With the release of SM – Ultra Prism, some new mechanics have been introduced to the Pokémon TCG. At least, they are sort of new, as they are similar to older mechanics, and one includes the reintroduction of a mechanic thought abandoned. In order to avoid cluttering up my other articles, I thought it better to review and explain here instead of each time it came up elsewhere.
- The Lost Zone
- [Prism Star]
- Unidentified Fossil
Barring promos or anything else I may have missed, the Lost Zone debuted in the Platinum expansion (released February 2009) and was last seen on cards from Call of Legends (released February 2009, rotated from Standard in September of 2012). It is officially explained on page 33 of the latest Pokémon TCG rulebook, but I don’t think it is a very good explanation. Think of the Lost Zone as a second discard pile that can only be reached through card effects or rules text that specifically reference it. I know of no card that ever brought cards back from the Lost Zone; not many sent cards to the Lost Zone and even fewer had a rare effect that made use of cards in the Lost Zone (either the amount or by copying something from them). Even when Pokémon first introduced it, this was not a new thing to many players as other TCG’s have similar game mechanics.
Prism Star cards were just introduced in SM – Ultra Prism. You can find an official explanation of them on page 23 of the current rulebook, in Appendix A. Prism Star cards are pretty easy to recognize, as they have a symbol unique to them at the end of the card’s name. I cannot recreate that here in the text, so please refer to card scans; here I will just put “Prism Star” in brackets like so: [Prism Star]. This is part of the card’s name, so Darkrai [Prism Star] doesn’t count against how many copies you may run of Darkrai, Darkrai-GX, etc. The cards have special rules text on them that states you may only have a single copy of said [Prism Star] card in your deck. This is a restriction for cards of the exact same name; while you may only run one copy of Darkrai [Prism Star], you run even one of each available Prism Star card in your deck if you wished. These cards can be Pokémon, Trainer, or Energy. When a Prism Star card goes to the discard pile, it is instead sent to the Lost Zone. This only applies to being sent to the discard pile; Prism Star cards may be sent to your deck or hand or Prizes by the appropriate card effects without incident.
Unidentified Fossil (SM – Ultra Prism 134/138) is a Trainer-Item that you play as if it were a Pokémon, as per the card’s effect text. There is a lot we don’t know for certain yet, like whether you are allowed to use it as your opening Basic Pokémon or not. There have been similar cards to this in the past, and the rulings on such a thing have changed more than once, so I’m not even going to attempt to guess the answer. Unlike the other card with a similar effect – Robo Substitute – there are currently two Pokémon which Evolve from Unknown Fossil: Cranidos (SM – Ultra Prism 64/138) and Shieldon (SM – Ultra Prism 84/138). Both are Stage 1 Pokémon, a change from the Restored Pokémon mechanic seen on next most recent Shieldon (XY – Steam Siege 69/114). It is very similar to how “Fossil” Pokémon were originally handled, just using a different name than we’ve seen before for the “Item played like a Pokémon”.
As for my personal thoughts on the matter, I’m happy that the Lost Zone has returned, but I hope they keep it as a place where cards go and don’t come back. Other TCG’s, like Yu-Gi-Oh!, started that way but kept adding more and more effects that could bring cards back from that game’s Lost Zone equivalent. Prism Star cards seem like an improvement over Ace Spec cards, but only somewhat. I don’t like the idea of a card that is – presumably – stronger than it would otherwise be because it is naturally limited to one copy per deck. If this limit is in no way taken into consideration when the card is being designed, then the card will naturally be underpowered. If the limit, however, is taken into account, then the card is only balanced so long as it isn’t too easy to search or recycle. Yes, being easily searched matters, as part of what makes running a single copy of a card risky is that you may not draw into it at the right time. Prism Star cards sending themselves to the Lost Zone solves the issue of them being broken through effects that allow them to be reused, but it doesn’t address the other problem.
Finally, I think requiring prehistoric Pokémon or whatever-you-want-to-call-them to need something “special” about how they are put into play is a bad idea. I get that PCL wanted to preserve the flavor from the video game source material, where they must be obtained through their fossils, but it needlessly complicates things. They could be their own subgroup with their own tricks, but just make the lowest Stage a Basic and its Evolved form a Stage 1. The entire reason we got the bad idea that was Restored Pokémon was because they were trying the “Evolves from Item with Fossil in its name” approach since the Fossil expansion and it never really worked out all that well. There are changes with how the new mechanic works, but I don’t see how they’ll really address the issues of the past.