On March 19, 2021, the Pokemon TCG will roll out its first mainline English expansion of 2021 - Battle Styles! The release is significant because it introduces a fresh new mechanic into the trading card game: Single Strike and Rapid Strike cards in the form of numerous pokemon, trainers, and special energies. Whether this new mechanic will have a meaningful and lasting impact on the state of competitive play remains very much up for debate. Similarly, for the collectors in the TCG community, Battle Styles will be somewhat of a mixed bag. It will have plenty to offer, especially in the form of full-art Pokemon and trainer cards, but foregoes many of the extras we’ve grown accustomed to over the past 9 months.
How will Battle Styles be received by the competitive TCG community and what impact might it have? Although I’m far from an expert in this area, my understanding is that it’s just too early to tell. The introduction of the Rapid Strike and Single Strike mechanics, whose existence has been confirmed beyond just this set, will be something to watch. What precisely is the difference between the two? In principle, they’re pretty self-explanatory: the single strike pokemon deliver knockout punches and take a while to recover, whereas the rapid strike pokemon spread their damage more evenly and with greater consistency, if only at the expense of power. The two variants of Urshifu VMAX exemplify this well. Single strike Urshifu VMAX can pack a 270 punch, whereas the Rapid strike form can deliver up to 150 in a single blow, and your chances of repeating that attack from turn to turn are greater, though not guaranteed. Either way, once these decks start popping up, it might be a good time to put your Eternatus VMAX deck on the shelf - it will struggle. Aside from that there are no indications that the dominance of Zacian/ADP decks and Pikachu/Zekrom decks are at any formidable risk of being imminently dethroned.
What impact might Battle Styles have on the ballooning collector market? Given the sky-high demand for any and all Pokemon TCG products, you can bet that in the short-term sealed products of all types will continue to be scooped from shelves instantaneously, meaning that the availability drought is expected to continue. Keep an eye on this though, because things can change quickly. For the first time since Rebel Clash, (which feels like a lifetime ago), we’re receiving a set with no Charizard, no shiny pokemon, no amazing rares, and frankly no headline chase card. There are several exciting new alternate-art variant cards, as well as several additions to the incredibly popular full-art trainer cards, including several “waifus” that have taken the market by storm. Absent from this set and the previous specialty set, though, is Marnie, which continues to be a disappointment, but keep an eye out for full-art variants of some of the set-mascots like Empoleon, Tyranitar, and of course Urshifu.
After nearly a year of star-studded and widely-acclaimed set releases (Darkness Ablaze, Champion’s Path, Vivid Voltage, Shining Fates), Pokemon turns it’s focus back to its core - the competitive TCG community - and provides an expansion that foreshadows the arrival of a (hopefully) not-too-distant future when we can again gather in competitions and conventions, big and small to celebrate an amazing game. No matter how you feel about Battle Styles as a set, buckle-up, because we’re not even through the first quarter, and this 25th anniversary year is certain to have many more fireworks in store.
This article was contributed by Michael Harris. Michael is an educator and lifelong Pokémon enthusiast based in Fairfax, Virginia.