In 1995, President Clinton lifted a ban on stem cell research that resulted in a wave of hysteria from a science-skeptical public. I remember overhearing more than one talking head on the news rant about how labs were going to chop up babies to make cure-alls for the rich. Couple this with Dolly the sheep's birth in 1996, the first successfully cloned mammal, and the attitude of the general public was that science had gone too far. It was only a matter of time, people claimed, before we engineered our own demise.
Out of this vat of anti-science panic emerged...Mewtwo. It was like Ken Sugimori was wired directly into society's Jungian fears. Here was a monster both highly anthropomorphic and decidedly inhuman, a test-tube baby described in Pokedex entries as having a "savage heart."
Mewtwo is presented as a modified clone of a more ancient, supposedly extinct, breed of Pokemon known as Mew. Because this was the 90s, Mewtwo was an antagonist, its intelligence a weapon raised against the people that created it. But because this is Pokemon, its icy heart can eventually be softened by the power of friendship.
For a Pokemon claiming final boss status, Mewtwo's initial card is remarkably underwhelming: low HP, a weak attack, and a second attack that is only good for stalling. Interestingly, by glitch rather than design, this initial card was featured in a pretty powerful deck. Mulligan Mewtwo consisted of 4 copies of Mewtwo, 56 psychic energy, and nothing else. The idea was that you would have to take several mulligans before drawing Mewtwo, and an unwitting opponent would draw extra cards off the mulligans. From there, you could just stall using Barrier until your opponent decked out. Perhaps not the most honorable battle strategy, but it feels very in character for Mewtwo to expose the flaws of its designers and exploit them.
While Mewtwo's presence in the original video games was limited, tucked behind the Elite Four where only the most dedicated children could see, Mewtwo occupied a starring role in the anime. It was teased in episodes broadcast to Poke-hungry children worldwide before finally taking center stage in the film.
Pokemon the First Movie was a massive cultural phenomenon for children. Every kid wanted to see it—specifically, four times, so that they could get a complete set of the promotional cards offered with tickets to the movie. Unfortunately, my mother was not a fan of "Japanimation," and she especially despised Pokemon and the stranglehold they had on my allowance. I was not one of the lucky children allowed to go see the movie in theaters, and thus I only heard secondhand from my peers how awesome it was.
Fortunately for me, my aunt worked for a movie theater, and so my cousins were particularly affluent in their abundance of movie promos. I traded for a full set, feeling thrilled about my new collection. These were promos, meaning you couldn't get them from booster packs. I thought this was a wise investment...and so did the other ten million children who saw the movie in theaters. These cards are more common than tall grass Rattata. Everyone has a set.
Even so, I'm still very fond of my Mewtwo movie promo. It's a decent card, nothing groundbreaking, and I used to play it in my Psychic deck. The Energy Absorption allowed for a quick set-up, letting you unleash Mewtwo's signature move: Psyburn. It was a smart decision on Pokemon's part to help drive ticket sales for the movie, and it showed how powerful cross-promotional campaigns could be. Using the anime to sell the video game, the video game to sell the cards, the cards to sell the anime - the brand grew stronger with each new link in the Pokemon chain.
There's a reason Rocket's Mewtwo is an expensive, elusive card. For one thing, its first attack opens up some fun combo possibilities. Being able to swap in a damaged Mewtwo and freshen him up off your opponent's new Pokemon is an aggravating move, definitely worthy of Team Rocket. This card also has Mewtwo's signature Psyburn attack.
However, even more importantly than the attacks, the lore of the card is intriguing. Before its character development, Mewtwo was a fighting machine, utterly devoid of empathy. Sure, Mewtwo is more emotionally rounded now, but this card serves as a time capsule to when Mewtwo was the cold, heartless creature of science we all feared and admired.
Speaking of cards that invoke admiration, Mewtwo also has a notable promo that is coveted by collectors not for its raw power, but rather, its aesthetics. This promo card features art by the late, great Christopher Rush. If that name seems familiar, look no further than the art on Magic: The Gathering's infamous Black Lotus.
Rush brought his signature bold colors and vibrant textures to this promo. Even to this date, only a handful of non-Japanese artists have created art for official Pokemon cards, making this promo an interesting oddball. It's a cool piece of history, and it's a shame that more promos like this didn't follow. Nowadays we can only look at this card and imagine what might have been, if more artists across the globe got a chance to put their mark on Pokemon.
The concept of shiny Legendary Pokemon has always seemed weird to me. Shiny Pokemon are supposed to be an alternate coloration of existing Pokemon, so how can there be an alternate version of something that only has one known instance? If there's a Shiny Legendary in your game, isn't it just an alternate universe where that one Pokemon is different colored than other universes, and no one would be the wiser? I'm probably alone in this, because everyone else seems to eat up the idea of Shiny Legendary Pokemon. Such is the case with Shining Mewtwo. This card was hot when it came out, and it still commands a hefty price tag today.
The art on this card is amazing. Mewtwo is surrounded by an almost halo-like effect, the ephemeral light of its power making its entire body glow. The holo effect makes it a bit hard to see the coloration difference, but the card design overall reeks of style. The actual power level is a little underwhelming. Its first attack is a less efficient version of Agility, which is found on many common Pokemon. Yes, it has the chance to do some damage, but it requires two different kinds of Energy. Its second attack is also a wasted opportunity to make Mewtwo's signature Psyburn actually cause burn. The second attack requires Fire Energy, and has been re-dubbed "Psyburst." It has the potential to be good in certain situations, but the janky energy requirements mean actually building it into a deck takes a lot of work. This card was never meant to be in a deck - rather, it was created to grace a collection binder, and look good while doing it.
Since Rocket's first Mewtwo was such a hit, it's no surprise that Pokemon returned to the idea. Team Rocket Returns brought back the idea of Pokemon that had been tainted by the criminal gang, and no Pokemon was more corrupted by them than Mewtwo. This wasn't the first Mewtwo ex to be printed, but there's an interesting style feature about this card: its typing. Before Delta Pokemon, it was incredibly rare for Pokemon cards to be printed outside their standard types. The fact that this Mewtwo is printed as Dark type was particularly notable, its attack line-up...less so. It has the standard manipulative first attack, Psyburn, etc. While not a particularly complex card, it's a decent enough powerhouse.
Speaking of Delta Pokemon, Delta Mewtwo is next in our line-up. Again, they gave this version of the surly science experiment fire alignment, but missed out on that opportunity to make Psyburn actually burn. (And yes, I'm still bitter about it.) That grievance aside, this is a fun card. It has a Poke-Power (the precursor to modern day 'Abilities') that could seriously turn the tide of the game. Allowing you to reshuffle Energy could turn a Bench sitter into an instant threat, or salvage Energy from a Pokemon that is about to be Knocked Out.
Mewtwo is excluded from its own power, and for good reason. It would have been far too powerful of a card if you could immediately attach all your Energy to it and wipe the floor with your opponent. As is, it has a decent attack that can turn tides depending on what your opponent is using, and that power could lead to some fun combos in more Energy-hungry Fire decks. Pokemon doesn't have a popular singleton format the same way Magic does, but there are a few variants swimming around, and I imagine Delta Mewtwo would be very useful in those formats.
Shortly after the initial Delta Mewtwo, there was another released along with Mewtwo Star. While three different Energy for an attack is always a difficult feat to pull off, its Energy Absorption can help with setup. After that, Psychic Star is a decent attack. It is conditional, meaning you can use Mewtwo to pick off Basic Pokemon if you are lucky enough to get this bad kitty out and powered up fast enough, and it can also serve as a cannon to wipe out bigger targets. A fickle engine to fuel, but formidable enough to be worth the effort in a pre-EX format.
You'll also notice a shift in character portrayal here. Previous depictions of Mewtwo ranged from alien and unreadable to outright hostile. This Mewtwo looks like it is burning with a righteous fury. Its outspread arms indicate a desire to protect. This card came out several years after Mewtwo Returns first debuted, where the perpetual misanthrope was given a redemption arc and revealed a softer side, but most TCG art continued to showcase that signature scowl and disappointment in humanity. This deviation from the norm is my favorite art of Mewtwo in the TCG.
Majestic Dawn's Mewtwo brings back that aloof, otherworldly appearance this science experiment is known for. Energy Absorption is also back, with a new innovation for the game: attacks that don't cost Energy. These were usually low-powered freebies. As a general rule, if you are getting something for free, it doesn't have to be good to be worth the money. It's free. When you combo this free attack with Mewtwo's Recover, you get an endless loop of healing. Seriously, this is the ultimate stall card, and your opponent has to essentially One Hit KO Mewtwo if they ever want to get a shot at what's on your Bench. This purple powerhouse is the perfect wall to hide behind while you power up your other Pokemon - and sure, walls aren't as cool as tanks, but they can be every bit as effective strategy-wise.
Following right after Majestic Dawn was Legends Awakened, which featured Mewtwo Lv.X. This card may only have one attack, but it has an incredibly powerful Poke-Body. Being able to stonewall Basic Pokemon is huge, especially in formats that rely heavily on strong Basics like Groudon or Rayquaza. Its attack is also pretty beefy. Power creep might make 120 damage seem small, but back then it could Knock Out even most Legendary Pokemon. This Mewtwo is a force to be reckoned with, but since it isn't Shiny or tortured, its price has remained pretty reasonable. All the more reason to pick it up.
When Mega Evolutions were introduced, it was pretty much a no-brainer that Mewtwo, one of the most consistently popular Pokemon, would get one. However, it was a pleasant surprise when it got not one, but two different Mega forms. This led to several new Mewtwo cards in the sixth generation. Mewtwo EX remains pretty intimidating, even in a format loaded with beefy Pokemon EX.
Truth be told, though, Mewtwo's real threats were its Mega Evolutions. While both are decently powerful, Mega Mewtwo's Y form saw far more competitive play. The key is the attack cost: for a single Double Colorless Energy, which was in Standard at the time, you could unleash a powerful attack that punished your opponent the more Energy their active Pokemon had attached. In a format filled with massive bombs, you weren't seeing very many Pokemon swinging for a single Energy. This meant that Mega Mewtwo Y could easily turn their own power against them, forcing opponents to either play under full power with smaller attacks or be taken down quickly. Some variants of the deck splashed in Mewtwo's other Mega form, which has a pretty punishing attack, but the more difficult Energy requirements for the X version meant it saw far less competitive play.
After the hard and heavy Generation VI, Pokemon decided to pull the format back a little. They rotated out some key acceleration cards (like the standard "discard your hand draw 7" Supporter card) and did away with Pokemon EX automatically being Basic. Players were back to having to evolve some Pokemon, which only made strong Basic Pokemon more of a cornerstone.
In a format that was trying to slow the pace of the game slightly, Mewtwo GX was neither small nor slow. This is a big, meaty monster of a 'mon. The first attack is another that does more damage the more Energy you have attached. While that may not seem like much, it means you aren't wasting Energy if you attach 3 to launch its GX attack. GX attacks can only be used once per game, so having to attach an additional Energy for an attack you can only use once is a hard decision. That said, if you can still make use of that Energy to increase your damage output, well, it makes the pill a bit sweeter to swallow. Combo this with the fact that the Secret alternate art of the card features the birth of Mewtwo, and it's an obvious winner. I opened the Secret Version when the set was still new, and was able to sell it for a tidy sum.
Looking back now, though, I'd actually rather have the card than the cash. There's something haunting and iconic about Mewtwo swimming in a test tube. It's that classic 90's iconography from the movie - the horror of science coupled with the wonder of creation, the angst Mewtwo feels about the very unnaturalness of its birth, and the threat of an experiment about to go very wrong.
Mewtwo and movies are a classic combination, and when the Pokemon franchise made a massive blockbuster, it's not a huge surprise that the space cat put in a major appearance. Detective Pikachu again featured Mewtwo in an antagonistic role, and again, special packs were released alongside the movie to help promote it. Judging from this card alone, you'd think that Mewtwo was some sort of evil mastermind.
The key difference in this movie is that Mewtwo, while still an ungodly abomination of science, is no longer the source of conflict. Instead, (spoiler warning for the five people on the planet who haven't seen the movie yet) Mewtwo is a victim, used against its will for the machinations of a billionaire. Perhaps this shows how in the last 20 years we've stopped viewing pure science as a threat, and instead are more skeptical of the powers that wield it. No longer is Mewtwo a monster; instead, it's the rich, eccentric sociopaths hoping to use the creature for their own personal gain that are the true villains.
Released shortly after Detective Pikachu, Mewtwo & Mew GX is the most current appearance in the TCG. This is a versatile card, and is currently seeing some competitive use as an alternative to Eternatus decks. Going beyond the card's pure utility, the lore behind it is enough to bring a tear to my eye. Mewtwo finally made peace with Mew, and the two have set aside their differences to kick ass together. Just like the Ability proclaims, this is Perfection.
That concludes Mewtwo's story as told through trading cards — from B movie monster to Wonder Duo. It's truly a redemption arc for the ages, and I'm curious about what the future holds. Maybe we'll come full circle to 60's enthusiasm for science, and Mewtwo will become a benevolent benefactor. Whatever happens, here's to another 20 years of Mewtwo supremacy!