– Neo Genesis
August 2, 2018
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is horrible. 3 is average. 5 is great.
Pokemon hasn’t really had a lot of use for a Ban List unlike a few other TCGs, and that’s mainly due to its main format, Standard, keeping things tight around the most recent two years worth of sets. We’re more or less familiar with the idea thanks to the Expanded format, and we haven’t seen a lot of cards hit the ban list in Standard aside from Lysandre’s Trump Card, but years back, way before there was any semblance of such a list, and Expanded wasn’t even a concept, there was one card that got subjected to being banned.
Sneasel is a Basic Dark Pokemon, 60 HP, with no Weakness, a Psychic Resistance, and a Retreat Cost of 0. Fury Swipes let him deal 10 damage for every Heads that came up out of three coins, and Beat Up, for 2 Energy, would let you flip a coin for every Pokemon you have in play and deal 20 damage for every Heads that came up.
Now on the surface, Sneasel has a lot in common with a few cards that don’t seem competitive by today’s standards, especially with the coin flipping mechanic. Imagine for a moment a card like Empoleon (DEX or USM) flipping a coin for each Pokemon it included in its attacks, and you can see why it wouldn’t be that good. But there are several factors that played a role in Sneasel’s widespread success that led to it getting investigated and ultimately leading into its ban from the Standard environment. The obvious one is that, by comparison to something like Empoleon, Sneasel is very easy to get out, being a Basic Pokemon that only has to enter the field in order to start doing its worst. And the other main part of it is that the max HP at the time was still only 120 HP.
So think of it this way: by today’s standards, Sneasel would need to dish out a whopping 50 damage per Heads in order to compare to the absolute powerhouse that he was able to come up with in the days of his release. And for only 2 Energy, it was insane – especially considering that a good deck focused around Sneasel at the time could easily dish out 80 damage on average and upwards of 140 damage at most. By comparison, the next best attack at the time for 2 Energy was Electabuzz, which could only deal 40 damage at most on its own, and that’s if you won the coin flip – the best it could probably hit would by 60 damage with a boost. Now combine all of that on a Pokemon without Weakness and a free Retreat Cost, and you’ve got the makings of a monster on your hands.
Which is appropriate for Pokemon, but not so much for the health of a format.
And that’s ultimately why Sneasel got the first ban. For its time, it was just too strong of a card, even with all the chancy coin flips. It has been remade a couple of times though; the next time it came up, Sneasel got a Fighting Weakness, and by that time the max HP was starting to get bumped up closer to the 150 range. In fact, there’s going to be another Sneasel coming up that’s going to bump up the damage on Beat Up and add an Energy to the Retreat Cost, but even then those cards did not and likely will not see as big of a successful run as the original Sneasel, a card that was so powerful it invented the ban list.
Standard: N/A (if this card was put in the game today, it wouldn’t be as bad)
Expanded: N/A (thanks to the introduction of EX/GX and the overall boost in HP, Sneasel is not as dangerous as it once was)
Limited: ?? (to be honest, I don’t know if people play Neo Genesis limited formats, but I would imagine if they did, this card is either a must-run or is outright banned)
Arora Notealus: Perhaps it says a lot about the design of a card when, at the time it’s released, it ends up being too overpowered, but as time goes on, the card becomes weaker and ultimately ends up seeing little to no play out of being power crept. Such is the power of power creep, I suppose. Now if only they could release a new Slowking to get the wording right on his Ability this time.
Next Time: Turn it around to another power-packed promo!
Sneasel from Neo Genesis is our subject of Talon Thursdays. A Basic Dark Type with 60 HP, no weakness, Psychic Resistance, and free retreat cost, it has two attacks. Fury Swipes costs C and flips three coins: it does 10 damage for each heads. Beat Up costs DD and makes you flip a coin for each of your Pokemon in play; this attack does 20 damage for each heads. When the first Modified format of Team Rocket-on begun at 2001, this card was banned from that format. Their reasoning was that it was capable of dealing lots of damage. Despite factors that try to undermine Beat Up such as the four Special Dark Energy limit (there was no basic dark energy until Diamond & Pearl) and the coin flips being unreliable, just the threat of the probability that can happen is just overwhelming. The maximum printed HP at the time was 120, so if Sneasel lands five out of six heads (five heads for 100 plus 20 damage due to two Special Dark Energy attached to it), it will OHKO any Pokemon in the game. Simply put, this Pokémon was too powerful to handle.
There were multiple attempts to being back Sneasel in modern times that does the same thing but doesn’t cut it in competitive play. Another Sneasel card that does the same thing is from the HS Undaunted print. Beat Up is still 20x, but no where near as powerful as once was due to rising HP scores. The Fighting weakness hurts as well. Eviolite also reduces damage potential as Sneasel needs to flip another heads to break even. It does have a partner of Victini whose Victory Star ability lets you re-flip coins if you didn’t like the first result, and even then, the second outcome could be better or worse. 130 HP basics and Pokémon-EX can very well survive even a 100% heads Beat Up attack. And Landorus EX chiefly KOs it.
The next print will be in Celestial Storm. A bit worse since it now has a retreat cost of one, but Beat Up now becomes 30x! With this increased multiplier, is this enough to shake things up? Probably not. While the maximum HP used to be 120 for the Neo Genesis print, the maximum now is 250 HP. Sneasel has to work extra hard to reach the vaunted OHKO. That’ll mean using Sky Field so you have nine Pokémon in play and you might add Victini to the mix. And you have to flip ALL nine heads to reach 270 damage. Choice Band can help alleviate only one tails, but that still means you need the other eight to go through, and that’s still asking for too much. Not to mention that methods of reducing Bench size will royally screw over Sneasel’s damage output.
Overall, you cannot expect a modernized card to preform that same trick when so many things have changed. Sure, the original Sneasel was banned, and despite the increased multiplier, this modern Sneasel still doesn’t cut it in competitive play. If it was 50x, then that’ll be a completely different story since it can leave a sizeable margin of error and still succeed. With this modernized card, the margin of error is slim to none. Never mind that you’re trying to take on Buzzwole-GX and other Fighting types head on!
Standard: N/A (would be 4/5 in its own time even though it’s banned, whiffing on certain cards can slow your setup down) (for modernized Celestial Storm print, a 1.25/5)
Expanded: N/A (as for Standard)
Last week we looked at banned cards, some being recent additions which technically aren’t banned yet – the newest Ban List goes into effect on August 18th – and some cards that were already on the Ban List but hadn’t been re-reviewed within the last three (or more) years. We skipped Puzzle of Time, even though it is a new addition to the Ban List because we’d just reviewed it two weeks prior. We skipped Forest of Giant Plants because it has been reviewed three times in just under three years already. I thought we’d take this Throwback Thursday to look back at the original banned Pokémon card, Sneasel (Neo Genesis 25/111) because Slowking (Neo Genesis 14/111), the other OG banned card, joined the list a format later and was re-reviewed for Throwback Thursday a little over a year ago. It’s . Sneasel is a Basic [D] Pokémon with 60 HP, no Weakness, no Resistance, a free Retreat Cost, and two attacks. “Fury Swipes” needs [C] and allows you to flip three coins; each “heads” means another 10 damage, while each “tails” adds nothing. “Beat Up” requires [DD] and has you flip a coin for each of your Benched Pokémon; 20 damage per “heads”, while each “tails” adds nothing.
Looking at this, it probably seems rather underwhelming. I’m very torn between launching into an in-depth essay explaining the metagame of the time, the changing terminology, etc. and how it compares and contrasts with the present. Instead, I’ll link you to the two past reviews we have for this card. The first is by Jason “Ness” Klaczynski when Sneasel had only been out for about a month and your Format choices were Unlimited (called Standard at the time… for real) and Pro 15/3, (no more than 15 Trainers in a deck, no more than three copies of a single card except for Basic Energy). The second is by almost the entire review crew of the time, but Ness wasn’t among them by that point and I wouldn’t join until over a year later. The re-review still calls the Unlimited Format the Standard Format, while referring to what we’d call the Standard Format as “Modified”; Prop 15/3 had been abandoned by this point and Sneasel had been banned from Modified at the beginning.
Time to paint with some very broad strokes, because I keep getting two or three paragraphs deep before realizing I’m not even past this card’s attributes and into its attacks! The HP isn’t as bad as it looks. The max printed HP score was 120, with average HP scores and average damage output being much lower; reliably hitting for more than 60 damage per turn was good, and plenty of decks didn’t hit quite that hard. At least, not that hard rapidly, reliably, and repeatedly. Now add in Focus Band as the Tool of choice at a time when discarding Tools or Poisoning Pokémon almost always required an attack AND Sneasel’s lack of Weakness and Psychic Resistance (old school -30 Resistance!) and Sneasel wasn’t quite a glass cannon, just a smaller scrapper. It was a time when Basics were the best, though there were many strong Stage 1 attackers as well; Stage 2 Pokémon were much scarcer though not non-existent in the competitive scene. That free Retreat Cost was slick: this was a time when you could retreat as often as you wanted during a turn, so it enabled some slick combos with Double Gust. Apparently, we’ve never reviewed that card, so Double Gust is like Gust of Wind, only your opponent gets to pick and promote one of your Benched Pokémon as well. If you don’t know Gust of Wind, it is like Pokémon Catcher without the Flip, Lysandre as an Item card, etc.
Fury Swipes doesn’t look like much but at this time? It was a decent-ish opening and fallback attack. Beat Up was the star, though, and it was actually easier to reliably fill your Bench ASAP back then versus now. Which meant Beat Up averaged that 60 damage which was competitive at the time… except the Special Energy version of Darkness Energy upped that to 70 or even 80 damage. There was a CATCH, however; there were no basic Darkness Energy cards at this time! They wouldn’t be released until the Diamond & Pearl set seven years later; if you wanted to use Beat Up you were using Special Energy only, and the only other competitive option was Rainbow Energy. In the Unlimited Format of the day, as well as Prop 15/3, your opponent could run Energy Removal and/or Super Energy Removal but these were problems for every deck, so most decks ran Chaos Gym, Eco Gym, No Removal Gym, Slowking (same as above), or Dark Vileplume to deal with them. No Removal Gym forces a player to discard two cards from hand in order to use Energy Removal or Super Energy Removal; Dark Vileplume has a Pokémon Power (similar to an Ability) that prevents both players from playing Trainers from hand. Sneasel favored two or three Slowking on its Bench, not only protecting attached Energy and the Bench from those potent Trainer cards but potentially ruining set up by denying all the potent Trainer cards used for that during this time as well.
Sneasel variants, in particular, Sneasel/Slowking, became the Best Deck In Format for Unlimited and even Prop 15/3. I believe Sneasel was banned for the last event or two that used Prop 15/3. As such, when Modified (what we now call Standard) went into effect, Sneasel was banned from the get-go, put away “in the box”. Slowking would eventually join it. How would Sneasel fair now? Worse, without Slowking to back it up; I honestly wonder if Sneasel was the real problem for the original Modified (Standard) Format. Unlimited had Computer Search, Erika, Professor Oak, and others to get what it needed going (assuming Items weren’t being blocked), but that original Modified (Standard) Format had Cleffa (Neo Genesis 20/111) and Professor Elm. Even with Rainbow Energy giving you an effective eight [D] Energy cards with which to work, even with the pacing giving Sneasel more time to get its own setup happening, I still wonder if the real issue was Slowking. I mean, just a little. For sure, if Sneasel would have had [F] Weakness, I think it wouldn’t have been an issue: we got Tyrogue a set later, and it was a loose staple back in the day. If Sneasel had lacked its free Retreat Cost it also wouldn’t have been as good…
…which brings us to the many pseudo-reprints. We’re not running through all of them; some are cards only inspired by the original Sneasel, like Sneasel-ex. Others are Sneasel but with now with [F] Weakness. The latest isn’t quite out yet; Sneasel (Celestial Storm 86/168) isn’t an exact reprint of the original Sneasel, but it is close and uses that original artwork. It is still a 60 HP [D] Basic Pokémon with the exact same Fury Swipes attack, but sporting [F] Weakness, modern -20 [P] Resistance, a Retreat Cost of [C], and Beat Up does 30 damage per “heads” while still costing [DD] to use. It won’t ever live up to the original, but it might have a decent shot as a glass cannon in decks that already fill the Bench and can easily meet the attack cost. Getting back to today’s Sneasel, scores for it are… mostly nonapplicable. It is “Unlimited Format only”, and even I’m not going to hazard a guess as to its effectiveness there, seeing as I haven’t played a game using that card pool in over 10 years. I will risk commenting on the Limited Format, because that’s a little easier to Theorymon. Sneasel is pretty much a must run using the modern rules. Back in the day pre-basic Darkness Energy cards, it was still a good pull, for its HP, bottom stats, and Fury Swipes but pulling two copies of Special Energy Darkness Energy and getting them onto Sneasel in time was highly unlikely.
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