The last time that I reviewed the Pokémon TCG – for the XY Furious Fists expansion – I had to re-learn a game I had first played a decade and a half before. As such, all the nuances, all the little changes and the like probably got swept into the review of that deck. Coming to XY Ancient Origins, and its two new theme decks Stone Heart and Iron Tide, I’m naturally in a much better position to notice any changes this time out.
The headline feature of Ancient Origins is new Ancient Traits. These are abilities that aren’t affected by the course of play – so they cannot be blocked by your opponent like normal abilities – and allow you to place two Tool cards on a single Pokémon, say, or ignore all effects of your opponent’s abilities. It’s a subtle change for sure, but it adds another dimension to battles, allowing combinations of certain types of items that haven’t been possible before, or suddenly nullifying a powerful card.
As you would expect from this expansion-within-an-expansion, the standard game is unaltered. Your opponent and you take turns playing cards, placing energy, items and the like before attacking with your active card (for a full rundown read my previous review linked at the top of the page). Old hands – if you’ll pardon the pun – will immediately know what to do, with only the occasional card having an Ancient Trait to take into account.
For new players – and collectors – the best starting point are the two new theme decks. Stone Heart is a Grass/Fighting deck, whilst Iron Tide is Water/Metal, headlined by Regirock and Metacross, respectively. Again for new players, these contain everything you need to start playing straight away, the decks even coming pre-shuffled.
That said, they don’t seem too well balanced. On the face of it Stone Heart should have it easier, with Grass strong against Water, and Fighting nullifying the Metal and Colourless Pokémon in the Iron Tide deck. In reality though, Stone Heart only has two Fighting type cards: a pair of – admittedly powerful – Regirocks. Over the course of the review period, the player with the Iron Tide deck won noticeably more. The latter’s Pokémon just seem a little more resilient, taking more of a beating than their counterparts in Stone Heart, alongside the fact that many of the Water cards’ weaknesses were to Electric instead of Grass.
In fairness, I think Stone Heart demands a more tactical player to take full advantage, using the Grass Pokémon in there to poison and stun the opponents, while Iron Tide is blunter.
There’s a nice presence for some original 151 Pokémon, which is cool (does that make me a Pokémon hipster?), with Vileplume stacking up again Gyarados and Vaporeon in these decks, before you even get to the booster packs.
As always the cards are of great quality, with a mixture of art-styles ranging from traditional anime to more 3D, computer generated images, sometimes even a mix of both. The included game mat is also great, as clear and easy to use as ever.
What else is there to say: XY Ancient Origins is more Pokémon. For the hardcore, the new Ancient Traits will provide a bit of a twist on the game, but for the majority who might only pick up a theme deck or a couple of boosters it is hardly a drastic reshuffling. But then it doesn’t need to be. The Pokémon TCG has been going almost 20 years at this point, and it still plays fantastically. Enough said.