Here at Cheese & Pixels, I like to take kind of a glib tone with my Pokémon appraisals, but I’m actually a big fan of the trading card game, especially its online iteration. The Pokémon Company just released the seventh expansion of the XY era, called Ancient Origins, and the format will be rotating on September 1, meaning some older cards will be phased out of normal play. At that time, only XY-era cards will be legal in the game’s Standard rotation, and a lot of great cards that players rely on will be no longer be Standard-legal, meaning some decks are going to have to tweak their strategy or face obsolescence.
When the Pokégods close one door, however, they open another. Some cards are only going away in spirit, because some of the cards that have arisen in the new Ancient Origins set have attacks that are either identical or similar to cards leaving Standard rotation. Today, we’re going to look at four such cards.
1. Vespiquen (Ancient Origins 10/98)
Spiritual Successor to: Flareon (Plasma Freeze 12/116)
Bee Revenge has base damage output and an effect identical to Flareon’s Vengeance, for which the latter ended up being more useful in the long run. Here, Bee Revenge gets the marquee second attack position, as opposed to its position on Flareon as the first attack, which is generally considered the lesser of the two on any given card, though sometimes new developments retroactively give a previously unconsidered attack greater potential (e.g., Raichu‘s Circle Circuit being enhanced by Sky Field). I saw Flareon used to its best effect most often in Night March decks, where Vengeance’s colorless energy requirement and reliance on the discard pile for bonus damage made it a solid late-game Plan B, so Vespiquen also has a future as an option there.
Which is better? I just barely give the edge to Flareon. Both are Stage 1 evolutions. Flareon has 10 more hit points than Vespiquen, but Vespiquen has an enviable free retreat cost, so it can run to the (relative) safety of the bench without eating a pair of energies (if that’s what it comes to; there are plenty of simple ways to retreat for free). Grass types are once again poised to become a force to be reckoned with (see below), and Vespiquen could become somewhat dangerous in the endgame if all its deckmates are sitting in the discard pile. However, I think attacks of the Vengeance/Bee Revenge ilk are better as a “first” attack, since you still have an option to do more consistent damage in case Vengeance isn’t powered up to its proper potential. Vespiquen’s other attack, Intelligence Gathering, is pretty wimpy on all levels; you can get six cards into your hand without wasting your attack just by putting Shaymin-EX on your bench, and in terms of attack-based options, Lucario-EX’s Corkscrew Punch does the same thing for 50 more damage (and that’s before factoring in the ludicrous amount of legal damage-boosting support that fighting types have). Even though Heat Tackle does do minor damage to Flareon itself and both cards favor both Double Colorless Energy usage and insertion into decks that don’t match their type, the Flareon is just a teensy bit more versatile.
2. Regice (Ancient Origins 24/98)
Spiritual Successor to: Suicune (Plasma Blast 20/101)
As EXs came to dominate the metagame in the Black & White era, the need arose for the designers to create cards that could combat their encroaching power creep. Suicune proved highly successful in this regard with its Safeguard ability, which nerfed EXs to the point of total inefficacy. It remains a major presence in water decks to this day. It can also answer pitiful whimpers of zero damage with a respectable 70, which could be boosted to 100 with a Silver Bangle. If you run a water deck, you run Suicune, but I can’t say I’m going to miss encountering it in Standard play.
Which is better? I say Suicune. You can see what they were going for with Regice. Safeguard is no longer an Ability you can take as a given, but instead is now baked into the Resistance Blizzard attack, which does the same damage and carries the same energy cost as Suicune’s Aurora Beam, as its side effect. That’s actually a little bit of a pro, since it makes the effect no longer susceptible to things like Garbotoxin and Silent Lab, but until you reach the point where you’ve attached enough energy to Regice to use Resistance Blizzard, it can still take damage. Regice does have more hit points than Suicune—120, a respectable amount for a basic non-EX Pokémon, but it doesn’t have as much presence and swagger as that Suicune card did. I still think it will see a non-negligible amount of play, because completely shutting out damage or any other effects from EXs is pretty sweet no matter how you slice it.
3. Lugia-EX (Ancient Origins 68/98, 94/98)
Spiritual Successor to: Mewtwo-EX (Next Destinies 54/99, 98/99; Legendary Treasures 54/113; Black Star Promo BW45)
Mewtwo-EX was the first EX Pokémon to dominate in a big way. It had far more hit points and had far greater potential damage output than anything else at the time of its release. It became less effective as the means to contend with it grew in scope and power, but it remained a strong presence. It had the major advantage of fitting into any deck, since its stronger attack, X Ball, required no specific energy type to use. If you had it, you ran it, and that was that. All hail Mewtwo-EX.
Which is better? I think they’re on pretty equal footing stat-wise. They both have the same amount of hit points, and X Ball and Aero Ball are totally identical as far as damage output and energy cost, so it comes down to the little differences. Unlike Mewtwo-EX, Lugia-EX has a resistance, in this case taking 20 less damage from fighting types. Resistance usually isn’t going to make or break a match, but its presence is always appreciated. I would also say it’s got a superior second attack; Deep Hurricane does more damage than Psydrive provided a Stadium card is in play, and you have to discard the Stadium card, not any energy off of Lugia, which is great.
I think Lugia-EX is a little bit better, because it fits so well into the current format. It’s colorless, so (Mega) Rayquaza-EX and Shaymin-EX have a new friend to play with (as if they needed that), and it can be summoned straight out of the deck by Winona. In Expanded, Aspertia City Gym will boost its maximum HP to 190. Colorless support is light years better than psychic support, so I think you’re going to be seeing this card pretty much everywhere anyone can fit it.
4. Mega Sceptile-EX (Ancient Origins 8/98, 85/98)
Spiritual Successor to: Virizion-EX (Plasma Blast 9/101, 96/101)
Virizion-EX is so iconic that it represents half of an entire deck archetype, known as VirGen, which paired Virizion-EX and Genesect-EX together for total annihilation. Virizion accelerated energy attachment and protected anyone with grass energy attached to them from special conditions, and Genesect could lay waste to just about anything in a single hit with G Booster, an attack so powerful it was printed on a separate card that had to be attached to Genesect as a Pokémon Tool. It defined the format and made grass the type to run for an entire era. How can Mega Sceptile-EX possibly hope to live up to that?
Which is better? If you want to have success, one good way to do it is to take something somebody has done and do it better. That’s why I think Mega Sceptile-EX is going to bring grass types back to prominence. Jagged Saber is functionally identical to Emerald Slash, with a host of minor but significant improvements. It does twice as much damage as Emerald Slash, making Mega Sceptile a more viable attacker. The energy attachment effect can be spread wider, with the two energy cards being attached however you like, as opposed to Emerald Slash which could only power up one Pokémon. And the Pokémon that get energy attached to them that way? Completely healed! Mega Sceptile-EX is basically a souped-up Virizion-EX. It also has the new θ (Theta) Stop Ancient Trait, which prevents it from being affected by your opponent’s Abilities, meaning it’s the only Mega Evolution that can deal damage to the new Giratina-EX, whose Renegade Pulse ability will otherwise make it the favored way to deal with Mega Evolution Pokémon going forward. You can even get Mega Sceptile-EX out on the field on your first turn by attaching a Sceptile Spirit Link and playing the new Forest of Giant Plants Stadium card. This is the kind of card that makes the type it has weakness against rise in deck popularity as a response to it (as electric types have against the aforementioned Rayquaza/Shaymin combo), so I predict we’ll see fire types on the up-and-up if this card gains traction, which I think it will. In every way that matters, Mega Sceptile-EX is superior to Virizion-EX.
 They will continue to be usable in the game’s Expanded and Unlimited modes.