Pokémon is a common thread of many a childhood – here in Australia the trading card game in particular was a passing fad in many schools. The year was 1999, I was nine years old and the Pokémon Trading Card Game was the hottest thing around for a kid my age. We all had a vague idea about which cards were the best – if it featured a holographic pattern, if it had high HP or big attack damage, it was awesome. The game behind it? I don’t think many kids paid much attention to the words on the cards and the same still rings true today with remarks from curious onlookers who ‘didn’t know there was a game’ behind the cards.
Charizard – Perhaps one of the most iconic Pokémon cards ever.
Known simply as ‘Base Set’, the first core release of the trading card game came in 1996 in Japan and was later released in America in 1999. This collection of 102 cards is perhaps still the most recognisable set of Pokémon Cards (and perhaps of any TCG period) ever, thanks in part to the nostalgia of kids who grew up with them.
Looking at the game competitively in retrospect during that era, it is not too dissimilar to formats of recent years, despite more than a decade worth of power creep. Although crowd favourite Charizard from Base Set boasted 120 HP and an attack capable of 100 damage, it was far from being the best card in the classic Base Set – Fossil format. The ‘best deck in format’ at the time was ‘Haymaker’ – a type-diverse combination of high HP, unevolved Pokémon such as Hitmonchan, Electabuzz and Scyther. A simple combination of these Pokémon and a format consisting of powerful draw, search and retrieval cards such as Professor Oak, Computer Search and Maintenance as well as damage augmentation and powerful energy denial made quick work of most other archtypes.
The earliest, major tournaments held by then international publisher of the game ‘Wizards of the Coast’, were titled the ‘Tropical Mega Battle’ – an event held annually from 1999-2001 in Hawaii where the best players from America, Europe and Japan would compete in a number of different stages including ‘defeating gym leaders’ with pre-constructed decks and playing in a round-robin tournament with decks constructed from a limited set of cards provided to each player.
All of this was a world away from me during this time, like many, who remember the cards from their childhood. I remember my first theme deck, ‘Brushfire’, which contained a combination of grass and fire Pokémon including the rare holo ‘Ninetales’ – and I remember subsequently trading it away at school for a couple of commons just because I’d never seen the cards before. Not my finest hour. Trades like that, once one’s error had been realised, often fell to teachers at school to resolve and when that began to happen, led to the inevitable ban of the trading cards. With nobody bringing them to school anymore, the fad quietly ended and the cards for many wound up inside a box somewhere to be forgotten.