While the Pokemon Sword and Shield video games came out last year, cards featuring new Pokemon from the Galar region are just now hitting the Pokemon TCG. The new Sword and Shield expansion is on sale now and the cards become tournament legal on February 21, and coming with this are a lot of important changes for the game.
Every time a new Generation hits the TCG it may as well signal the start of a new era for the game, as that is traditionally when new mechanics and card-types are introduced
, and Sword and Shield is no different. We’re going to break down all of the new stuff coming to the game, from a new kind of Pokemon card to big changes made to the rules, and we talked to the Creatures game designers in order to learn why they made these changes and how they hope to rebalance the game for the better.
Pokemon V and VMAX
The Sword and Shield era introduces a new kind of Pokemon card called Pokemon V. Like Pokemon EX and Pokemon GX before them, Pokemon V are extra powerful cards that give up two Prizes when they’re knocked out (and remember, you only need to take six Prizes to win).
Pokemon V can evolve into Pokemon VMAX, which emulates the new Dynamax and Gigantamax Pokemon from the video games and seriously raises the stats and HP of the Pokemon. When Pokemon VMAX are knocked out, they give up three Prizes (just like Tag Team Pokemon GX), so the increase in power is offset by an increase in risk. Knocking out just two Pokemon VMAX will end the game.
Check out the gallery below for a look at all the new Pokemon V and VMAX.
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Given that other TCGs like Magic: The Gathering and Transformers TCG utilize oversized cards to represent large and powerful characters, we initially speculated that the Pokemon TCG might go a similar route to introduce the new kind of gargantuan Pokemon from Sword and Shield. It turns out that Creatures did consider incorporating oversized cards at one point, but ultimately decided against them to keep things simple.
“With the Pokemon Trading Card Game, we always focus on making it easy to play, and easy to obtain the cards necessary to play, in order to appeal to a wide audience of both casual players and advanced players,” the Creatures rep said. “When creating Pokemon VMAX, we experimented with oversize cards but quickly realized that going that route would limit the ways in which we could get the cards in players’ hands while also preventing players from using their existing card sleeves and cases, making it harder for certain players to enjoy playing the game.”
First Turn Rule Change
Now we’re moving on to the big rule change: the player who goes first may no longer use a Supporter card on their first turn. This may sound like no big deal, but it fundamentally changes how the game is played.
Supporters feature various characters from the world of Pokemon and have extra-strong effects -- so strong that you’re limited to playing only one Supporter per turn. These effects include attaching extra energy, searching out multiple Pokemon at once, or drawing extra cards from your deck. Before, whoever won the opening coin flip always chose to go first, except on rare occasions, but now they might decide to go second so they don’t miss out on getting to play a Supporter.
“The change was made to improve fairness to both players and make it more fun to play regardless of whether or not you go first,” a Creatures spokesperson told IGN.
Check out some new Supporters from Sword and Shield in the slideshow gallery below.
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Getting to go first already comes with numerous advantages -- you get to set up your board first, attach the first energy, and evolve first -- so removing the ability to also play an impactful Supporter card makes going second less of a disadvantage. In fact, the folks at Creatures want players to consider going second to enjoy the benefits it now provides.
“The second player can play a Supporter card on their first turn, which gives them more opportunities to play more Pokemon and attach Energy to them, letting them set up for a more stable position in the game. They also have the opportunity to attack first, which can give them a unique tactical advantage,” they said.
Increase to Resistance
Another noticeable change is the increase of all Resistances from -20 damage to -30 damage. With Pokemon V and VMAX having more health and dishing out more damage than ever, it only makes sense that Resistance would also be increased to compensate for the power creep.
Fairy-Type No More
The Pokemon TCG community received a bit of a shock when it was announced that the game would no longer be supporting the Fairy-type. Pokemon that are Fairy-type in the video games will still exist in the TCG, but they will now be represented as Psychic-type instead.
Consolidating Pokemon types is nothing new to the TCG, it’s something they’ve done since the very beginning to make things less complicated -- for example, Fighting-, Rock-, and Ground-type Pokemon are all lumped under Fighting in the TCG -- but we’ve never seen a whole typing removed from the game before.
The Creatures rep said the reason behind the change was to create a better sense of balance, simplify the game, and make the remaining types more versatile.
“Previously, the Psychic-type cards were typically weak to other Psychic-type cards, which was somewhat complex and unintuitive to players. By unifying the weakness of Pokemon that are Psychic and Ghost-type in the video games to Dark-type Pokemon in the Pokemon Trading Card Game, we believe we have been able to simplify things a bit,” they explained. “In addition, Pokemon that are Fairy-type in the video game now have weakness to Metal-type Pokemon in the Pokémon Trading Card Game. By doing this, we were able to keep things simple while also increasing gameplay depth and add the ability for players to choose which Pokemon they might use based on weaknesses.”
Rebalancing Pokemon Weakness
Removing the Fairy-type was just one part of a larger effort to rebalance the weakness mechanic of the game. Many other weaknesses have been modified, too. Weakness is a crucial element of the game because Pokemon take double damage against whatever type they are weak against. This ensures that no Pokemon type can get too strong because there will always be a way to counter it via weakness. While the game still has 10 types, the game designers decided to rebalance the game by putting an emphasis on five types in particular.
“The type advantage aspect of the Pokemon Trading Card Game has traditionally been characterized by its rock-paper-scissors nature, but as a result of that, the metagame would shift rapidly, so we decided to create the Sword & Shield Series with five types at the center of the type matchup gameplay: Grass, Fire, Water, Lightning, and Fighting,” they said.
A great example of this is how they changed the Dark-type. The game designers also moved all Poison-types (which were previously represented as Psychic-type) under the Dark-type. This essentially gives the Dark-type two subtypes, meaning they now have two primary weaknesses instead of one.
“The Dark-type was strengthened by splitting its weakness between Grass- and Fighting-types, effectively decentralizing the types against which it is weak,” the Creatures spokesperson said. “By connecting the Dark-type to two of [the five core types], we believe we managed to increase the range of strategies available to players.”
Joshua is Senior Features Editor at IGN. If Pokemon, Green Lantern, or Game of Thrones are frequently used words in your vocabulary, you’ll want to follow him on Twitter @JoshuaYehl and IGN.