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The Top Ten Cards of 2015

We take a look back at 2015 by looking at the ten most important cards released in the past year.

01/08/2016 by Pikachu's Hideout

How's it going, 60cards readers? With the year drawing to a close, it's always fun to take a look at the progression of the game over the past twelve months. 2015 was a landmark year for the Pokémon TCG in a number of ways and we're going to look back on everything that's made this year so noteworthy. Most importantly, we'll be looking back at the top cards released during 2015 to see just how they impacted the game and how they might continue to do so in the months to come.

So without any further ado, let's get into the list!

10. Gallade (BREAKthrough)

This newcomer from BREAKthrough may not have been around for very long, but he's certainly made his mark in the few weeks he's been legal. This is one of those Pokémon that has everything going for it. His Ability gives decks a welcome consistency boost at no cost and he has a very hard-hitting attack that can be used for just a single Double Colorless Energy. Best of all, he's a Fighting-type, so he can be cheated into play via Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick. This means that any deck already running a Battle Compressor engine and Double Colorless Energy can comfortably tech in a single Gallade and a Maxie to gain access to surprise Sensitive Blade plays. Back in the States format, a number of decks ran the Empoleon DEX/Archie's Ace in the Hole combo and Gallade allows a very similar idea to survive into the current Standard format.

And in just a few weeks, Gallade's impact has been obvious. Mega Manectric decks are no longer remotely as dominant in Standard thanks to the mere threat of Gallade and as a result, Yveltal has made a huge comeback. Gaining a number of cards from BREAKthrough, Yveltal has joined up with Zoroark BKT and, of course, Gallade to cement its position as the best deck in the Standard format. But Gallade's value isn't limited to the Maxie combo. Some innovative players have recently begun showing up to tournaments with Gallade/Octillery decks, where they focus on manually Evolving into Gallade to use as the primary attacker. Octillery's Abyssal Hand has obvious synergy with Premonition, allowing the Gallade player to handpick the best cards from their deck each turn and giving them ready access to tech Supporters such as Giovanni's Scheme. Gallade has proven that decks centered around a Stage 2 attacker might just have a place in the format after all.

It's hard to see this card going anywhere anytime soon. As long as Battle Compressor is around and Lightning Pokémon have a place in the format, Gallade will remain a looming threat, ready to drop in out of nowhere and slash up the opponent.

9. Giratina-EX (Ancient Origins)

Ever since Robin Schulz took down Arena Cup Würzburg with his Seismitoad/Giratina deck, Giratina-EX has been one of the most feared Pokémon in the game. With its attack shutting down Stadiums and Special Energy (shutting down Tools is honestly just an added bonus), Giratina-EX is capable of stopping decks like Night March dead in their tracks. In a metagame where virtually every deck relies on Special Energy and Stadium use is high, there's hardly a deck that isn't significantly impeded when the first Chaos Wheel is declared.

Robin's Seismitoad/Giratina deck quickly became the deck to beat going into Fall Regionals in North America. Functioning like a disruption-heavy Seismitoad deck, this variant ran Giratina as a powerful backup. While in some matches Seismitoad still did the heavy lifting, Giratina and its Renegade Pulse Ability provided a near-autowin against Mega Evolution decks, so many of which gave traditional Seismitoad builds a lot of trouble. In addition, games could be stolen out from under the opponent just with a well-timed Hammer followed by a Chaos Wheel.

Though the Seismitoad/Giratina deck underperformed at Regionals, largely due to the target on its back and the popularity of Yveltal, Giratina-EX remained a presence in the game, reemerging alongside Tyrantrum-EX and Bronzong. This was an even more versatile deck, packing not only Giratina for the lock strategy, but also Tyrantrum-EX to OHKO big threats, as well as a variety of tech attackers that benefit from Bronzong's Metal Links. This deck made a splash in Lancaster Regionals in Week 2 and went on to win Vancouver Regionals in Week 3. Since then, the deck has remained a presence in both Standard and Expanded, aided in no small part by the power of Giratina-EX.

8. Hoopa-EX (Ancient Origins)

Ancient Origins was quite the expansion, full of very good cards, and the poster-Pokémon for the set is no exception. Hoopa-EX quickly proved to be an exceptional attacker, tearing through Benches with its Hyperspace Fury attack. A Benched Shaymin-EX has never been more vulnerable, as all it takes is three Psychic Energy and that Shaymin is left with a mere 10 HP. Truly, Hoopa-EX shook the game to its core.

...No, wait, that's not quite right. It's actually Hoopa-EX's Ability that makes it so good. (Despite the awesome name, Hyperspace Fury is basically completely useless.) Scoundrel Ring brings an unprecedented level of consistency to EX-based decks. With just a single Ultra Ball, Hoopa-EX basically nets you a full setup, grabbing the ideal combination of attackers, often along with a Shaymin-EX to dig deeper into the deck. That's a lot of utility for the cost of a single Bench space! And unlike Shaymin-EX, it's not even a major liability on the Bench thanks to its 170 HP. Hoopa also raises the value of support Pokémon like Keldeo-EX. These Pokémon, often run as one-ofs, have trouble hitting the Bench early in the game as the initial Ultra Balls are often needed for attackers or Shaymin, but Hoopa can just grab them on the first turn along with whatever else you need, maximizing the value these cards bring.

Hoopa-EX can also serve as a power card. Mega Rayquaza decks quickly added two or three copies into their lists, which served not only to grab both a Rayquaza-EX and a Mega, but also to load up the Bench to fuel Emerald Break's damage output. Though Mega Rayquaza was previously popular alongside Bronzong, Hoopa took the turbo variant of the deck over the top, making a turn-one 240 quite consistent. This enabled a turbo Mega Rayquaza deck with almost no draw Supporters, instead focusing on using Items and Abilities to set up and using the Supporter for the turn on disruption like Ghetsis or Hex Maniac. As a bonus, Hoopa makes it very easy to recover from a bumped Sky Field, loading up the whole Bench again with just one Ultra Ball.

Hoopa-EX may not belong in every deck, but it provides a huge advantage for the decks where it does fit. It will remain a staple in Mega Rayquaza decks and EX-heavy decks will welcome the boost in consistency. Expect to keep seeing this card as long as it's in format.

7. Vespiquen (Ancient Origins 10)

Flareon PLF proved itself to be a force in the metagame last season and Vespiquen is even better, boasting Grass typing (synergy with Forest of Giant Plants), 90 HP (searchability with Level Ball), free Retreat, and an occasionally-useful first attack. Vespiquen quickly proved itself to be at the heart of a very powerful deck. With Ultra Ball, Battle Compressor, and Professor Juniper (or Sycamore, if you're into that sort of thing), along with the new Unown who can discard itself, Bee Revenge quickly hits for lethal amounts of damage on even the biggest Pokémon-EX.

The buzz around Vespiquen began in Würzburg, where David Sturm and Tobias Thesing both made Top 4 with very different Vespiquen variants, but the deck didn't truly begin to swarm the format until Jimmy O'Brien's undefeated run in Lancaster during Week 2. Like David Sturm, Jimmy partnered Vespiquen with Flareon, giving him eight total attackers and an Energy-acceleration outlet via Blacksmith. This proved to be a winning combination in the Expanded metagame, swarming opponents with single-Prize attackers, playing around Giratina with Blacksmith, and smashing Seismitoad with the Grass-type Vespiquen. It was truly a deck with an answer for everything, and Jimmy followed up his Week 2 performance with a Top 32 in Fort Wayne the following week.

Vespiquen is just as good in Standard, too! Though it loses an attacker in Flareon PLF, players have compensated by combining it with Flareon AOR and Entei AOR 14, or Zoroark BKT and Bronzong PHF. All the deck really needs to thrive is a whole bunch of Pokémon, making it as flexible as it is powerful. With each new set comes new additions into Vespiquen's hive, so the deck will only get stronger as the format progresses.

6. Trainers' Mail (Roaring Skies)

Pokémon has really been throwing a lot of Item-based draw at us lately. First Bicycle, then Roller Skates and Acro Bike...well, add Trainers' Mail to that list. In fact, it's probably the best of them all. Unlike Bicycle, it can be used anytime, regardless of hand size. Unlike Roller Skates, it doesn't require a flip. And sure, Acro Bike is actually pretty good, but in decks that can't afford to idly throw away valuable resources, Trainers' Mail is the Item-draw of choice.

Admittedly, it's not quite a draw card per se. It only replaces itself with one card and sometimes can fail altogether. However, often when you draw cards, you're digging for one particular Trainer (be it Ultra Ball, a Muscle Band, or a crucial Stadium) and in that situation, Trainers' Mail shines. It's especially good in the Battle Compressor decks that have come to comprise a good chunk of the meta since you can use your Battle Compressors to thin out non-Trainers to give Trainers' Mail a better chance of striking gold and even better, Trainers' Mail can be used to dig for more Battle Compressors, speeding the deck up even further.

Upon its release, Trainers' Mail (alongside Shaymin-EX) served as the last missing piece for Item-draw-heavy decks. Suddenly it wasn't at all uncommon to see decks running four Trainers' Mail, four Acro Bikes, four Battle Compressors, and very few draw Supporters. This had an immediate impact on the game, creating a new line of decks designed to burn through two-thirds of their cards on the first turn and start taking huge OHKOs on the first turn of the game. And these decks have completely reshaped the meta, too.  Archie's Blastoise won Worlds and was the most dominant deck in Week 1 of Fall Regionals. Night March has been a consistent threat in the game for the last six months. Turbo Mega Rayquaza pops up now and again. It's clear how much of an impact Trainers' Mail has had on the speed of the format.

Trainers' Mail is also frequently used as a generic consistency crutch in Standard. With so few viable draw Supporters and a relative lack of Item-lock, a number of decks have taken to running three or four Trainers' Mail just to smooth over the early game. It's a card that fits comfortably into most Standard lists and all of them welcome the added consistency.

So why is it only at number six in the list? Well, Trainers' Mail is just a solid, dependable card that brings a little extra speed and consistency to decks. The next five, however, have shaken the game up much more dramatically and as such, deserve a higher placement. With that said, let's take a look at the rest.

5. Jirachi (XY67)

Let's take a look at some of the most powerful decks of 2015. Seismitoad/Garbodor. Night March. Seismitoad/Slurpuff. Flareon. Seismitoad/Crobat. Vespiquen. Seismitoad/Giratina. What do they all have in common? A reliance on Special Energy, of course. With Special Energy-dependent decks taking up such a large portion of the metagame, demand was high for a good, solid counter.

Of course, we've had Enhanced Hammer and Xerosic for quite a bit, but those are very reactive, getting rid of Special Energy already in play, often after they've been used for an attack. Jirachi fills a hole in the format by bringing a cheap, proactive counter into the mix. Admittedly, it still removes an Energy that was already attached and likely used to fuel an attack, but Jirachi takes it a step further by protecting itself from attacks from any of your opponent's Pokémon during their next turn. Now your opponent has not just lost an Energy card, but also effectively has to pass their turn. If they attach another Special Energy before doing so, you have the opportunity to target it down with Jirachi again, forcing them back to square one, and if they don't, you can still take a swing on their attacker with one of your own, shifting the momentum of the match back to you.

Sure, there are ways to deal with Jirachi. They can take it out with a couple of Crobat drops. They can use Hypnotoxic Laser. They can send it to the Bench with Escape Rope and Lysandre it back up, or even just target down a different Benched Pokémon instead. But all of these solutions involve using up multiple resources to deal with a one Prize Pokémon powered by a Basic Energy, so even if they've gotten rid of it, doing so has come at a significant cost. And if their "solution" to Jirachi involves sending it to the Bench and attacking something else, Jirachi is free to come out again next turn and repeat the whole process. Then they either have to repeatedly move it out of the way or they'll eventually be stuck. That's a lot of leverage for such a little Pokémon!

Of course, Jirachi truly shines against Seismitoad-EX. After almost a year dominated by Seismitoad variant after Seismitoad variant, Jirachi is the splashable counter everyone was clamoring for. If Jirachi survives long enough to force the opponent to miss even a single Quaking Punch, that small opening can be enough to play all your Items and get set up so you can overpower the Toad. For decks that require a little bit of setup to get running properly, a Jirachi or two can turn a one-autoloss into a completely winnable matchup. For its work in countering the biggest threat of 2015, Jirachi completely earns its place at number five.

4. Sky Field (Roaring Skies)

And now for something completely new. Sky Field is noteworthy because it breaks one of the most fundamental rules of the game. For as long as the Pokémon TCG has existed, the Bench size has remained at five, and though a handful of cards restricted that size, most notably Giant Stump, we've never had a card that completely breaks that rule and allows more than five Benched Pokémon. From enabling enormous attacks to stressing out Tournament Organizers already pressed for table space, Sky Field brings an entirely new dynamic to the game.

Last year, when M Rayquaza-EX (the Colorless one) was revealed, players were very underwhelmed. Its damage output capped at 150. That's not enough to one-shot anything! Yet another mediocre Mega. Then Sky Field was announced and everything changed. The Emerald Break we've all come to know is truly devastating, hitting a potential 240 HP, enough to one-shot virtually anything. This made Mega Rayquaza one of the most hyped and feared cards going into the Roaring Skies meta and though it initially underperformed at Regionals, it had a healthy presence at Nationals, taking full advantage of its sturdy 220 HP and its fearsome OHKO potential. Raichu XY also gained a new life from this card. With Sky Field and a full Bench, its Circle Circuit hits for 160. That's 180 with a Muscle Band and a few Bats can be thrown into the mix to hit magic numbers on Megas. Mega Rayquaza and Raichu aren't likely to be the only Pokémon to use Sky Field for a big attack boost. We'll almost surely see more while the card is in format.

Sky Field isn't just for offense, though. It's also found a home in a number of setup decks. With a Sky Field in play, you're free to play down multiple Shaymin-EX to dig for all the cards you need to have a big turn-one. Dylan Bryan used it to great effect in his Klinklang/Bronzong list, for instance, which needed to get down multiple Klink and Bronzor, as well as an attacker or two. With Sky Field, he was able to play Shaymin with no fear of running out of Bench space, which went a long way toward ensuring consistent setups. And best of all, if the opponent ever played down a counter-Stadium, he was free to just discard his Shaymin, getting them out of harm's way and keeping his important Pokémon in play. More recently, we've seen the Tyrantrum/Bronzong deck, which enjoys Sky Field to take full advantage of a Bench of Tyrantrum-EX, Giratina-EX, Keldeo-EX, and a couple Bronzong. More than just a power card, Sky Field has gone a long way toward allowing somewhat slower decks to succeed in a very fast format.

Whenever a card breaks the core mechanics of the game, you have to pay attention. Sky Field is no exception to that rule, enabling more powerful decks than ever and adding a whole new dimension to how we play the game.

3. Hex Maniac (Ancient Origins)

It may be a somewhat newer card, but did any card have more of an impact on Fall Regionals than Hex Maniac? It was easily the breakout tech of Week 1 and had graduated to a full-on staple by Week 2 and it's remained a common fixture of many decks ever since. Whereas before, Ability-lock was relegated to a Stage 1 Pokémon (Garbodor) or didn't uniformly restrict all Abilities (Wobbuffet PHF, Silent Lab), Hex Maniac shuts off all Abilities uniformly and can easily be reused via VS Seeker as needed. That's a lot of utility for one card!

Hex Maniac is a very powerful catch-all solution for common problems. Got an issue dealing with Aegislash-EX's Mighty Shield? Hex Maniac. Susceptible to Bat damage? Hex Maniac. Vileplume AOR getting you down? Hex Maniac. It's such a convenient, versatile card that it will likely come in clutch at some point in every single tournament. 

Of course, it has a number of proactive uses on top of the aforementioned reactive ones. The main reason Hex Maniac became nearly ubiquitous in Week 2 of Fall Regionals was that it served as a potent response to the popularity of Blastoise in Week 1. Though Blastoise has enough raw power to overrun any opponent, a Hex Maniac drop alongside a Keldeo knockout can be pretty difficult for Blastoise to come back from. On the flip side, a turn-one Hex Maniac before Blastoise has had their first turn can be equally crippling, shutting down the Shaymin-EX and Jirachi-EX that have such a big role in the turn-one Archie's Ace in the Hole. For that matter, a turn-one Hex Maniac can be disastrous for a number of other decks. Night March, Vespiquen, and Mega Rayquaza also rely quite heavily on Set Up in the early game and a quick Hex Maniac can really capitalize on their early-game frailty.

In fact, this observation led to the emergence of a whole new type of deck. Zander Bennett's Item-heavy Turbo Rayquaza build not only allowed for explosive setups, but also enabled him to play a non-draw Supporter on his first turn and he capitalized on that, building his deck specifically to use Hex Maniac for as many turns as possible until he won. Several Night March lists have followed a similar idea, using Hex Maniac to keep the opponent on the back foot while overrunning them with huge attacks. These are landmark decks in the game; never before have we had lock decks capable of so much aggression. The success of these decks truly speaks to just how unpredictable the game has truly become.

In the next set, XY BREAKpoint, we'll be seeing the return of Garbotoxin Garbodor, but don't expect Hex Maniac to be going anywhere. As the most versatile form of Ability-lock the game has ever seen, it's sure to remain a part of the metagame for formats to come.

2. Archie's Ace in the Hole/Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick (Primal Clash)

Okay, so it might seem a bit like cheating to cram two cards into one entry of this list. Admittedly, the initial draft had just Archie's Ace in the Hole in this slot. It's hard to question that inclusion. In the early part of 2015, Archie was used frequently to get Empoleon into play in decks like Night March, Flareon, and Exeggutor, giving those decks not only consistent draw, but also a single-Energy attacker. Archie became even more famous when paired with Blastoise, creating a deck that took down the 2015 World Championship and had the biggest showing in the top cut in Week 1 of Regionals. Clearly Archie has had a dramatic impact on the game.

So why include Maxie too? Well, thinking it over, the success that Archie's Ace in the Hole has enjoyed so far is due not to any specific merits it has over Maxie's Hidden Ball Trick, but rather to the available pool of Pokémon it's able to feed off of. At the end of the day, Archie and Maxie are functionally the same card in that they bring the same new mechanic into the game.

One of the most notable aspects of 2015 was the rise of Battle Compressor decks, and these cards were clearly designed to thrive in such decks. Archie and Maxie are noteworthy because they make Stage 2 Pokémon splashable into Battle Compressor engines. Whereas before you would need to run a whole Evolution line and probably some Rare Candy to make use of Empoleon, Archie now gets right to the point and puts it right onto the Bench. And sure, the Restored Pokémon mechanic is basically unplayable, but that doesn't matter when Maxie can just cheat Archeops directly into play. In the Pokémon-EX era, Stage 2 Pokémon have by and large fallen to the sidelines and even those with good Abilities often don't justify the time and resources used to get them into play. Archie and Maxie give these Pokémon a new lease on life, ready to fit directly into any deck that supports their engine. These cards give Evolutions a whole new role in the game.

Just like Vespiquen, the strengths of these cards are directly related to the pool of Pokémon they can work with. For instance, Archie was easily the more prominent of the two for about six months, but Maxie quickly started seeing play alongside Archeops in Expanded and Gallade in Standard. As more and more Pokémon are released, these cards will only grow more versatile. Don't be surprised if one of these cards are in the next Worlds-winning deck.

1. Shaymin-EX (Roaring Skies)

Finally, to nobody's surprise, we've arrived at the best card of 2015. From the moment this card was released, it cemented itself as a staple in virtually every deck and it completely warped the format around it. Its Set Up Ability brings a whole new level of speed to the game, allowing players to see more of their deck than ever in the first turn, accelerating setups and enabling blisteringly fast OHKO decks. It's also changed the way decks are built, as players have trimmed down on their Supporter counts, relying on Shaymin-EX to get running and VS Seeker to reuse the few Supporters they run. Without a doubt, 2015 is divided into two distinct eras: Before Shaymin and After Shaymin.

And what a format the After Shaymin has been. Since Shaymin's release, we've seen things never before seen in the Pokémon TCG. Night March decks, already known for their speed, now frequently hit 180 damage on turn one after using three Shaymin to dig deep for Battle Compressors and thin thirty cards from the deck. Seismitoad decks were able to repeatedly cycle through their decks with Lysandre's Trump Card, spamming their opponent with endless Hammers and Lasers (in fact, Jason Klaczynski was able to beat Virizion/Genesect, a notorious autoloss for Seismitoad, in the Finals of a Regional Championship), and Pokémon even saw a rare FTK deck when Shaymin-EX combined with Forest of Giant Plants allowed Shiftry NXD to shuffle away the opponent's entire Bench before they had their first turn.

In fact, perhaps the most notable thing about Shaymin-EX was that it was directly responsible for the ban of two cards in 2015, an unprecedented move (the only other bans in Pokémon TCG history occurred fifteen years ago under Wizards of the Cost). In light of this, it's easy to question whether Shaymin-EX is good for the game. Since Shaymin-EX's printing, turns have become longer and oppressively-fast OHKO decks have prospered. The game has never seemed further removed from the days of Stage 2 attackers and setup decks.

On the other hand, there's no denying that there's still plenty of creativity left in the game. We've already noted the aggro/lock Hex Maniac variants of Night March and Mega Rayquaza and the recent Archie's Blastoise deck is nothing like the Blastoise decks of the past two years. Those are just a couple examples of entirely new ideas that came about because of Shaymin-EX. Though it has certainly changed the game, Shaymin-EX has by no means "ruined" Pokémon. The recent sets have been releasing plenty of interesting new cards and there's plenty of untapped potential in the format. Besides, like it or not, for the next couple seasons, Shaymin-EX is here to stay.

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That does it for our look back at 2015. With Cities underway, Winter Regionals on the horizon, and a new set coming in Februrary, it's a very exciting time in the Pokémon TCG. Here's hoping that 2016 is an even more interesting year. And as always, thanks for reading. See you next time!

[+9] okko


 

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