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).
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!