VGC From A TCG Perspective
Of course! The perfect time waster.

Hey SixPrizes. So for everyone not going to Worlds, and a major rotation on the horizon along with the release of a new set, there’s not much you can do but sit around and wait for September to come. Or is there? You know… I seem to recall this strange handheld device. What is this familiar feeling? Some sort of video…. game…

That was it! You can spend hours playing the Pokémon TCG in the original format on your Game Boy Color that’s been sitting in your closet for the last 10 years. Oh, and once you’re bored with that, you might pick up a nostalgic copy of Pokémon Red or Blue, and play the game that came before the cards.

Yes, Pokémon’s roots actually lie in a video game. I know, crazy right? But what’s there to do in the video game past grinding against the Elite 4 and capturing all 150 of those little buggers? Wait… 151? No… now there are 649 Pokémon available for capture (well… technically 646 until the exclusive promo Pokémon come out).
Even lovable Shuckle can be competitive

What’s more is that, pretty much all of the fully evolved Pokémon out there (and even some non-fully evolved Pokémon) are competitive in the VGC environment.

Yes, the Video Game has a competitive environment just like the TCG does. You may have noticed VGC regionals tacked onto the back end of TCG, taking place during the TCG top cuts on the following days. Well, VGC is looking to get some more support this year, while adopting the Championship Points program. It’s been confirmed that there are going to be 3 VGC Regionals this year, which means there will be more premier Video Game events in the upcoming season. We may even get States and Cities!

What’s more is that VGC provides another option for players looking to earn travel awards to Nationals (including a Juniors division ripe for the pickings)! Got your interest yet? What if I told you that the only investment you have to make beyond a Nintendo DS is about $40 a year (or less)?

A little about myself. I started out playing VGC (although my first season could hardly be called a season) and then adopted TCG this past year. So today I’m here to try and introduce all you TCG players to the Video Game side of Pokémon, from the perspective of a TCG’er. There are actually a number of similarities between the two games, and of course a few differences as well. So without further ado, from a TCG perspective, how does one play competitive Pokémon VGC?

An Introduction
It’s a team thing.

First off, think about a Pokémon deck. You have 60 cards, and some major players in your deck, combined with a bunch of cards to support them. Well the video game isn’t all too different. You have a team of 6, each with 4 moves. Think of those 60 cards as a combination of the 24 moves on your team, the 6 Pokémon you’re using, and the 6 items you’re allowed to equip your Pokémon with.

Stats are also customizable and play a large role in the game. So even if you and your opponent are both using the same Pokémon, the strategy you employ could be very different. There are thus, many different choices you make in constructing your team, much like you make 60 choices in constructing a deck.

I think it’s kind of interesting to approach building a VGC team from the perspective of deckbuilding. I mean, after all, you can come up with a skeleton list, which should perform pretty well, but there are a lot of minor changes to make that really affect your play. The same can be said of VGC. However, one of the biggest differences in approaching the two is that VGC doesn’t really have accepted team archetypes like the TCG does.

Sure, if you’re using a particular weather effect (like rain, sand, sun or hail), you’re bound to see some repeating faces (Politoed, Tyranitar, Ninetales and Abomasnow respectively), but the Pokémon people support these Pokémon with are highly variable.

One other thing to consider is that certain Pokémon on certain teams are so much staples of the format, that they’re almost synonymous to good Supporter cards like PONT or Juniper. One example would be Thundurus. Thundurus is an incredibly useful Pokémon in the Video Game, as both a potent attacker and a highly disruptive support Pokémon. From recent online stats, over 40% of VGC teams used Thundurus in some way or another. That’s not to say a team can’t work without Thundurus (the majority of teams seem to have found a way), but there are certainly metagame threats to watch out for, and staple Pokémon to consider.

Building a Team
This time we’re not building a deck!

So, with establishing similarities out of the way, how does one go about constructing one of these fandangled team things? Well, currently the VGC community is very similar to the ages of TCG before net-decking. Good teams are prized information and reserved by the best players because it does provide a pretty significant advantage in competitive play.

But there is a movement out there to transform the VGC community into one more like the TCG community. The advent of net-decking has inarguably made TCG success more accessible to newer players. It also provides a good base for players to grow their knowledge around. In the VGC community this sort of mindset is only just starting to sink in.

One site that just started up, and is looking to help introduce players to the Pokémon VGC is Nugget Bridge. The site is run by a variety of VGC players looking to create an experience somewhat similar to that which we have here on SixPrizes. Nugget Bridge releases articles on VGC strategy from authors such as current and two-time world champion Ray Rizzo and National and Regional champions from across the globe.

So although I do feel like establishing a knowledge base around a working strategy is probably the most viable method of introduction to the metagame, if you’re a go-getter or rogue strategist, then you can feel free to come up with your own team. The important things to note are obviously significant threats present in the metagame, and how you can build your team to counter them.

No such thing as singles.

One interesting and important thing to take note of in team building is the format in which VGC battles are played. VGC is a metagame in which players play 4 vs. 4 Double Battles. However, you bring a team of 6 total Pokémon. You and your opponent are shown a preview of each other’s teams, and you choose your 2 leads or starters and which 2 you would like to sit in back. Of course, this also means you’re choosing which Pokémon are sitting out for the round.

The standard video game does very little to promote Double Battles, but I can say that Doubles is actually a very freeing and highly enjoyable format. Games are quick, but not too quick, and allow for complex strategy and prediction to occur. By double battling, you also run into very few situations where your opponent’s team can genuinely just hard-counter yours (and often if you have, it’s a result of your lead choice or team build).

Essentially, VGC can have no competent team that ever has a true auto-loss. There may be unfavourable matchups, but you can feel free to build around whatever strategy you’d like with the comfort of knowing that it will at least be viable in the metagame with the proper support.

This article is more meant to introduce you to concepts rather than address specifics about the VGC. If you are interested in building your own team, and would like to learn metagame threats and popular Pokémon of choice, feel free to check out some of the articles up on Nugget Bridge. The site is fairly new, and there is sure to be more to come in the future!

Positives of Playing the Video Game

1. Not that fun shouldn’t be reason enough in it’s own right, but there are plenty of reasons to play the Video Game competitively in the logic department. With VGC tacked onto the back end of TCG events for major events like Regionals or Nationals, it’s something you can fall back on if you don’t do well in TCG on the first day.

If you’re going to be stuck in Indianapolis or Toronto (or wherever your nationals are) for another couple days, it’s usually at least a little more exciting to still be competing for a chance to win a tournament.
I like money.

2. If you already own a DS (any DS system), then the total investment to make for the year is only about $30-40 to buy the game (provided you’re buying it new). Think about that for a second. Darkrais were just going for $60 on online sites, and comprised at most 4/60’s of a total deck. Since many lists ran 3 copies, that’s about $180 spent on a deck, which is far from completion.

In the video game, you can construct any “deck” with just a $40 investment at the beginning of the year. If nothing more, playing the video game is economical.

3. Though there are certainly Pokémon that are very common because they are inherently good (similar to how ZekEels is inherently good), coming up with rogue teams is much more viable. In the TCG, cards are defined by their attacks, HP, weakness and Retreat Cost. But with the video game, you can customize your pokemon to a very large extent, and can often catch people off guard by doing so. What’s more is that, unconventional Pokémon can be made to play very specific roles on your team through this customization.
It’s not as hard to like Volbeat in VGC.

4. One of the things I liked the most about TCG entering it from a VGC perspective, is just how many Pokémon I came to like because of how useful their cards were. It’s a completely different way to view your favorites. For instance, Vileplume is one of my favorite Pokémon now, solely because of Vileplume UD. But in the video game it’s pretty terrible and doesn’t serve much of a purpose on most any team.

At the same time, playing the TCG primarily for so long has left me in the opposite position as I rediscover VGC. After all, it’s pretty difficult to like Whimsicott cards, but Whimsicott itself is pretty darned useful in the video game.

5. Though some areas are highly established (Philadelphia VGC Regionals had something like 170 Seniors), some areas are still just blossoming (BC Regionals had about 60 masters). If you’re lucky enough to be in one of these blossoming areas, then you could very well find yourself treading a slightly easier path toward earning your way to Nationals than competing in TCG directly.

That’s right, VGC can support your TCG travel budget on top of being cheap to get into. Naturally, it’s still difficult to take something like top 4 in any Regionals, but being an informed player already puts you a cut above the rest, just like it will in TCG.

6. Though I’ll leave specific comments aside, I do feel that the onus to do well is more on the player in VGC than TCG. It’s not as though TCG has easier decisions to be made, but I do feel that TCG’s probabilities leave a lot to random events that the video game doesn’t play into as much.

For instance, supporting for a new hand can sometimes turn disastrous, or you can start with a lone basic and get donked. Uncontrollable circumstances in TCG can be pretty harsh. This is also true of things like random crits and paralysis “hax” in VGC, but these situations are more synonymous to flipping poorly than to whiffing entirely, and there is no such thing as a “donk-type” game.

Screw the turn order.

Though I’ve outlined many similarities between the two games, the mindset of how to play them does come with some differences. One of the biggest things I can think of is the turn order.

In TCG, you and your opponent take turns making your moves. You get to react to each other’s decisions immediately after their turn finishes. In VGC, this is not exactly the case. One of the big reasons being that the format is Double Battles. If you think about each turn as the end of an attack in the TCG, then in VGC you’re essentially choosing your actions for the next 2 turns at the same time.

What’s more is that you’re also predicting what your opponent will do for their 2 turns. Couple this with a knowledge of which Pokémon should move first (who gets the first turn), and the game requires a fair deal of prediction and foresight, which the TCG does not generate as significantly.

Another complication to this is the extreme customization Pokémon experience in VGC. In the TCG, your opponent’s strategy is pretty much laid out on the table as soon as it’s played. Cards can only do what the cards say.

Harder to read.

But in the video game, you can’t be absolutely sure of what your opponent will do until it’s done. That’s not to say it’s entirely unpredictable, it’s very much the opposite. But an opponent’s team isn’t as easy to read as an opponent’s card.

That said, the nature of the video game’s metagame is very well balanced. After all, in the US, we’ve just seen a double repeat of the Seniors and Masters national champions. And in the World Championships, we have a Masters champion looking to secure his 3rd world title in a row this season. These repeat victories are a very strong indication that the best player at the end of the day will be rewarded.

In the TCG, you often see the best players repeatedly taking top spots, but unless you’re name is Esa, you don’t usually see repeat champions.

In Closing

The fun you’re missing out on.

Having said all that, I hope I’ve at least encouraged a few of you out there to check out the video game a bit. And for any pokedads or pokemums reading (or Juniors), I know that the Juniors division in many places is currently chock full of kids playing with the team they beat the game with. That’s synonymous to playing a starter deck.

This also means that Juniors is wide open to have kids with a true knowledge of the game rewarded for knowing that putting a Zapdos next to a Garchomp and using Discharge and Earthquake simultaneously is a smart move.

Literally, I can pretty much guarantee that if you’re a junior and you have a team with Zapdos and Garchomp on it, with just the knowledge of “Use Discharge and Earthquake”, you’re practically guaranteed to go at least X-2 no matter how developed your area is. And with a couple competent backup Pokémon, that X-2 quickly turns into an X-1 or X-0.

And even if you’re not in Juniors, there’s still a lot of fun to be had at these larger events that you might be missing out on! Pokémon started with the video game. Why not try out the way the game has been played since it began?

Cheers, Crawdaunt out

p.s. check out Nugget Bridge!

Reader Interactions

45 replies

  1. Frank Hamilton

    The VGC is something I’ve always been interested in, so this is a great way to introduce that. It’s not overly analytical (I can only take so much math between EVs and IVs before I want to explode) but it still gives a very clear idea of what it’s like playing the VGC.
    I’m a fan of the article, very well done!

  2. Ed Mandy

    But with the Pokemon TCG on the GameBoy, you can build Haymaker!

  3. Isaac McClintock

    Excellent article as usual! I would play the VGC, but in order to do really good you need to EV train, which can take hours upon hours! I mostly play because I love Pokémon and originally discovered it from the video games. +1 though!

    • Mark Hanson  → Isaac

      A lot of the time, you can find someone willing to make your team for you. And EV training for me usually only takes like… 1 hour tops for any one team. You get set up with vitamins, Pokerus and the power items, and you only need to battle 31 wild pokemon to get yourself a full 252 EV’s in two stats. And that’s assuming you only get 1 EV normally from each wild pokemon!

      • Isaac McClintock  → Mark

        I would love to have someone make my team for me. I would probably go for a sandstorm team, because Landorus and Excadrill are boss

        • Mark Hanson  → Isaac

          Introduce yourself on Nugget Bridge and there are a few people on there who might be so kind ;)

          Plus, if you need standard mons, it’s sometimes easier to get em.

    • Brandon Spicer  → Isaac

      If you are going to a VGC event, there are plenty of people on Smogon who will give you 100% battle-ready mons for free :)

      • Isaac McClintock  → Brandon

        I appreciate the thought, but I have a friend who is making me a sandstorm team for a little money. Thanks anyways though!

  4. Oliver Barnett

    There’s only one “slight” issue I have with this article, and that’s I think it’s safe to say the repeat champions bit deserved a slight mention about Sami Sekkoum. Other than that very good stuff +1

  5. Zac

    This article reminds me that I think that it would be awesome for there to be a new pokemon video game TCG like the one on the gameboy. It would have the newest formats, and you could have updates whenever a new set or promo card comes out to be able to use it in your deck. With multiplayer and online of course. I liked the article though, The VGC has some challenges that the TCG has, but both very different in their own ways.

    • Andrew Wamboldt  → Zac

      I was thinking about this too. It would be amazing if they expanded PTCGO onto 3DS as well as tablets. Being able to play the game on an iPad (which is so natural a device for playing a table top game like Pokemon) would be really enticing.

      • John  → Andrew

        Yugioh has the games released every year, because rulings and expansions are actually really hard to do without modifying codes, look at the problem eviolite caused. The only way to do it is the way they are doing right now, which means no 3DS

  6. theo Seeds

    That’s an interesting idea, using a VGC nats trip to play the TCG, I might try that.

        • Grant Manley  → theo

          Yeah a decent amount of people did that last year in Virginia including myself and if I had won my last game I would’ve gotten 600$ but I what I mean it’s not as easy as it seems.

    • Frank Hamilton  → theo

      My understanding is that to claim travel awards, you have to play in the event that you won the travel award for. I’ll have to look it up, but I’m like 90% certain that if you get the travel award to go to Nats, you’re required to play in VGC before you can claim the check.

      • Mark Hanson  → Frank

        During the VGC event, they’ll likely ask to see if you’re there. You could probably just drop from the tournament if you’re in TCG top cut or something. I would imagine they’d understand.

      • Rushan Shekar  → Frank

        I think that might be the case at Worlds, but definitely not Nationals. I know of someone who claimed his travel stipend and didn’t even play at either event.

  7. John

    The sad thing about the vgc is that is not quite the balanced forma, Double battles tend to be annoying and certain strategies cannot develop (try running stall with like 10 animations per turn), luck is more of a factor (the randomizer for damage, sleeping, missing and critical hits). I like the formats created by Smogon, they tend to create balanced formats, simulators, and other ways to test. But the VGC seems hard, Let’s say I need a way to have a pokemon that could use wish and had synergy with politoed as well as hit rock types super effectively. That’s Jirachi’s job. Too bad jirachi was a promo before I got into the game (i think the last promo was back in 2010), no one will trade theirs, and if they do the IV values are probably poop. Certain broken things are not banned (at the vgc nats I saw a guy using breelom and smeargle using spore double sleeping, DOUBLE SLEEPING). I think that if the format was in 6-pokemen-team with ubers banned and the regular procedures (sleep clause for instance) it would be better.

    • Rushan Shekar  → John

      VGC requires different strategies than Smogon’s metagames. It’s quite a bit more balanced than singles. Why would you need a Pokémon that uses Wish, hits rock types super effectively, and has good synergy with Politoed for example? Trying to counter threats from a different metagame makes no sense.

      Sleep Clause isn’t really required in Doubles either with two Pokémon on the field. You should be able to counter that. If you don’t, you just don’t have a good enough team.

        • Mark Hanson  → John

          Yeah, I think your problem more just comes from not knowing what’s up in the metagame or how to counter some double battle strategies.

          For instance, Safeguard is an easy out to status conditions. A Pokemon like Whimsicott can even set up Prankster Safeguard before they ever get a chance. Alternatively, you could lead with a Pokemon with a Lum Berry that would be able to wake up from sleep, and something like a Choice Scarfer, which would hit first. Fake Out would flinch a Sleeper before they could get you, allowing you to KO them before they can sleep you.

          If it’s any indication, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team with double Spore as a strategy do very well. They tend to lack power.

        • John  → Mark

          I don’t see how a breelom lacks power, he packs quite th punch (pun intended)

        • Brandon Spicer  → John

          lol no offense, but why the hell would you want to use wish in VGC? -__-
          And when was the last time a sleep-spamming team EVER placed in a tournament? Smeargle with dark void was popular during 2010, but the format wasn’t totally dominated by it. Ray Rizzo didn’t win Worlds by sleep-spamming everyone to death.
          I think you’re trying to criticize the VGC format without actually having any experience in it. If you don’t believe me, I highly encourage you to show up at a tournament with a double-spore team and see how far you actually go.
          It’s a lot easier to counter single threats in VGC, simply because you have two pokemon out at once. If you’re being completely walled by your opponent, that probably means your team isn’t very good.
          And how does Breloom lack power? Well, he’s OHKOd by a latios draco meteor, just like 50% of everything else in the format, and a latios psychic. He’s OHKOd by flying gem Acrobatics from Mienshao, Scizor, Crobat, OHKOd by Heat Wave from Zapdos, Chandelure, Volcarona, OHKOd by blizzard and Icicle Spear from Scarfed Abomsnow or Scarfed Cloyster, OHKOd by psychic gem Zen Headbutt from Metagross, he’s easily stopped by fake out (which will be used on pretty much every team), paralysis (especially priority t wave from Thundurus), can be burned to totally destroy his offensive capabilities, lum berry, safeguard, and taunt.

        • Rushan Shekar  → Brandon

          I’m actually interested to know if he saw Ray’s team at Nationals. He was running a really trollish Dragon Tail & Sleep team which – if he actually pulled it off – would make his opponent unable to do anything due to the new sleep mechanics. He only actually got it working once in all of swiss and went 4-4. Of course he already has his invite to Worlds from winning last year so he was just playing for fun but yeah. If you want an experiment done on sleep, it’s done. That’s the record of the best player in the world trying to abuse sleep in its purest form.

        • Mark Hanson  → Grant

          Spore is an awesome move, but it usually wouldn’t activate sleep clause. It’s more useful for just taking one pokemon out of the equation so your support attacker can OHKO the other mon.

    • Brandon Spicer  → John

      lol no offense, but why the hell would you use wish in VGC? -__-
      And when was the last time a sleep-spamming team EVER placed in a tournament? Smeargle with dark void was popular during 2010, but guess what…Ray Rizzo didn’t win Worlds by dark void spamming everyone to death.
      I think you’re trying to criticize the VGC format without actually having any experience in it.

      • John  → Brandon

        I just stating the points I had for not playing it. I never say people could not enjoy it, or that it was not competitive. My point was on training Pokemon and the slight advantege of exclusive pokemon, and a lot of randomness on the game. Just cuz I don’t like it (the vgc format for premier events, no the game itself), does not mean people will not enjoy it. As a matter of fact I want the game to grow. I apologize if I came off rude and offensive, I probably should have played more in the format. I did saw the double sleeping with dragon thing at nationals and my friend got destroy by it. I only know how to play 6-men-teams and when I try doubles is just not as fun. I guess it was my misinformation. (BTW I would use wish in certain things, like protect+wish)

        • Brandon Spicer  → John

          No offense taken, and sorry if I came off as a bit rude myself. And sorry for accidentally double posting lol :P
          I understand where you’re coming from…the first time I really got into competitive Pokemon was with the VGC, and when I first tried singles it seemed like a much more luck based, unbalanced game. But that’s probably just because I suck at it, since I don’t have much experience in it, and I was approaching it with the mindset of a doubles player.

  8. Jem Perks

    Hey, nice to see some VG stuff on here! For several years after leaving the TCG I only played the video games and got pretty good at it, though I know practically nothing about the B&W meta since the 150 format coming out in the TCG has brought me back to cards and been distracting me! I really should get back into it, Prankster Sableye made me SO happy :D AND Scrafty is one of the best OU Pokemon this gen I hear, not like his awful card versions!
    I agree with magneto1992 though, the VG needs some tweaks to its rules too to make it fair, fun and variable.

    • Aaron Zheng  → Jem

      Although it may not seem like it, the rules every year HAVE been fun, fair, and variable; especially this year’s ruleset. I’d like to see what you think isn’t fair / fun / variable about the past rulesets.

      • Jem Perks  → Aaron

        Yeah, whether you mean VGC championships or something like Smogon rules they’re both types of “tweaks to the rules” that I meant. There are things you have to adhere to in order to build a team and play for both of these environments. Total free for all however is unfair, you can’t really expect a fair match that way, you can’t just play the game out of the box so to speak, external rules need to be applied is all I meant.

    • Mark Hanson  → Jem

      Yeah as Mr. Seniors National champ over there said, the Double Battles format actually really levels the playing field while introducing a ton of variation in team design. Totally fair, very fun, and highly variable.

  9. bowser

    I’ve got no problem with VG (my son plays), but for me my small bonehead doesn’t have time to try to understand the nuances seperating the mediums.

  10. Zachary Davis

    I actually play competitive in the video games, and have done for longer than I’ve played the TCG. Personally I like the video game better, though I flip-flop in my interest levels of both. VGC is but a small taste of the competitive game, and is really kind of an “outcast” sort of thing in the community- being both a doubles format, and being run by nintendo as opposed to the competitive community ( makes it less intensively competitive and highly played than singles tiers. If anyone wants to learn about singles battling, check my youtube channel- Zarcothecheese.

    • Rushan Shekar  → Zachary

      Playing in a singles format and having whiny players change rules every few months because something is “too powerful” doesn’t make a game more competitive. Can you imagine if that was the suggested in the TCG or any other competitive video game? Those communities would laugh at that. I believe the word for players like that in the FGC is “scrubs”.

      In any case, I think a free trip, scholarship money, and a chance to appear in the next game inspires a higher level of play than a few pixels under your name in an internet forum ;)

    • Mark Hanson  → Zachary

      Though I don’t dislike smogon’s singles format, it is a tad ridiculous that a comment scrutinizing the officially supported format so much can be made seriously.

      I mean, smogon singles is comprehensive, but more competitive? Well, more players perhaps, but not as many with real tournament experience.

      Whereas VGC is a format that develops for a full year, with an evolving metagame not driven by bans, but ingenuity.

      I do have to say though, why get caught up with a format that constantly feels the need to change things because they feel it’s broken, when an officially recognized format is open, with a built-in balance system through the fact that it’s double battles.

  11. elliott feazell

    the vgc is just too complicated i wish there was something that simply explained how to ev train in a simple form instead of them using all sorts of abbreviations of things that they think we should know already when we don’t i have been trying to figure out how to ev train for weeks and still haven’t got anywhere with it v.v

  12. Mario Solis

    That’s it. You convinced me, I’m gonna get a DSi and a pokemon game! There’s always a dad at my league who goes with his kid, who is an AMAZING TCG player, and he always asks who has their ds and only one other person does. I think it’d be nice for some variety at League. Thanks for the great tips! (Oh I play TCG too)

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