The Pokémon TCG's changed a lot over the years.

Back in 1999, there were only seven types of Pokémon in the TCG: Grass, Fire, Water, Psychic, Electric, Fighting, and Colorless. Dark and Metal Pokémon wouldn't arrive until Neo Genesis in October of 2000. Fairy and Dragon types wouldn't make their debut for years after that.

What we now call Abilities were originally Pokémon Powers, and they had way fewer limitations. Trainer cards were all one big thing, too: there were no Stadiums or Pokémon Tools, and since nothing was a Supporter, there were no once-per-turn limits on super-powerful cards.

Today, Supporters like Professor's Research (Professor Magnolia) (swsh1-178) and Boss's Orders (Giovanni) (swsh2-154) can only be played once per turn. But Professor Oak (base4-116) and Gust of Wind (base4-120) had the same effects two decades ago, and you could play as many as you wanted at any time. Special conditions, basic energy cards, and other staple mechanics evolved as well.

Despite those differences, the modern Pokémon TCG still feels a lot like the original game. Competitive play still revolves around a series of exchanges, and it's rare for one Pokémon to take enough KOs to win the game all on its own. Instead, the goal is usually to power up enough attackers and gather enough resources, so that when you and your opponent start trading KOs, you come out on top and you get to your prizes a little bit faster. When one Pokemon goes down, replacing it with another keeps up the pressure and eventually gets you the win.

Nowadays those attackers often have hundreds of HP, which makes one-hit KOs a bit less frequent. At the same time, trainer cards that strip Pokémon of energy to stop your opponent from making trades are far weaker, while free effects that force Pokémon into the active position, messing with your opponent's plans, are pretty rare.

But back in 1999, when the only releases were Base Set and Jungle, that wasn't the case. Strong Basics like Hitmonchan (base4-8) and Electabuzz (base4-24) only had 70 HP, while popular evolutions topped out between 80 and 100 HP. Trainers like Energy Removal (base4-119) and Super Energy Removal (base4-108) were simple, high-impact cards, and you could play several in one turn to demolish your opponent's would-be attackers. Nowadays, Crushing Hammer (swsh1-159) is just Energy Removal (base4-119) with a coin flip. Gust of Wind (base4-120) was deadly and could drop at any time to steal games, earning it the nickname "Gust of Win."

The damage Pokémon dealt with attacks were lower too, to match the lower HP, but weakness and resistance still worked the same way they do now; resisting 30 damage could totally brickwall an attacker, while a weakness could turn a 40HP tap into a knockout blow. Weaknesses and resistances were more important than they generally are now, since damage-blocking effects are more common, and higher HP totals are a bit more forgiving. And while modern Pokemon's not slow by any means, the original game moved fast: if you wanted to Professor Oak (base4-116) three times in one turn to get the card you needed, that was a thing you could do. Burning through two thirds of your deck wasn't always the right move, but it was always on the table.

Nowadays there are small, very competitive communities that specialize in what's come to be known as retro Pokemon: formats like Base Set only, Base Set plus Jungle, or Base Set to Fossil. Those communities have pushed these formats to new heights, finding tech choices and viable strategies nobody was thinking of in 1999 and 2000.

But at the same time, it's also a blast to go back and experience these formats the way they were played originally. For some of us, these were our first experiences playing a TCG competitively. Others might've been too young to be competitive at the time, but may be curious about what those first Pokémon tournaments were like. And some players are hugely into the Pokémon TCG today, but weren't even born when Base Set was released.

Today we'll look back at a fan-favorite era of retro Pokémon: the Base Set and Jungle format. We'll check out three decks that ruled store tournaments back in 1999, and talk about how you'd play them. This is the version of the game that kicked off Pokémon as we know it, and most of these cards are still affordable today. If you want to sleeve them up and play them off yourself, you totally can.

So let's start at the beginning.

Haymaker Was THE Deck-To-Beat

When the Pokémon TCG first arrived with the original Base Set, one deck ruled them all: Haymaker. Evolutions were one of the biggest flaws of design in early Pokémon: they just weren't very good, with most having low HP, and over-costed attacks that inexplicably valued special conditions over dealing damage.

Meanwhile the game's best Basic Pokémon had almost as much HP, and attacks that were weaker, but vastly more affordable. Compare Electabuzz (base4-24) to Magneton (base4-9): Electabuzz (base4-24) Thundershock costs one electric energy to deal 10 damage, and it paralyzed on a coin flip. Magneton (base4-9) Thunder Wave cost three energy cards, and it was basically the same attack with 20 more damage.

Would you want to spend three turns and more cards to evolve Magneton (base4-9) and power it up? Or would you rather play Electabuzz (base4-24) from your hand, slap an energy on it, and start swinging? Never mind the fact that Electabuzz (base4-24) has 70HP to Magneton (base4-9) 60HP, or the fact that its second attack only requires two energy to Magneton (base4-9) four.

Evolutions were for suckers, and that's what led Haymaker - a deck based around Electabuzz (base4-24) and Hitmonchan (base4-8) - to become the only real competitive deck in Base Set Pokémon. Playing nothing but fast, cheap Pokémon that needed very little energy left you with tons of deck space to abuse trainer cards, and that made Haymaker a nimble, consistent threat that just blew everything else away. By the time Jungle rolled around, the Pokémon TCG's first expansion set, tournaments often came down two a bunch of nearly identical cookie cutter Haymaker decks all pounding on eachother.

The good news? That era didn't last as long as some people would tell you. Jungle introduced a bunch of new cards that actually helped curb Haymaker's dominance, offering new layers of complexity and risk that could unseat the reigning deck-to-beat. The first was Scyther (base4-17), a 70HP basic that Haymaker actually adopted. Scyther (base4-17) was cool for three reasons:

Here's what a typical Haymaker deck looked like in the Base and Jungle era.


Pokémon: 10
4 Hitmonchan (base4-8)
3 Electabuzz (base4-24)
3 Scyther (base4-17)

Trainers: 34
4 Bill (base4-118)
3 Professor Oak (base4-116)
3 Computer Search (base4-101)
4 Energy Removal (base4-119)
3 Super Energy Removal (base4-108)
4 PlusPower (base4-113)
3 Gust of Wind (base4-120)
3 Scoop Up (base4-107)
2 Switch (base4-123)
2 Energy Retrieval (base4-110)
2 Item Finder (base4-103)
1 Lass (base4-104)

Energy: 16
8 Fighting Energy (base4-125)
6 Lightning Energy (base4-128)
2 Double Colorless Energy (base4-124)

Typically swinging for 30 to 40 damage a turn, this deck would look to stall with Electabuzz (base4-24) paralysis, and could steal games with Gust of Wind (base4-120) and PlusPower (base4-113). While Scoop Up (base4-107) and Switch (base4-123) were staples to keep a Pokémon alive and deny prizes, suddenly Scyther (base4-17) ability to block damage and swap out was a major factor that gave the deck more defense. It was a must-run for the mirror match, because if your opponent had Scyther (base4-17) and you didn't, you were almost guaranteed to lose.

Since Haymaker was so efficient, it was heavily trade-based and relied on energy deprivation through Energy Removal (base4-119), Super Energy Removal (base4-108), as well as surprise KOs achieved through trainer cards. It was highly driven by value and an eye for the long game, chipping away through heftier Pokémon and keeping them from attacking. And while bigger evolved Pokémon often needed three or four turns to prepare for battle, Haymaker was always attacking, all the time; the moment one Pokémon went down, another was in its place strapped with an energy or two, ready to get back into the fight.

In Base Set there was just nothing that could build attackers quickly and consistently enough to win the grind game against Haymaker. Right when you'd get your third energy card down, or whatever you needed to make a big attack, you'd lose everything to Super Energy Removal (base4-108), or your Pokémon would just get sucked off the bench by Gust of Wind (base4-120) and chucked into danger before it was ready to go.

Nothing could match the sheer efficiency of the Hitmonchan (base4-8) and Electabuzz (base4-24) pincer, and skilled games often came down to careful deck management, the chance to Jab an Electabuzz (base4-24) for double damage, or a couple of lucky coin flips.

And Then Wigglytuff Happened

To really understand the arc of this story, it's important to understand the competitive culture of the Pokémon TCG in the summer of '99. Base Set dropped in early January that year, and Jungle didn't arrive until mid June. It was a long six months, and the wait time between sets shaped player perceptions.

By the time Pokemon's first expansion finally arrived there was a firm line drawn in the sand between competitive players who won their locals all the time, and the waves upon waves of younger kids and casual players who got fed to those players like logs into a woodchipper. The players scoring store credit every week, or in some places three or four times a week if more tournaments were available, were pretty set in their ways. They had a system that raked in dozens of packs, at a time when they could unload them swiftly for cold hard cash.

That system was Haymaker.

So when Jungle dropped and Scyther (base4-17) hit the scene, tons of Haymaker players grabbed their three copies and called it a day. That was Pokémon to that crowd at the time: it was Haymaker or bust. So if you tried to tell players that were so used to winning with cheap Basic Pokémon day in and day out, that the next big thing in competition was not just an evolution, and not just one that was weak to Hitmonchan (base4-8), but was in fact a giant pink smiling marshmallow monster, you generally got one of two responses:

On the surface, Wigglytuff (base4-19) had a lot of obvious challenges. It was an evolution, so you had to run weaker Basic Pokémon. You had to set up for your Stage 1, and the need to run Jigglypuff (base4-77) left you with a bit less deck space for trainer cards. Wigglytuff (base4-19) first attack didn't deal any damage. In fact it needed three energy to deal any damage at all, and it took a full bench of five Pokemon for that attack to really work. Wigglytuff (base4-19) took double damage from Hitmonchan (base4-8), and it only had 80 HP; a paltry 10 points more than the Haymaker staples. All of those factors kept people from making the switch.

But once they did? Hoo-boy. Decks like this one raised the ceiling for competition, and those decks were stronger for the fact that so few players saw them coming.

Do The Wave

Pokemon: 12
3 Jigglypuff (base4-77)
2 Wigglytuff (base4-19)
4 Scyther (base4-17)
3 Electabuzz (base4-24)

Trainers: 32
4 Bill (base4-118)
3 Professor Oak (base4-116)
2 Computer Search (base4-101)
4 Energy Removal (base4-119)
3 Super Energy Removal (base4-108)
4 PlusPower (base4-113)
3 Gust of Wind (base4-120)
2 Switch (base4-123)
1 Super Potion (base4-117)
3 Item Finder (base4-103)
2 Energy Retrieval (base4-110)
1 Lass (base4-104)

Energy: 16
8 Lightning Energy (base4-128)
4 Grass Energy (base4-127)
4 Double Colorless Energy (base4-124)

Do The Wave, named for Wigglytuff (base4-19) key attack, was the first real strategy that could challenge Haymaker. Sure, Wigglytuff (base4-19) fighting weakness left it vulnerable to 40 damage Jabs from Hitmonchan (base4-8), and its reliance on Double Colorless Energy made it a little weak to Energy Removal (base4-119) and Super Energy Removal (base4-108). But it had a distinct number of advantages that made it a huge contender:

Do The Wave was an easy 60 damage, and with one PlusPower (base4-113) that meant a KO on Hitmonchan (base4-8), Electabuzz (base4-24), or even Scyther (base4-17). Sure, a fully powered Hitmonchan (base4-8) could take out Wigglytuff (base4-19) in one hit. But this deck worked wonders with Gust of Wind (base4-120), smiting Hitmonchan (base4-8) by literally beating it to the punch

Jungle Jigglypuff (base4-77) was no slouch either; its 60 HP meant it could survive a Jab from Hitmonchan (base4-8), and a 20 damage Pound for one Double Colorless Energy (base4-124) could set up KOs later, or seal the deal on a Pokemon you'd already damaged.

Scyther (base4-17) was huge, stalling with its fighting Resistance and then zipping back to the bench with free retreat. Chansey (base4-3) and Lickitung (base4-48) are staples of this format in modern play, but they weren't popular in most metagames back in 1999, and that meant everything in Haymaker had just 70HP. There were effectively no safe Pokémon for Haymaker to stall with in the Do The Wave matchup, while the Wigglytuff (base4-19) deck would rope-a-dope with Scyther (base4-17) to block 10, 20, or 30 damage at a time, then swing in for a safe KO at the best time possible.

Do The Wave shifted the primary mode of competition from energy efficiency, to turn efficiency instead. While Haymaker was all about smart energy use and getting max value out of each energy it played, Hitmonchan (base4-8) needed two fighting and one colorless to fuel a Special Punch. Even though Wigglytuff (base4-19) would take double damage, the Haymaker player needed to attach three energy cards to threaten a KO. That took three turns.

Meanwhile the Wigglytuff (base4-19) player would skate by on just two energy cards - a Double Colorless Energy (base4-124) plus anything else. All they needed to make that work was a PlusPower (base4-113). That meant you could be an entire turn faster than Haymaker, and even an unboosted followup for 60 damage the turn following was often enough to put your opponent on the backfoot.

Two pushes with Do The Wave could create enough momentum to practically win the game, leaving you to mop up with Electabuzz (base4-24), Scyther (base4-17), or your second 'tuff. And the kicker was that Wigglytuff (base4-19) often lasted longer than just two turns. The value on your investment - effectively two turns of energy attachment - was stunning. For the first time ever, Haymaker couldn't keep up.

And sure, removing a Double Colorless Energy (base4-124) might keep Wigglytuff (base4-19) from getting in that second attack. But the wise Wigglytuffer was going to play a basic energy to Jigglypuff (base4-77) or Wigglytuff (base4-19) first, and hold the Double Colorless Energy (base4-124) for at least one guaranteed attack.

That left the Haymaker player with a difficult choice: sacrifice the full potential of Energy Removal (base4-119) by choosing to remove a basic energy now, and hold the Wigglytuff (base4-19) off for a turn? Or wait to try to use it against a Double Colorless Energy (base4-124) later for more value, knowing that choice might cost you a KO and some of your on-field energy if you let the Wigglytuff (base4-19) attack? The Wigglytuff (base4-19) player only had four Double Colorless Energy (base4-124) in their deck. But even just one could cost you the game if you couldn't keep it under control.

This deck made Haymaker players stretch to answer questions they'd never had to consider before, and suddenly the one-deck metagame that was the Pokémon TCG in early 1999 was cracked open. Do The Wave was a more complicated strategy with more moving parts, but it had greater flexibility and offered more raw power for what could often be a similar or even lower cost, in terms of turns and energy.

Meanwhile, casuals were gonna casual! And they were winning games too, running decks with arguably even higher power ceilings at the cost of consistency.

Makin' It Rain (Dance)

As bad as most Stage 1 and Stage 2 Pokémon were in the early ages of Pokémon, there was one evolution deck that routinely held its own, even if it was almost always the bridesmaid instead of the bride. And it was all because of this guy.

Base Set Blastoise (base4-2) wasn't perfect. Squirtle (base4-93) was pretty weak, with mediocre attacks and just 40HP in metagames where Electabuzz (base4-24) could Thunder Punch it into oblivion for two energy. Wartortle (base4-63) was actually pretty okay, but it was slow, it was also vulnerable to Thunder Punch, and Pokémon Breeder (base4-105) let you skip it and go straight into Blastoise (base4-2) one turn faster.

The deck's goal was to evolve Blastoise (base4-2) as quickly as possible, then use trainers like Bill (base4-118) and Professor Oak (base4-116) to draw cards at the speed of sound and cover your side of the table with water energy. Even when it worked, it had problems: Rain Dance was an amazing Pokémon Power, but Blastoise (base4-2) Hydro Pump attack capped out at five energy for 60 damage. That was 10 damage short of a one-hit KO on the Haymaker mons, and way off the 80 damage you'd need to KO a Wigglytuff (base4-19).

If you wanted to deal 60 damage a turn and try to PlusPower (base4-113) for the win, Wigglytuff (base4-19) was just better. Rain Dance didn't even have room to run PlusPower (base4-113). And the deck was expensive, too, since the Pokémon craze was in full swing. But again, you've gotta understand the context.

It was freaking Blastoise, and people were going to play it anyways.

Rain Dance

Pokémon: 15
4 Squirtle (base4-93)
1 Wartortle (base4-63)
3 Blastoise (base4-2)
4 Magikarp (base4-50)
3 Gyarados (base4-7)

Trainers: 31
4 Professor Oak (base4-116)
4 Computer Search (base4-101)
3 Bill (base4-118)
2 Super Energy Removal (base4-108)
1 Gust of Wind (base4-120)
3 Super Potion (base4-117)
3 Switch (base4-123)
4 Energy Retrieval (base4-110)
2 Item Finder (base4-103)
4 Pokémon Breeder (base4-105)
1 Lass (base4-104)

Energy: 14
14 Water Energy (base4-130)

Since Blastoise (base4-2) Hydro Pump attack was a little underpowered, you had to pair it with something else that could make better use of all that water energy. The best option was Gyarados (base4-7), offering a solid 50 damage for just three energy with Dragon Rage, and an added chance to paralyze with Bubblebeam on a coin flip, if you had one more energy to spare. While Blastoise (base4-2) was weak to Electric Pokémon like Electabuzz (base4-24), Gyarados (base4-7) had fighting resistance to virtually blank [Hitmonchan](Hitmonchan (base4-8), and that weakness to Grass didn't matter much since Scyther (base4-17) was generally a first string chump blocker, but a second string attacker.

Most importantly, Blastoise (base4-2) and Gyarados (base4-7) were both on the high end of durability for their time. With 100 HP each, they'd almost never get KO'd in a single hit by anything in Haymaker or Do The Wave, so if you had a good start and managed your bench carefully you would repeatedly kick out big attacks and win your trades. In theory, Rain Dance protected you from Energy Removal (base4-119) and Super Energy Removal (base4-108), while the sheer pressure of a Turn 2 Gyarados (base4-7) ready to Dragon Rage for 50 again and again couldn't be matched. Your threats dealt more damage, took less time to build, and your Pokémon were tougher to KO.

And in your good games that was all true! But getting everything up and running meant multiple evolutions, including one that required a combo of Pokemon Breeder (base4-105) and Blastoise (base4-2). And every time you had to dig for that combo with Professor Oak (base4-116), you were usually discarding water energy in the process. And Magikarp (base4-50) only had 30HP, with an electric weakness. And you had to play healing trainers over Energy Removal (base4-119). And none of your stuff had free retreat. And so on.

The deck wasn't awful, but it had a higher list of demands you had to meet for it to work, and it just didn't always get there.

It would be a while before Blastoise (base4-2) would find its perfect partner in crime, with the release of Articuno (base3-2) in Fossil. With attacks that made it comparable in power to Gyarados (base4-7), Articuno (base3-2) biggest advantage was that it was a Basic Pokemon, leaving you more room for Trainer cards and saving you from having to leave vulnerable Magikarp (base4-50) on your bench where they were easy KOs for Gust of Wind (base4-120).

That said, the release of Fossil also introduced Muk (base3-13), and its Toxic Gas Pokémon Power, which could erase Blastoise (base4-2) Rain Dance ability. Despite all that, the one-step-forward one-step-back pacing never kept Blastoise (base4-2) out of competition, and Rain Dance was still one of the biggest fan-favorite decks in old school Pokémon. When it goes off it wins, and has crazy fun doing it.

That Was Then

The Base and Jungle format is a snapshot of a moment in the history of Pokémon, and the history of TCGs as a whole. The game was legitimately good by any measure, the culture surrounding it was electric, and we all knew that win or lose, we were standing in the middle of something special.

But yeah, even once the summer of '99 was over, formats like this one kept on going. They were kept alive by competitive players who grew up on them and stuck with Pokémon for decades, dropping in from time to time to revisit it like an old friend. Meanwhile, lots of players who left the game for years eventually opened up their deck boxes and binders again, found these cards, and looked to get back into the game with fellow fans in the exact same situation.

These old formats have a real following, and they've continued to grow long past their time in the mainstream. For Base and Jungle, Pokémon like Chansey (base4-3), Lickitung (base4-48), and Dodrio (base4-37) were found to be missing links that could actually really compete. Players have gained more appreciation for trainer cards like Lass (base4-104) too, as well as Maintenance (base4-112) and Impostor Professor Oak (base4-102), as some metagames trended toward longer games with more wins by deck-out.

If you want to see what that summer was like, you can build these decks and relive it for yourself. Pull the lid off that shoebox in your closet - it's probably worth a ton of money now anyways - or pick up the cards on the cheap and play some games.

If you're a competitive Pokémon player now, and you want to see how the game's evolved while staying true to its roots, retro Pokemon's a great exercise. And if you're not that kind of player, but you want to experience a moment of gaming history you missed out on, now's the perfect time to give it a shot.