If you grew up in the ’90s, it’s a near certainty that you spent some portion of your formative years obsessing over Pokémon. Between the massively popular video games, the anime and of course the Pokémon Trading Card Game, it was almost impossible to avoid getting swept up in Pokémania. Part of the magic behind the franchise’s early years were the seemingly endless number of rumors circling around the series. Secret areas accessible in Pokémon Red & Blue, episodes of the anime that were banned in the States and changes made to the cards for their release outside Japan all helped to fuel the hype surrounding the massive franchise.
However, with massive cult-like popularity often comes controversy. Much like every other corner of the franchise, the Pokémon Trading Card Game was no stranger to ruffling the feathers of parents, religious groups and even their own fans. Over the years, The Pokémon Company has chosen to ban or alter several cards for reasons ranging from them being completely unfair in competitive play to censoring controversial art for Western audiences. Today, we’ll be looking at 15 Pokémon Cards that were either banned from competitive play or altered for release in the United States.
15. ANCIENT MEW
Let’s kick this list off with a card most of our readers will immediately recognize, “Ancient Mew.” The card was released as a promotional item for the second theatrical movie based on the anime, Pokémon The Movie 2000 (a.k.a. The Power of One). Around the world, the card was given to those who bought tickets during the first week of the film’s release and it also made an appearance in the movie as the object that started the villain Lawrence III’s collection.
As you can tell from the image above, Ancient Mew’s text was unreadable due to being written in a Runic alphabet. Despite the fact that the card’s underwhelming stats and abilities were officially translated by Wizards of the Coast, making it completely playable, the card was banned in both the Unlimited and Modified formats.
14. MULTIPLE VERSIONS OF JYNX
Our next entry should come as no surprise to any Pokefan who pays close attention to the way Pokémon appear in the video games. Jynx, a humanoid Pokémon introduced as a part of the series’ original 151, drew widespread criticism for being a racist caricature after writer Carole Boston Weatherford, called out an episode of the anime titled “Holiday Hi-Jynx” in an article titled “Politically Incorrect Pokémon.”
Since then, the character’s original black skin was officially changed to purple in all subsequent appearances, including reprints of her Pokémon cards (specifically the “Sabrina’s Jynx” cards from the Gym Heroes and Gym Challenge sets). Interestingly enough, the first Jynx card to be recolored, the original Base Set Jynx, was released in January 1999, nearly a year before the dub of “Holiday Hi-Jynx” aired and Weatherford wrote her article.
13. IMAKUNI?’S DODUO
This entry is a bit of an outlier because it’s one of the only cards to be intentionally banned as soon as it was printed. In bright red font at the bottom of “Imakuni?’s Doduo” are the words “(This card cannot be used at official tournaments.).” The card’s special ability, “Frenzied Escape,” requires players to throw the card as far as they can when retreating, and its one attack, “Harmonize,” requires you to sing a song “from the moment you use this attack” with damage only resolving when the song is done.
The card is also notable for being one of the many examples of Pokémon’s strange relationship with Japanese musician Imakuni?. After working on music for the anime, Imakuni? became involved in promoting the TCG and has since been featured as a character in multiple cards, video games and manga series.
12. TEAM ROCKET GRIMER
The next item on our list, the Grimer featured in the Team Rocket expansion, is another card that had its artwork censored when it got released outside of Japan. The original artwork from the Japanese Rocket Gang expansion appears to show Grimer looking up a girl’s skirt. Though the card’s artist Kagemaru Himeno has since denied this assertion, when the card was reprinted for the Team Rocket set in the United States, Grimer’s eyes were redrawn to be looking forward.
However, that’s not the only change that was made to the card when it came to the West. For some unknown reason, the English version of Grimer’s attack , “Poison Gas,” was also changed to make an opponent’s Pokémon fall asleep instead of (as the name suggests) being poisoned.
11. NEO GENESIS SNEASEL
The Sneasel introduced in the Neo Genesis set was one of the most infamous bans made by Wizards of the Coast because of how disruptive the card had become to the meta. Thanks to its “Beat Up” attack, the card was both devastating and rampant because of its ability to do an average of 80 damage and a maximum of 140 damage per turn as early as the second turn.
This, coupled with the card’s zero Retreat Cost and type weaknesses made Sneasel eclipse the previous record holder, Base Set Electabuzz, which dealt 30 damage or 40 on a coin flip for the same amount of energy. Sneasel was specifically targeted for banning (along with our next entry) when the Modified format was introduced in 2001 with the Team Rocket set and would remain illegal until the Neo Genesis set was rotated out of the format.
10. NEO GENESIS SLOWKING
Though it wasn’t immediately banned like our last entry, the Slowking card introduced in the Neo Gensis set was the next card to be removed from the Modified format about a year later in 2002. This was due to a misprint that allowed Slowking’s special ability, “Mind Games,” to be used from the bench. The ability allowed players to flip a coin whenever their opponent played a Trainer card; if it landed on heads, the opponent’s card would do nothing and get placed on top of their deck.
This meant players could use multiple Slowkings from the bench to heavily control the odds a trainer card could be successfully played, limiting their opponent’s ability to search and draw. This made Slowking a dominant force in the meta, with many games coming down to who could set up their Slowking(s) first and control the match.
9. SABRINA’S GAZE
Like many of the entries on our list, both versions of the Trainer Card “Sabrina’s Gaze,” were done by Ken Sugimori, the lead character designer and art director for the Pokémon franchise. In addition to his work on every major Pokémon game and many of the theatrical movies, Sugimori has also contributed a great deal of art to the TCG.
Sugimori’s original design for the Japanese version of the card was completely redone due to concerns that it looked like Sabrina was giving the finger. What’s interesting though is that instead of a simple redesign, Sugimori decided to draw an entirely new pose of the Saffron City Gym Leader Sabrina. For the American version, she is shown throwing a Pokéball instead of holding a Master Ball and her hand is completely outstretched.
8. FOREST OF GIANT PLANTS
The next two entries we’ll be looking at were another pair of cards that had bans which went hand in hand. After two years of legal play, the Trainer Card “Forest of Giant Plants” was officially banned in July 2017 from all sanctioned tournaments using the Expanded format.
“Forest of Giant Plants” was finally removed from tournament play due to the belief that its ability enabled far too many unfair strategies which relied on Grass Pokémon. The card allowed for Grass Pokémon to be evolved “during [a player’s] first turn or the turn he or she plays those Pokémon.” As you can imagine, this gave players a clear incentive to build decks around powerful Grass Pokémon like our next entry, the Shiftry card introduced in the Next Destinies set.
7. NEXT DESTINIES SHIFTRY
Despite never seeing competitive play during its time in the Standard format, the Shiftry card from the Next Destinies set was banned from all sanctioned events using the Expanded format due to its synergy with “Forest of Giant Plants.” Using the two cards together allowed players to use Shiftry’s Ability, “Giant Fan,” multiple times in one turn.
This meant that players could potentially clear their opponent’s entire field, defeating them before they could even do anything. What’s most interesting about this ban though is that it was first banned on September 1st, 2015, two years before “Forest of Giant Plants” was removed from the game. Shiftry’s ban has since been lifted now that “Forest” is illegal and its ability can no longer be exploited.
6. MOO-MOO MILK
Our next entry, the “Moo-Moo Milk” Trainer Card, was another card that had its art redesigned when it was released outside Japan. The original design found in the Japanese set Gold, Silver, to a New World… by TCG artist Tomokazu Komiya, depicted the Pokémon Sentret suckling an artificial cow udder that’s being held by what we can assume is a farmer.
Due to concerns that the original art would be deemed inappropriate for the game’s target audience in the States, Komiya redesigned the card entirely. In the U.S. version of the card found in the Neo Genesis set, the art instead features a barn full of Moo-Moo Milk and a Cleffa. The redesigned version of the card was reprinted a number of times before being redesigned again (and reclassified as an item card) with new artwork by Noriko Hotta for the Japanese HeartGold & SoulSilver expansion.
5. NOBLE VICTORIES/DARK EXPLORERS ARCHEOPS
Our next pick, the two Archeops cards found in the Noble Victories and Dark Explorers expansions, were both banned from all sanctioned tournaments using the Expanded format alongside “Forest of Giant Plants” back in July 2017. Despite technically being two different cards (due to the Dark Explorers reprint having new art), both cards share the same abilities and stats, meaning they were banned alongside each other.
The ban came from the belief that Archeops’ ability “Ancient Power,” which made it so “Each player can’t play any Pokémon from his or her hand to evolve his or her Pokémon,” was creating an unfavorable meta for decks that relied on evolution. It was also deemed to limit the number of viable strategies when coupled with the Trainer Card “Maxie’s Hidden Ball Trick,” which allowed a player to put a fighting type Pokémon from their discard pile onto their Bench.
4. HAPPY BIRTHDAY PIKACHU
The next item on our list, the “___’s Pikachu” card, is the only other card aside from “Ancient Mew” that is banned in both the Unlimited format and the Modified format. Though the Japanese version of the card includes a disclaimer just like the one on “Imakuni?’s Doduo,” the American version did not. This resulted in an immediate ban from Wizards of the Coast, due to the fact that players could easily lie and claim it was their birthday to bolster the card’s attack power.
Commonly referred to as “Happy Birthday Pikachu,” the card was a promotional item given out in Japan for the Pokémon 2nd Anniversary Calendar and was later reprinted for the manga series, How I Became a Pokémon Card. In America, the card was distributed through a Wizards of the Coast mail-in campaign where fans were asked to draw a picture of their dream card.
3. LYSANDRE’S TRUMP CARD
The Trainer Card based on Team Flare’s leader, “Lysandre’s Trump Card” was banned from all sanctioned tournaments in June 2015 thanks to the card’s disruptive abilities. The card’s use causes both players to shuffle all cards in his or her discard pile (except for “Lysandre’s Trump Card” itself) back into their deck. Putting all of your discard pile back into the game is a huge advantage on its own, but it changed the flow of games in other, more significant ways.
For starters, this made it impossible for a player using “Lysandre’s Trump Card” to run out of cards (meaning they could never lose the game this way). It also allowed players to quickly draw through their decks without repercussion, use Trainer Cards more than once and overall extended the length of battles.
2. KOGA’S NINJA TRICK
One quick look at the original art for our next pick should immediately clue you in to why this card’s art was censored for its international release. The Japanese version of the Trainer Card “Koga’s Ninja Trick,” by artist Sumiyoshi Kizuki shows an omote manji, a Buddhist symbol which is a mirrored-image version of the infamous swastika used by the Nazi party.
Despite the fact that the manji predates the Nazi swastika by centuries, Kizuki was understandably tasked to redesign the card for its release outside Japan. The updated version of the card found in the Gym Challenge expansion saw the manji replaced by another Eastern looking symbol. We unfortunately weren’t able to identify the symbol Kizuki chose to replace it with, but it’s one that was obviously far less politically charged.
1. MISTY’S TEARS
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more surprising, we have our final entry: the Trainer Card “Misty’s Tears,” which was first introduced in the Hanada City Gym Theme Deck for the Japanese Leaders’ Stadium expansion. In the original artwork (another card by Sugimori) the Cerulean City Gym Leader/anime character is depicted as being naked with her Staryu.
Given that Misty is consistently presented as an underage girl, this card received an understandable amount of criticism and was completely redesigned for its international release. In Sugimori’s far more appropriate redesign, Misty is shown to actually be crying while a Squirtle wipes the tears from her eyes. This card stands out just because of how surprisingly tone deaf the art is for a series aimed primarily at children.
What’s your favorite banned Pokémon card? Let us know in the comments below!
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