Stage 2’s … more like Stage Lose

So let me just start by saying that I know that’s a negative title, and if you know my writing, you know I can be rough sometimes but I’m usually not harshly negative like that.  However, I think this subject is worth some sharp writing – Pokemon deserves some criticism for putting itself in this position.

Stage 2 decks are terrible right now.  It’s a problem they’ve constructed, they’ve put themselves into it, they own it, it’s all theirs, and they need to get themselves out of it … if they even want a balanced game.

Only four decks at Collinsville had Stage 2 Pokemon (Gardy Gallade 15th, Buluvolt 23rd and 24th, and a single Gardy in a quad Sylveon build at 59th).  There were a few more at Malmo (six Stage 2’s in the top 32) but that tournament was a quarter of the size of Collinsville.

Here’s how I did with Stage 2 decks over the first few days of the month:

  • Delphox 0 W 2 L
  • Greninja 0 W 2 L
  • Leafeon Decidueye 0 W 2 L
  • Leafeon Torterra 2 W 4 L
  • Rampardos Buzzwole 3 W 4 L
  • Solgaleo 2 W 2 L
  • Gardevoir 1 W 3 L

Overall, I went 8 W 19 L with Stage 2 decks.  It’s just been painful trying to get them to work.  They take too long to develop.  Most games I couldn’t even get three Stage 2’s out at the same time to try to take advantage of Super Boost Energy.  It’s almost like if you don’t get turn 1 Brigette, forget it you’re just not going to be ready soon enough to compete against your opponent.

And there’s just no guarantee that you’re going to get Evosoda or Rare Candy or Heavy Ball when you need them even when you do get the turn 1 Brigette.  We don’t have a Supporter card that lets you go get even a single non GX evolution Pokemon.  So you have to avoid a little bad luck to get the turn 1 Brigette (it’s possible to go all out and get it about 70 something percent of the time) but then you also have to avoid a little bad luck again to make sure you get the evolution Pokemon you need when you need them.  Basically, avoiding a little bad luck twice in two turns is essentially the same as flipping a coin once – this means your evolution deck is going to brick about half of the time.

And then there’s simply the inherent fact that a Basic deck just has more room for cards.  It doesn’t have to run Stage 1’s or 2’s or Evosoda or Rare Candy.  That is literally a dozen additional cards that a Big Basic deck can choose to run that the evolution deck just doesn’t have the luxury of even considering.

The best example of this is Max Elixir.  Not only does it benefit the Big Basic decks, evolution decks can’t even use it.  Honestly, Pokemon got Max Elixir completely backwards when they designed it – it should only be allowed to attach to evolution Pokemon NOT Basics.  And many of the Big Basic Pokemon have attack costs that have the same cost as Basic Pokemon allowing them to abuse Max Elixir to accelerate their development.  So not only does a Big Basic not have to evolve, with Max Elixir it doesn’t even have to wait three turns to attach energy.  It can hit for full damage on turn 2.

A great example of this is the new Dusk Mane Necrozma GX and Solgaleo GX.  They both have feature attacks that do 230 damage and basically require a three energy discard.  And Solgaleo GX is a Stage 2 Pokemon and Dusk Mane is a Basic.  Granted, Solgaleo GX has a really good ability and an excellent GX attack, but why should a Big Basic Pokemon even have a feature attack that is on par with a Stage 2 Pokemon’s attack?

Tapu Bulu GX, Buzzwole GX, Ho-Oh GX, Dusk Mane Necrozma GX… why do these Basic Pokemon all have the potential to do more than 200 damage on a fairly easily repeatable basis?  It’s not difficult for all four of these Pokemon to repeatedly do more damage than most of their Stage 2 peers.  When you build these massive, dominant Basic Pokemon it’s just natural that Stage 2 Pokemon are going to be less competitive.  This is the perfect example of the zero sum game: if Basics get more favor, Stage 2’s will decrease in potency.

And Stage 2 Pokemon aren’t getting the best abilities.  Let’s face it: Trade should be on a Stage 2 Pokemon.  Garbotoxin should be on a Stage 2 Pokemon.  Steam Up, Bloodthirsty Eyes, maybe even Abyssal Hand should all be on Stage 2 Pokemon.  I get why Wonder Tag is on a Basic – peace I understand that.  But what it pretty much comes down to is the fact that if the best attacks and abilities are on Basic and Stage 1 Pokemon, why even bother trying to struggle to get inferior Stage 2 Pokemon to work?

And we all know that the measly incremental boost in HP between Basic and Stage 1 and Stage 1 and Stage 2 Pokemon is essentially irrelevant.  We live in a meta today where any Big Basic can get OHKO’d but also pretty much every attack will two shot every Stage 2 Pokemon.  There’s no meta deck out there today that can’t do over 250 damage over two turns.  250 HP is basically no different than 220 or maybe even 190 HP.  Chances are, whatever GX Pokemon you’re running is going to get two shot whether it’s a 190 HP Big Basic or a 250 HP Stage 2 Pokemon.  Therefore, the extra 60 or 70 HP is functionally irrelevant.  It’s just not worth all the trouble to try to get to a Stage 2 Pokemon when it’s probably going to get two shot like everything else.  And unlike Big Basics, you’re less inclined to use Super Scoop Up or Acerola on your Stage 2 Pokemon.

So we all get it – and I’m probably telling you nothing you didn’t already know: Stage 2 Pokemon are inherently inferior to Big Basics and Stage 1 Pokemon.  So how does Pokemon fix the problem?

  1. Higher HP’s – we’ve already started to see it with 180 HP Torterra and 160 HP Empoleon.  If you’re going to get to Stage 2, it’s got to be worth it.  GX Stage 2 Pokemon should go all the way up to 300 at this point – that’s the only way they’re going to put themselves out of 2 hit territory.
  2. Put the best abilities on Stage 2 Pokemon.  I’ve already talked about that and it’s pretty clear – if you put really good abilities on Basic Pokemon, people aren’t going to play Stage 2 Pokemon.
  3. Make Stage 2 attacks less expensive.  Seriously, a Big Basic feature attack should be three attachments with only one of those attachments at most being Colorless. Stage 2 Pokemon attacks should cost two attachments TOPS.
  4. Stage 2 primary attacks should do more damage than Big Basic primary attacks.  Stop it with the Big Basics that can hit for 200+ damage.
  5. Give Stage 2’s some cards that will really help:
    1. Make Super Boost Energy 4 energy attached to any Stage 2 Pokemon regardless of how many Pokemon are in play.
    2. Bring back something like Korrina where you can play a Supporter to get a Stage 2 Pokemon, an energy, and an Item card all at the same time.
    3. Give us a Supporter card that will let us grab two or more non GX evolution Pokemon out of our decks.
    4. Give us a Supporter card that will let us grab a single Stage 2 Pokemon and evolve it on top of a Basic in play without Rare Candy and on the first turn it is put into play.
    5. Make a Stadium that increases damage done by Stage 2 Pokemon only by 30 points.

There are tons of other things Pokemon could do to increase the viability of Stage 2 Pokemon.  Will they do these things?  Not all of them.  They will do some, but they will even further constrain what steps they do take, and we’ll wind up seeing more cards like Super Boost Energy that just don’t do enough to bridge the gap of competitiveness between Big Basics and Stage 2 Pokemon.  And we’ll see less and less Stage 2 Pokemon… which means we’ll probably see none for the rest of this season.