Pokémon TCG - EX-Deoxys Metagame Review

By Zystral. Art by porygon-d.
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When it comes to the Trading Card Game, people will remember the first generations the best, from Base, Jungle, and Fossil up to the Neo sets. Alternatively, new players will be most enamoured with DP, since it is the easiest to play and is most up-to-date. However, the most often forgotten set, and one that is the widest, most versatile, arguably the most fun, and the one that was around the longest was the EX-series. Due to there being 15 sets in the series, the whole metagame was always split up into sections, with the final iteration being known as Deoxys-on, also referred to as "Deo-On." It obviously contains the sets from ex-Deoxys to ex-Power Keepers. Here is a list of all cards in this format:

This is one of the largest formats in the game, and later on it was eventually culled to Holon Phantoms only. However, I think Deo-On is a lot more varied and interesting, so we'll be covering that.


The first major change is a slight modifications to the rules. The player that goes first cannot play Trainers or evolve their Pokémon, but the second player's first turn (notified as 1A:1B) may play Trainers and evolve. As well as this, is that Resistance is applied before Weakness, and the order of attacks was changed that you would do damage before other effects, but Prizes were only collected at the end. A small change, but it did affect a few common Pokémon, and generally made some attacks more usable, such as any self-damaging attacks.

As for the actual game, a few new mechanics were brought in which really shifted how people played. The first major change was that any Trainer card featuring a person became a Supporter and was limited to one per turn. This really slowed down the metagame and it made hard-hitting, high-Energy cost cards viable. Another change was Delta Species. These didn't make it to the Diamond/Pearl era, but are half the trademark of the EX-series. Delta Species are basically cards with different types. For example, you had a Psychic-typed Typhlosion, a Metal-typed Raichu, a Fire/Metal-typed Kingdra, and so on (they still retain weaknesses, however, so Psychic Typhlosion would still be weak to Water). Similarly to Delta Species, you have "Pokémon ex." These are played like normal Pokémon, except they have much more HP, and much more power. In exchange, if they are knocked out, your opponent is able to pick up two prize cards. They also have stipulations which made them exempt from the effects of Trainer cards: both a positive and a negative effect, as you can imagine.

Deoxys-on is quite a calm metagame, since there are next to no disruption cards, and people are not in a race to get set-up. Battles revolve less around "who can KO who first", but rather around "who has enough power to KO who?" This is also reflected in that most of the heavy-hitters usually have either incredibly high Energy costs, or very damaging drawbacks. Deoxys-on also has the most room for error, as even if you misplay a card, more often than not, you could salvage the strategy one way or another, even by taking another turn.

Good Cards

Like in all formats, there are some really good cards that stand out. Some are staples of every deck, some are good enough to have a deck built around. I'll split this section up into Trainers / Techs, and Pokémon to base a deck around. Hopefully you'll get some good ideas to build a deck of your own.

Trainers / Techs

Rare Candy
Choose 1 of your Basic Pokémon in play. If you have a Stage 1 or Stage 2 card that evolves from that Pokémon in your hand, put that card on the Basic Pokémon. (This counts as evolving that Pokémon.)

Any deck worth using often contains Stage 2 Pokémon. Rare Candy allows you to evolve from a Basic, straight to Stage 2, even on the turn you played it. While I said that set-up was able to take longer in this metagame, there's nothing wrong with getting your fast hitter out as soon as possible. After all, you want to load it up on Energy really fast or use its PokéPower.

Celio's Network
Supporter – "Search your deck for a Basic Pokémon or Evolution card (excluding Pokémon-ex), show it to your opponent, and put it into your hand. Shuffle your deck afterward.

This lets you find any Pokémon from your deck (bar Pokémon ex). This makes it incredibly helpful along the likes of Rare Candy. Alternatively, since you can find Basics as well, it gets your ball rolling faster. Or, if you're using it later, it could save you from a loss by throwing a new Basic on your bench if you don't have any!

Holon's Castform
Normal / 50 HP / Weakness: Fighting / Resistance: None / Retreat: C
[C] Delta Draw – "Count the number of Pokémon you have in play that has δ on its card. Draw up to that many cards.
You may attach this as an Energy card from your hand to 1 of your Pokémon that already has an Energy card attached to it. When you attach this card, return an Energy card attached to that Pokémon to your hand. While attached, this card is a Special Energy card and provides every type of Energy but 2 Energy at a time. (Has no effect other than providing Energy.)"

Possibly one of the best cards ever printed. You can play it as an Energy card, and it provides two units of Rainbow Energy in exchange for returning one Basic Energy back to your hand. And if you don't need that extra Energy, or need some extra drawing power, you can use it as a Basic Pokémon and its attack allows you to draw cards equal to the number of Delta Species you have in play. Brilliant!

Wally's Training
"Search your deck for a card that evolves from your Active Pokémon (choose 1 if there are 2) and put it on your Active Pokémon. (This counts as evolving that Pokémon.) Shuffle your deck afterward."

This card is a Supporter like Celio, but it combines Celio and Rare Candy into one card. However, since it only plays on your active, you should be playing it earlier on when your main Basic is in your active slot. If you play this when you're in a corner and have a Basic as your active, it won't help much since you'll still need to load up on Energy. But if you play it early on when you have time to play Energy, then it is quite helpful. However, noteworthy that Wally's Training only allows for next stage. You can't evolve a Basic into a Stage 2 with it.

Double Rainbow Energy
"Double Rainbow Energy can be attached only to an Evolved Pokémon (excluding Pokémon-ex). While in play, Double Rainbow Energy provides every type of Energy but provides 2 Energy at a time. (Has no effect other than providing Energy.) Damage done to your opponent's Pokémon by the Pokémon Double Rainbow Energy is attached to is reduced by 10 (before applying Weakness and Resistance). When the Pokémon Double Rainbow Energy is attached to is no longer an Evolved Pokémon, discard Double Rainbow Energy."

Similar to Holon's Castform, but without the side-effect of returning another Energy. The drawback this time is that you do 10 less damage, and when you consider everything is hitting quite hard anyway, so it's quite a good bargain. Even more effective when you realize that the all the really strong critters have multiple Energy types in their cost.

Professor Cozmo's Discovery
Supporter – "Flip a coin. If heads, draw the bottom 3 cards of your deck. If tails, draw the top 2 cards of your deck."

This is quite a handy card. It guarantees you to draw something, and especially on some cards where you are told to put cards at the bottom of your deck, this can pull it right out again. But even so, drawing from the top is equally effective.

Mr. Briney's Compassion
Supporter – "Choose 1 of your Pokémon in play (excluding Pokémon-ex). Return that Pokémon and all cards attached to it to your hand."

Super Scoop Up without the coin flip. This makes it very reliable, and extremely helpful if you have something nearly fainted. And it even lets you pull back Holon's Castform! A priceless tool for any deck, good for any situation. Especially helpful if you mis-attatched an Energy or Pokémon Tool.

Combos / Notable Pokémon

As with every generation, there are a set group of Pokémon that perform particularly well. Some cards need to be put together to form an effective combo, some cards can come out and do damage instantly. Here are a few examples:

Metagross δ [Delta Species] + Dragonite δ [Delta Species]

[L][M] Crush And Burn – 30+
"You may discard as many Energy cards as you like attached to your Pokémon in play. If you do, this attack does 30 damage plus 20 more damage for each Energy card you discarded."

PokéPower – Delta Charge
"Once during your turn (before your attack), you may attach an Energy card from your discard pile to 1 of your Benched Pokémon. This power can't be used if Dragonite is affected by a Special Condition."

Metagross's attack gets stronger if you discard Energy, but Dragonite's PokéPower lets you pull Energy back from your discard pile. Both are also incredibly bulky, topping 100 HP, meaning you can rinse and repeat this combo more than once. The only possible drawback is that they're both Stage 2, which might make them difficult to get going.

Dragonite δ ex [Dragon Frontiers]

[G][G][C][C] – Dragon Roar – "Put 8 damage counters on the Defending Pokémon. If that Pokémon would be Knocked Out by this attack, put any damage counters not necessary to Knock Out the Defending Pokémon on your opponent's Benched Pokémon in any way you like."

Dragonite's second attack is incredibly effective for its cost. [C][C][G][G] allows you to put 8 damage counters on the opponent, meaning it bypasses resistance. Handy since a lot of types resist Grass. And to top it off, if the defending Pokémon is killed with less than 8 damage counters, you can put the unnecessary counters on any other Pokémon. That's awesome.

Salamence δ [Delta Species] + Tyranitar δ [Delta Species]

[R][M][C][C] – Delta Blast – 100
"Discard a [M] Energy card attached to Salamence."

PokéPower – Crush Draw
"Once during your turn (before your attack), you may reveal the top card of your deck. If that card is a Basic Energy card, attach it to 1 of your Pokémon. If not, put the card back on top of your deck. This power can't be used if Tyranitar is affected by a Special Condition."

Both of these guys function on Metal and Fire Energy. Both of these guys are Stage 2. Both of these guys are so powerful they can OHKO nearly anything. They have the same attack costs, and both have relatively high HP. Tyranitar's PokéPower lets you accelerate Energy out of your deck to power Salamence. This is similar to the Metagross + Dragonite combo, except it is a lot more powerful and a lot easier to use.

Aggron ex [Crystal Guardians] + Kabutops [Power Keepers]

PokéBody – Intimidating Armor
"As long as Aggron ex is your Active Pokémon, your opponent's Basic Pokémon can't attack or use any Poké-Powers or Poké-Bodies."

PokéBody – Primal Stare
"As long as Kabutops is your Active Pokémon, your opponent can't play any Basic Pokémon or Evolution cards from his or her hand to evolve his or her Active Pokémon."

Aggron ex stops your opponent's Basic Pokémon from attacking. Kabutops stops your opponent evolving their active Pokémon. So you have a pseudo-field lockdown, while Aggron uses its first attack to pick off the evolved mons on your opponents bench, or just one-shot your opponent's Basic Pokémon. This is a lot harder to pull off since by the time you have your final evolutions, so will your opponent, so the best thing you can do is just attack blindly.

Sample Deck

Pokémon (22):
x3 Dragonite δ
x2 Dragonair δ
x4 Dratini δ
x3 Metagross δ
x2 Metang δ
x4 Beldum δ
x4 Holon's Castform
Trainers (20):
x4 Rare Candy
x3 Wally's Training
x4 Celio's Network
x4 Mr. Briney's Compassion
x2 TV Reporter
x2 Holon Mentor
x1 Holon Research Tower
Energy (18):
x4 Rainbow Energy
x4 Metal Energy (sp)
x10 Lightning Energy

This is a very effective deck showing the capabilities of the Metagross and Dragonite combo mentioned earlier. If you can get Metagross early, just focus on doing small damage until you have at least one Dragonite or more. After that, you can start discarding more and more Energy with Metagross's Crush And Burn attack, since you can pull those Energy back with Dragonite's Delta Charge. Considering that with at least one Dragonite in play, you can deal 70 damage for [M][L] each turn by discarding a single Energy which you can cycle back, this deck can put the pressure on fast.

The Holon's Research Tower is a good supplement since if you don't have a Metagross or a Metal Energy, it can turn one of the Lightning Energy you have into Metal. Similarly with Dragonite, if you don't want to waste your one Metal on it, you can just attatch 4 Lightning Energy and still use Heavy Impact if you're in a pinch and Metagross is down. Wally's Training, Rare Candy and Celio's Network all help you get Metagross and Dragonite out as early as possible. Holon's Castform is actually better as a Pokémon early on, since this deck is full of Delta Species cards, you can draw the cards you need quickly with Delta Draw. Since you will have lots of Energy all on one Pokémon (normally Dragonite) or you want to get Castform back into your hand to use as Energy, Mr. Briney's Compassion is the perfect choice. It also saves your Metagross from the brink of death. It's worth nothing that despite Metagross's Resistances, it only has 100 HP, and for a Stage 2, that means it will die quicker than most other heavy-hitters.

This deck is very standard—you have 4 Basics in order to have as much chance of getting your final evolution as possible, which is why you also carry 3-4 copies of your Stage 2 and only 2 copies of your Stage 1 since you have Rare Candy as well. Wally's Training and Celio's Network helps speed up the evolution process. Throw in some special Energy to give your deck a little extra boost and there you have it. It's definitely worth mentioning the troubles you can have with certain other small, rogue deck-styles, since Delta Species often retain their original weaknesses.

When building your own deck, remember to keep it simple! Only go for one or two central cores, have just enough Trainers to support that, and make sure you have enough Energy to keep it going. I can't remember the times I've found myself having too much or too little Energy! Think carefully about what the deck needs and if you can handle it. It's generally a good idea to look for good Trainers and Energy before you actually start building. Your deck should be about 20 cards large, full of staple Trainers and special Pokémon (such as Castform) that you will require. From there, start adding the Pokémon you are going to build around; the general rule of thumb when playing with Stage 1 and Stage 2 Pokémon is to have four Basics of you primary evolution line. This ensures you can play the Pokémon you need as quickly, and often as possible. Supportive Pokémon often can make do with two or three Basics, depending on how much support you actually need. If Stage 1 is the final line (uncommon but it happens), then only three or two Stage 1's are necessary. Again, you just want to play your big hitter as much as possible in case the Basic gets knocked out. And trust me—that happens a lot in the early game. If you are going for a Stage 2 line, then it gets slightly different. It then becomes four Basics, two Stage 1's, and four Stage 2's. The main reasoning for this is that you are going to have Rare Candy, which lets you evolve direct from Basic to Stage 1, so there's no need to waste time and deck space on Stage 1 cards, unless the Stage 1 has some good PokéPower or Attack you want to use. In this case, then only three Stage 1's are necessary, since again, you'd rather be playing and donking with your Stage 2. By now, your deck should be nearing completion. Add a few Energy as necessary—you won't need any more than 20, most of the time. Then, to reach that 60 card limit, add in more cards to help support, or even throw out a few Energy/Trainers if you've gone over. Just like real Pokémon, playing over and over will help you see any apparent flaws in your deck, so you can change it later. Unlike real Pokémon, however, in just one or two matches, you'll notice any flaws instantly and can fix it easily. Of course, the fact that here at Smogon we've got a higher standard of TCG players than you'll find Standard players on the ladder!

Double Battles

One major mechanic change in the game in the EX-series is Double Battles. This works extremely similarly to real-game Double Battles in that you have two Active Pokémon and only have a Bench space of 4. This has its advantages and drawbacks—you inflict more damage per turn which makes KOing the foe easier, especially with weaker Pokémon, although it also gives your opponent more attack targets which also helps them win quicker. Despite all of this, many people prefer playing Singles, as Double Battles are often known to be a lot more chaotic, which takes away from the slower, more cautious play of EX-on. It can add a real element of thought, however, as you'll often be thinking "which is the bigger threat? Which one should I KO first?" Unfortunately, thinking about it isn't the best way to go, and just attacking whatever is more effective.

In regards to actual mechanics and rule changes, you'll notice some cards say "one of the Defending Pokémon" or "one of your active Pokémon." Some cards even say "both of your active Pokémon" and were clearly made for doubles battles. In the first instance, you would choose your target and apply damage normally, along with Weaknesses and Resistance. When you start the battle, it is as normal—you must have at least one Basic Pokémon. You are allowed to start with only one Active, but you may start with two if possible. However, if it is agreed that it is a Double Battle, then you MUST have two Active Pokémon whenever possible (e.g. you cannot have one Active Pokémon and three Benched Pokémon). Retreating works the same—you can only retreat one of your Active Pokémon per turn, so choose wisely! Attacking is also similar—you can only attack with one Pokémon per turn, and unless the attack says "both Defending Pokémon" or "each of the Defending Pokémon", you must also choose only one target. Again, choose wisely to avoid any fatal errors. Status Conditions only affect one Pokémon at a time unless a move explicitly affects both Pokémon to have that status condition. If only one of your Pokémon are paralyzed, you can still attack with the other. When flipping for Burn and Sleep, you can flip in any order you desire.


In general, EX-on is probably the simplest metagame in the Pokémon TCG. There's no centralization, everything normally goes at a reasonable pace, and everything is quite balanced. Obviously there are some cards you'll see more than others, but in general, anything goes. You can try having a big, slow destroyer, or lots of weak, fast Pokémon. In fact, you can even try to stall your opponent if you have the right cards! There are a lot of cards in this format, and they all play very well with each other.

Then it comes to playing a game, don't try to attack early-on and disrupt your opponent unless you are sure you can actually KO their vital Pokémon. Similarly, take every opportunity to set up, and only go on the offensive when you are sure they cannot launch a counter-attack. This metagame has a few very good Trainers for searching, but few are good for drawing. Try not to overload on Pokémon: instead, use more Trainers to find them. Energy is harder to search, especially the many useful non-Basic energies, so make sure you don't put too few of those in your deck.

All card scans courtesy of PokéBeach.com.

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