Pokémon TCG - DP-on Metagame Review

By Zystral. Art by Fatecrashers
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When Diamond and Pearl were released, many people were livid that the cards from their precious EX-on format of nearly 15 sets large were all suddenly rendered illegal and worthless. The fact that the sets were not mergable meant that everyone was suddenly limited to no more than 130 cards. However, the sets soon grew and a whole bunch of new and amazing cards were released. I'm not exaggerating here; DP-on has cards that people would have killed for in older sets. Combine the amazing list of cards with all new gameplay mechanics, and DP-on can quite possibly be called one of the most interesting formats.

Until later on in September, when the new format rolls along, these are the current sets in print that are allowed in DP-on play:

In September when H/S Undaunted is released, Great Encounters, Secret Wonders, Mysterious Treasures and Diamond and Pearl will be removed from the format. But that's a story for another time.

What's New?

There have been a variety of changes from EX-on to DP-on. Delta Species and multi-typed Pokémon have taken the boot, there are new card-types, and the rules have once again been edited. Most of the rules are largely the same: your deck has to be 60 cards, one supporter per turn, 4 card limit of non-Basic Energy cards, same old stuff. When it comes to playing, that's when things get a little different. At the start of a battle, the first player cannot evolve or play trainers on their first turn (1A:0B), but the second player can play trainers on their first turn (1A:1B). Neither can evolve at this stage without Rare Candy, however.

And there are now two new card types. The first is Pokémon Level X. These are stronger versions of a normal Pokémon, and they only come in variants for fully evolved Pokémon. They are played on top of the regular Pokémon (so you put Empoleon Lv. X on top of your Empoleon, like evolution), and can only be played onto your Active Pokémon. It is not classed as evolution, and you cannot Level Up a Pokémon as soon as you evolve it. So if you had Empoleon that you evolved that turn, you can't put Empoleon Lv. X on it. If you already had Empoleon but it's on your bench, you can't put Empoleon Lv. X on it. Pokémon Level X are usually extremely powerful, with high power, low-cost attacks, high HP and usually great PokéPowers/PokéBodies. They can also use any attacks/PokéPowers/PokéBodies printed on their previous card. Think of them as extensions rather than evolutions. The only cost is that they're a lot harder to play. Since Pokémon Level X have the same name as their regular counterparts, you can't have 4 of each. For example, you can have x2 Empoleon and x2 Empoleon Lv. X, but you can't have x4 Empoleon and 2 Empoleon Lv. X.

The second new card type is Pokémon SP, meaning Special Pokémon. These are Pokémon owned by other people, and they will always have a symbol after their name, depending on who owns them. There are five classifications: G (Galactic), GL (Gym Leader), 4 (Elite Four—it uses the Japanese character for '4', so just use the English character when talking about them), C (Champion), and FB (Frontier Brain). Since these guys have different names (due to the character), you can have x4 Crobat and x4 Crobat G in your deck. However, the Level X rule still applies. You can have x2 Dialga, x2 Dialga Lv. X, x2 Dialga G, and x2 Dialga G Lv. X, but no more. Also, since they have different names, you can't evolve Turtwig GL into a regular Grotle. You also can't evolve Nosepass into Probopass G for a different reason—all Pokémon SP are Basic Pokémon. That's right, fully evolved Pokémon as Basics. The cost is that they aren't as powerful as their fully evolved counterparts, but being Basic and having high HP, they are essentially the Haymakers of DP-on. Let's not forget that Pokémon SP have their own special line of Trainer cards and Supporter cards that work only for Pokémon SP. And these techs are usually extremely good and better than their non-specialized counterparts (for example, SP Energy is Rainbow Energy without the damage-inflicting effect).

There are many types of decks you can use in DP-on, since it's extremely varied in options, and anything goes, really. Due to their ability to get going extremely quickly, as well as having their own set of special support cards, SPs are one of the most popular deck archetypes to use. Thanks to cards like Team Galactic's Invention (henceforth referred to as TGI), Energy Gain and TGI SP Radar, most SP decks can get going within the first or second turn. However, there are a variety of decks out there that also function effectively which aren't SP. Other common decks are Grass-typed beat downs, relying on Cherrim's damage boost and Shaymin Lv. X's HP boost to one-shot the foe, and Psychic- and Dark-type decks that specialize in control, lockdown, and disruption.

SP Decks

Pokémon SP are notorious for setting up extremely quickly. This is because there are a variety of cards dedicated to SP support entirely, such as the TGI cards, as well as the Elite Four's support cards. As well as this, being all Basic Pokémon, they can be searched out quickly by a larger variety of cards, such as Roseanne's Research and the large range of Call for Family attacks. Many of the Pokémon SP have extremely useful PokéPowers and can still hold their own in battle. However, the main force behind Pokémon SP decks are the Level X Pokémon. Pokémon SP Lv. X are extremely easy to play (since Pokémon SP are all Basic) and they have extremely low-cost, high-power attacks. They are extremely powerful from the get-go, especially as most other decks take a bit longer to fully set-up.

Notable cards: Luxray GL Lv. X, Garchomp C Lv. X, Infernape 4 Lv. X, Blaziken FB Lv. X, Dialga G Lv. X, Crobat G, All TGIs except Damage Porter, Cyrus's Conspiracy

Grass Aggro

Grass-types have two very distinct advantages. The first is Shaymin Lv. X, who can boost the HP of all other Grass-type Pokémon by 40. This is actually an extremely large difference, and can even affect whole battles. In a pinch, Shaymin's attack also lets it attatch Energy to your Pokémon, thus quickening your setup. The second card is Cherrim. Cherrim boosts the damage of all your Grass-type Pokémon by 10. While this doesn't seem like much, the PokéBody stacks, meaning you can have three Cherrim in play doing an extra 30 damage—that's the equivalent of a Stage 1's weakness modifier. When you consider this stacks on top of other modifiers like PlusPower, Expert Belt, and the opponent's Weakness and Resistance, the extra damage really is helpful, especially on weaker attackers like Scizor. On top of this, "swarming" is a very popular tactic, which involves having multiple cards on the bench to power up your own attacks. The best example is Jumpluff, whose damage potential is extremely high, and set-up speed rivals that of SP decks, making it one of the most ferocious deck styles in play.

Notable cards: Shaymin Lv. X, Cherrim, Jumpluff, Scizor, Yanmega, Tangrowth

PsychoDark Control

Many of the Psychic- and Dark-type Pokémon fit the constant stereotype quite well. Instead of relying on brute force, many of their PokéPowers and attacks have side effecs that bind the opponent into being unable to attack, which is where they will wait until the prey is sufficiently weakened enough to be picked off. Control varies between the likes of Disruption and Lock. Disruption is the use of PokéPowers and Supporters to slow the opponent from setting up while you set up yourself at average speed, while Lock is the use of PokéBodies and Attacks to stop your opponent from even playing any of the cards they need. Both are extremely effective and also extremely annoying for the opponent, and this is what makes them so effective. As your opponent struggles with their few remaining options, you can capitalize on any mistakes they make. As well as this, the option of running fast donking (KOing the opponent's Active when they have nothing left on the bench, winning the game) options like Ambipom G or Shuppet makes these types of deck even faster and even more dangerous from turn 1.

Notable cards: Sableye, Spiritomb, Gengar, Giratina, Honchkrow G, Chatot G, Ambipom G, Shuppet, Cyrus's Initiative

Good Cards

Aside from the cards mentioned earlier in deck-styles, there are a few other cards that do well in the metagame, but are either not good enough to be a deck style on their own, or fit into such a large variety of decks that they can't be summarized. There are two types here. The first section will talk about universally good cards that can fit into virtually any deck, and really should be used in every deck. The second section will cover interesting cards with good potential synergy and combos with other cards that aren't good enough on their own.

Staple Cards

Rare Candy
Trainer – 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.) (If you choose a Stage 2 Pokémon in your hand, put that Pokémon on the Basic Pokémon instead of on a Stage 1 Pokémon.

Lets you evolve straight from Basic to Stage 2. Invaluable for the decks that rely on the high power attacks or PokéPowers of Stage 2 Evolutions. It also lets you evolve the Basic the same turn you played it. An extremely useful tool, especially since you can play multiple ones in a single turn.

Roseanne's Research
Supporter – Search your deck for up to 2 in any combination of Basic Pokémon and Basic Energy cards, show them to your opponent, and put them into your hand. Shuffle your deck afterward.

This card lets you find Basic Pokémon, or Basic Energy. This is actually incredibly helpful, since it can either help you set up early-game by pulling your Basics and then Rare Candying them, or later on—when you're short on Energy you can play this and grab two you need. Since nearly every deck runs Energy and Basics, this is almost necessary for any deck: not just for the early-game advantage it gives, but for late-game support too.

Luxury Ball
Trainer – Search your deck for a Pokémon (excluding Pokémon LV.X), show it to your opponent, and put it into your hand. Shuffle your deck afterward. If any Luxury Ball is in your discard pile, you can't play this card.

This is the best searching card in print. You can search your deck for nearly anything you need, provided it isn't Level X. Plus it's not even a Supporter, so you can play something else in the same turn. The only set back? Once you've used one, you can't use another, so most people only tend to run one copy in their decks. Of course, having more means you're more likely to draw one, but if you can't use them, what's the point?

Broken Time-Space
Stadium – Each player may evolve a Pokémon that he or she just played or evolved during that turn.

If you lack Rare Candy, or if you only need Stage 1 attackers, you'll still need to get them in play as fast as possible. This card is extremely useful since it can get your Basic up to a Stage 2 in one turn. Be wary though, since your opponent can also use this effect, and they might set up faster as well. As well as that, this card doesn't let you place a Level X from your hand on top the Stage 2 you just evolved. Evolving and Levelling Up are two different effects.

Bebe's Search
Supporter – Choose a card from your hand and put it on top of your deck. Search your deck for a Pokémon, show it to your opponent, and put it into your hand. Shuffle your deck afterward. (If this is the only card in your hand, you can't play this card.

This is another Supporter that comes in extremely handy both early on and in the late-game. You can trade any one card in your hand for another Pokémon in your deck. This is especially helpful if you need to grab a certain Pokémon, since you can take anything, even if it's a Level X. Extremely useful in all situations—the only thing worth worrying about is that it's a Supporter, so it might be a bit slow if you're in a losing situation.

Expert Belt
Pokémon Tool – The Pokémon this card is attached to gets +20 HP and that Pokémon's attacks do 20 more damage to your opponent's Active Pokémon (before applying Weakness and Resistance). When the Pokémon this card is attached to is Knocked Out, your opponent takes 1 more Prize card.)

Instantly bolstering any Pokémon's HP by 20 is helpful. This not only takes most things out of KO range for common attackers, but on some HP dependant attacks, it lets you overpower most other attackers and KO them with more ease. Also, you boost the power of all your attacks by 20. This overcomes the resistance on some Pokémon, as well as adding that extra power so you can KO other things too.

[P] – 70 HP / W: P+20 / R:    – RC: [C]
PokéPower – Set Up: Once during your turn, when you put Uxie from your hand onto your Bench, you may draw cards until you have 7 cards in your hand.)
[C] – Psychic Restore (20): You may put Uxie and all cards attached to it on the bottom of your deck in any order.
Uxie may appear weak, and it is. Being easily KOed by most common attacks, and not having much of an attack of its own. But this attack is actually extremely handy. It can use any Energy, so fits into any deck, and and it does 20 damage. This more often than not is the small threshold which scores and prevents KOes. It essentially nullifies any Expert Belt they may have had. As well as that, you can put Uxie back into your deck for reuse later. And you definitely want to reuse it because its PokéPower lets you draw until you have 7 cards in your hand. At times when you have a small hand, this card can be a godsend, and quite literally, turn the whole battle around.

Archetype Candidates

And of course, with every game, there are those cards that can be extremely good with the right support, but just don't see enough competitive level play to be seriously considerable for a deck. They'll do when you play with friends and the like, or anything non-competitive, just don't expect to win all the time with these, if at all. It's also worth mentioning a lot of these cards are better off being thrown into decks as a side-filler rather than trying to have a whole deck dedicated to them.

Feraligatr (Prime) [HeartGold and SoulSilver]

[W] – 140 HP – W: [G]x2 – R:    – RC: [C][C][C]
PokéPower – Rain Dance: As often as you like during your turn (before your attack), you may attach a [W] Energy card from your hand to 1 of your [W] Pokémon. This power can't be used if Feraligatr is affected by a Special Condition.)
[W][W][W][W] – Hydro Crunch (60+): Does 60 damage plus 10 more damage for each damage counter on the Defending Pokémon.

Feraligatr works with a wide range of Pokémon – it can get any Stage 2 Water-type ready for action the turn it's played thanks to Rain Dance, and when you consider some of the more powerful attacks that belong to the Water-types of TCG, such as Kingdra's Steam Pump, Blastoise's Hydro Launcher, or Feraligatr's own Hydro Crunch. Unfortunately, there are two factors limiting Feraligatr's usefulness. The first is that it is a Stage 2, which makes it hard to pull as a tech, especially as the main heavy attacker is also a Stage 2 Pokémon, and the second is that in order to really abuse Rain Dance, you need to have lots of Water Energy in your hand. This not only takes up precious deck space that could be used for other cards, but it also means you have to run certain other trainers to search out multiple Energy, or to draw lots of cards at once, again, wasting deck space. Feraligatr is a seriously powerful tool, but must be used carefully.

Typhlosion (Prime) [HeartGold and SoulSilver]

[R] – 140 HP – W: [W]x2 – R:    – RC: [C][C]
PokéPower – Afterburner: Once during your turn (before your attack), you may search your discard pile for a [R] Energy card and attach it to 1 of your Pokémon. If you do, put 1 damage counter on that Pokémon. This power can't be used if Typhlosion is affected by a Special Condition.)
[R][R][C] – Flare Destroy (70): Discard an Energy card attached to Typhlosion and discard an Energy card attached to the defending Pokémon.

Typhlosion's PokéPower is a lot more helpful than you think. Many, many Fire-types in the TCG often have an attack that involves discarding an Energy (most of the time, a Fire Energy at that), so what better way to keep them cycling than with Afterburner? Even Typhlosion's attack makes use of it, and several other powerful attackers can as well, such as Salamence Lv. X, Charizard, or Entei and Raikou LEGEND. The biggest problem with Typhlosion is of course the fact that you take damage each time you use it, so chances are, you're going to die faster than you can abuse the Energy cycling. Of course, you can attempt to offset that with cards like Moomoo Milk and Super Scoop Up, but they aren't the most reliable things to attempt due to coin flipping.

Gyarados [Stormfront]

[W] – 130 HP – W: [L]+30 – R: [F]-20 – RC: [C][C][C]
None Tail Revenge (30x): Does 30 damage times the number of Magikarp in your discard pile.
[W][C] – Wreak Havoc (40): Flip a coin until you get tails. For each heads, discard the top card from your opponent's deck.
[W][W][C][C][C] – Dragon Beat (100): Flip a coin. If heads, discard an Energy card from each of your opponent's Pokémon.

Gyarados's first attack seems silly. It's a no-cost attack that does 30 damage for each Magikarp in the discard, but there are definitely some reliable ways of getting Magikarp in the discard without giving up Prizes to the opponent. Cards like Felicity's Drawing and Regice can get rid of unnecessary cards in your hand while still having nice side effects, making Gyarados a 90 damage attacker for zero cost. Throw in an Expert Belt and several recovery cards and Gyarados can become a fearsome attacker with almost zero chance of failure. However, the biggest problem with Gyarados is that the deck has to be very focused on getting rid of those Magikarp, and then keeping Gyarados alive during your onslaught. This relies primarily on Trainer and Supporter cards, and against the extremely common PsychoDark Control, Gyarados will have a hard time setting up, and a hard time recovering from the lock.

Donphan (Prime) [HeartGold and SoulSilver]

[F] – 120 HP – W: [W]x2 – R: [L]-20 – RC: [C][C][C][C]
PokéBody – Exoskeleton: Any damage done to Donphan by attacks is reduced by 20 (after applying Weakness and Resistance).
[F] – Earthquake (60): This attack does 10 damage to each of your Benched Pokémon. (Don't apply Weakness and Resistance for Benched Pokémon.)
[F][F][F] – Heavy Impact (90)

Donphan is the epitome of hard donking (to instantly KO their Pokémon and win in one turn). With a 60 damage for one Fighting Energy attack, it can get going on your first turn and start winning instantly. It's a Stage 1, so is easier to play, and its side effect of doing 10 to your entire bench isn't that distraught, especially if you combine it with other Donphan (so they're immune to each other), and Nidoqueen to reduce the damage. Donphan's problems? It's got a heavy weakness to Water, which means it's vulnerable to Gyarados, Feraligatr decks, and the odd Palkia G SP deck. Also, there's the high cost of retreating and using other attacks, as well as its Fighting-type, which makes it resisted by a lot of common decks. Thus, Donphan isn't realistically going to dish as much damage as it should, and throwing all your eggs into a single basket like Donphan is a horrible idea.

Gengar [Stormfront]

[P] – 110 HP – W: [D]+30 – R: [C]-20 – RC:   
PokéPower – Fainting Spell: Once during your opponent's turn, if Gengar would be Knocked Out by damage from an attack, you may flip a coin. If heads, the Defending Pokémon is Knocked Out.
[P] – Shadow Room: Put 3 damage counters on 1 of your opponent's Pokémon. If that Pokémon has any PokéPowers, put 6 damage counters on that Pokémon instead.
[P][C] – Poltergeist (30x): Look at your opponent's hand. This attack does 30 damage times the number of Trainer, Supporter, and Stadium cards in your opponent's hand.

Gengar is an extremely annoying Pokémon to face. Not only does it have insurance on the off chance you do get an KO on it before it KOes you, but its attacks are enough to strike any big attacker where it hurts. Cards like Spiritomb that lock your opponent's Trainers in their hand will get seriously hurt by Poltergeist. Shadow Room is also extremely handy for KOing the likes of Uxie or Azelf if you can drop a Crobat G somewhere. I mentioned it in the notable cards section of PsychoDark control because it functions best there, but it can function just fine by itself.

Heatran Lv. X [Stormfront]

Heatran Lv. X
[R] – 120 HP – W: [W]x2 – R:    – RC: [C][C][C][C]
PokéPower – Heat Wave: Once at the end of your turn, if Heatran is on your Bench, you may use this power. If you discarded Basic Energy cards attached to your [R] or [M] Active Pokémon by that Pokémon's attack this turn, attach up to 2 of those Energy cards to that Pokémon.)

A lot of Fire-type Pokémon have extremely powerful attacks that involve the discarding of Energy. Some Metal-types like Jirachi can even discard for extremely powerful effects. While it can take a while to get going, since you need to send out a Heatran and then get it to Lv. X and then retreat it back to your main attacker, it's extremely powerful and can keep a cycle of high-damage power going nearly infinitely. Cards like Magmortar or Ho-Oh that discard for sniping damage and extremely high damage, respectively, are great for putting the hurt down. The only thing to worry about is the setting up, so you may find yourself throwing in more support for retreating than you think.

Machamp [Stormfront]

[F] – 130 HP – W: [P]+30 – R:    – RC: [C][C]
[F] – Take Out (40): If the Defending Pokémon isn't an Evolved Pokémon, that Pokémon is Knocked Out instead of damaged by this attack.
[C][C] – Hurricane Punch (30x): Flip 4 coins. This attack does 30 damage times the number of heads.
[F][F][C][C] – Rage (60+): Does 60 damage plus 10 more damage for each damage counter on Machamp.

Machamp is an extremely powerful attacker. Its main attack costs only [F] and can instantly KO the opponent if they aren't an Evolved Pokémon. Considering cards like Broken Time-Space and Rare Candy can get him out by Turn 2, he's going to seriously cause problems for your opponent's deck. SP decks or decks that rely on Spiritomb or Sableye will suddenly see their main attacker KOed without Machamp's player even sweating. However, against any well-played PsychoDark control, Machamp can be KOed in a single attack, so keep your options open anyway.

Lanturn (Prime) [Unleashed]

110 HP – W: [F]x2 – R:    – RC: [C][C]
PokéPower – Underwater Dive: Once during your turn (before your attack), you may use this power. Lanturn's type is [W] until the end of your turn. This power can't be used if Lanturn is affected by a special condition.
[L][C][C] – Powerful Spark (40+): Does 40 damage plus 10 damage for each Energy attached to all of your Pokémon.

Cards like Feraligatr Prime and Shaymin Lv. X can accelerate your Energy levels to sky-high levels. Combine this with Lanturn's low Energy cost and extremely high damage output as the Energy stacks and you are looking at an extremely powerful threat. It can even change its typing to bypass resistance. It works with Double Colorless Energy, and DCE still gives it the boost it needs, since it works off Energy units as opposed to Energy cards. It should be noted, however, that the Fighting-type weakness is actually a lot more damage that it sounds, since things like Machamp and Donphan can instantly destroy it in a single hit.


DP-on is one of the largest metagames in the Pokémon TCG to date. It's also extremely versatile. As I said, while not everything is going to be usable at a competitive level, nearly anything can be used and put into a deck for some result, and it's always quite fun to play for fun with friends just to try out something odd. Especially on Smogon—unless you're playing in a tournament, people will usually be okay with taking it easy on you just so you can mess around with whatever it is you're trying. As well as that, they'll be forgiving enough to let you go back on a mistake, so you can really see how the deck does.

Card scans courtesy of PokeBeach.com

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