not a massive amount, it was and still is enough to add up turn after turn, even with just one Diving Draw in play. It also means you’re a little more free to burn a Supporter on non-draw effects.
Empoleon only knows one attack, “Attack Command”. For [W], this does 10 damage times the number of Pokémon in play. The good news is that this counts your opponent’s side of the field as well, so their setup feeds your own. The bad news is that this means your opponent can reduce your maximum damage if they can’t reduce their Bench size. When Empoleon first released, Attack Command had decent to great damage. Not just “for the Energy”, but overall. Up to 60-for-one just for your side of the field, and up to 120 if your opponent’s Bench was also full. In the present, even for a single attachment, you really want to be doing more like 100 to 120 damage. Since you can hit that range so long as your Bench is full and your opponent has no more than two empty Bench spots, I’d say the attack is still decent.
Why did I say the Retreat Cost of [CC] could actually be an issue? While can can zero it out with Float Stone no problem, Empoleon’s first release predates Empoleon, and you attack for a single Energy while probably wanting to keep discard fodder handy. Put it all together, and Empoleon does feel the sting of even a “normal” Retreat Cost. Especially as Empoleon was as likely to be used as a Bench-sitter as it was a main attacker, or Bench-sitter plus Supporting attacker. Back in the day, it could just barely stack enough bonuses (Silver Bangle, Hypnotoxic Laser, Virbank City Gym) to fake 180 damage. This was at a time when that was as good as it got, even for Basic Pokémon-EX!
Of course, Empoleon has and even had other options over the years. Exeggcute (BW – Plasma Freeze 4/116; BW – Plasma Blast 102/101) is great for helping with any discard cost, thanks to its “Propagation” Ability that lets you add it to your hand from your discard pile. Empoleon’s Diving Draw is no exception; you only skip this combo if you absolutely, positively need to run Empoleon in a pure Water build. Another powerful trick for Empoleon decks was Max Potion. As Empoleon only needed [W] to attack, and this was easily supplied even with just your manual Energy attachment for the turn, you could afford to discard “all” your attached Energy so that Max Potion would also flush away all your damage counters.
I don’t recall seeing much of this Empoleon in Expanded over the past five or so years. Hypothetically, its exact combination of traits might still make this Empoleon your best bet, especially if you’re running a deck built around other Empoleon cards in Expanded, but I don’t recall seeing that. There are better supporting attackers, better Bench-support, and even better Bench-support that can act as supporting attackers. You can use Sky Field so both players can have up to nine Pokémon in play, but your opponent just needs Sudowoodo (SM – Guardians Rising 66/145; Shiny Vault SV20/SV94) to cap your Bench at four.
Regrettably, as with so many cards from anything but the last few years, it can be very difficult to sort the proven deck lists from speculative articles. That isn’t a knock against the latter; all of my CotD’s contain a good deal of speculation, after all. If I don’t have a World Championship deck or data from LimitlessTCG, it can be hard to distinguish the proven decks from the Theorymon. Here are my Limitless search results, and thankfully the site does contain slightly older results than I realized. Only one of these results is the correct Empoleon, though” Empoleon being run alongside Dusknoir (BW – Boundaries 63/149; BW – Plasma Blast 104/101). Yes, two totally separate Stage 2 lines in the same deck! While setting up could be a pain, and the deck was heavily Ability reliant, the idea was Empoleon was both the main attacker and source of draw power while Dusknoir kept you from wasting damage with its “Sinister Hand” Ability.
While Empoleon has probably fallen too far behind to compete in Expanded, and isn’t legal (nor would it be strong enough) for Expanded, there are still two places you can enjoy it! They are, however, PTCGO exclusive Formats. Last I knew, Empoleon/Dusknoir (and maybe some other Empoleon decks) were still worth the effort in the Legacy Format, maybe even rather good. The Legacy Format consists of the HS-series and BW-series sets, plus other bits like Call of Legends: nothing goes away, and nothing new is added, so only changes in player choices would damage Empoleon’s chances here. I’m glad Vince mentioned Empoleon could be found in the “Shadows” Theme deck that released alongside BW – Dark Explorers. I had forgotten completely about it… because Empoleon itself should be good in the Theme Format, but a BW-era Theme Deck just isn’t built anywhere near as well as anything from the SW or SM eras.
- Standard: N/A
- Expanded: 1/5
- Legacy: 3/5
- Theme: 2/5
Empoleon was a bit of a slow starter; there was some hype for it when it first released, but I vaguely recall it taking a little bit to get its needed support and catch on. After that, it enjoyed a decent lifespan, but it seems pretty dead in Expanded. If I’m not mistaken, you can enjoy it in the Legacy Format, though you likely will struggle to make a proper Empoleon/Dusknoir build as it contains Tropical Beach in multiples. The deck, while good, is one of those that is greater than the sum of all (or at least, most) of its parts, so Empoleon still doesn’t score super high. Yes, even though I’m allowing for other Empoleon variants I don’t clearly recall being good there. I’m being especially generous in the Theme Format; anything from before mid-Sun & Moon era Theme Decks are just terrible.
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