How Not to Get Played

Ever since my experiences at UK Nationals I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I completely lacked preparation for the event. Not for the matches themselves, as I only lost a single match in Swiss rounds, and that was to a friend and teammate who also made Top 16 – rather for the atmosphere and play style in top cut.

My sole match there was infuriating in a number of ways, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. The more I looked back on it in the few days following the tournament, the more I started to feel quite strongly about that match.

One thing became glaringly obvious:

I got played.

Oh sure, I misplayed extensively. I was anxious, and under the pressure I made noob moves – no argument from me there. However what I mostly lacked preparation for was knowledge of when to call a judge. If you’ve never participated in a big event before, let me tell you the single most important rule of thumb I learned at Nationals:

If you’re wondering whether or not to call a judge… call the judge.

Judges are there to ensure that the rules are being followed, and you are always welcome to ask them for a ruling.

Even with the experience of acting as a Tournament Organizer and judge, I didn’t call a judge. I was making excuses for my opponent for the entire game, presuming the best about them and putting off involving the officials.

As a result I got rushed, slow played, and a variety of other borderline or outright illegal behaviours in the course of the game. I can recall that moment where I considered calling a judge, and I know that if I would have lost my match with a judge present, I wouldn’t have felt so bad about losing.

Mind Games

pokemon-paradijs.comIt’s easy for more experienced players to take advantage of those of us that are new to the game. It seems almost expected, for the most part – you can see it in John Kettler’s excellent article on “mind games” from back in 2010. I would recommend that everyone reading this article actually read that one, because I believe it is an essential piece of information for players new to competitive play.

However, I can’t help but find that type of play leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I, and other people like me, enjoy playing Pokémon. We play to win, but also recognize that this is a social game, and as such it’s a good opportunity to meet new people, make new friends, and have fun together. I talk to my opponents, and chat, and am friendly.

If they need mental space to contemplate a play, I try to give it to them. If they’re shy, or not keen to socialize, I also respect that – there’s no obligation here, but games like that, no matter how good strategically, always leave me a bit cold, because the social aspect of the game is important to me. Without that part of the game, I may as well be playing solitaire or a single-player video game.

However, lack of social interaction is not really what I want to help people prepare for. Inevitably, you will come up against a player that goes beyond that. A player that will do or say whatever it takes to put you off your game.

Maybe they’ll pressure you to make a move, or insistently suggest which play you should make, as happened to me. Maybe they’ll flick their dice at you across the table, as happened to a friend of mine at US Regionals this year.

In both cases, my friend and I should have called a judge, but we were so thrown off and unprepared for these behaviours that we didn’t react as we should have. I’m hoping that these steps can help you avoid the mistakes that we made in reacting to these players!

Be Vigilant

Always watch your opponent’s plays. I know it’s easy to get caught up in planning your next turn, or in trying to anticipate your opponent’s long-term strategy, but it’s also important to watch the actions your opponent makes. Nothing sinister even needs to be afoot – players make mistakes, and it’s our job to keep one another clear and playing correctly with regard to the rules.

Always Cut or Shuffle when Offered

Some players decide not to cut their opponent’s deck in tournament play, as a sign that they trust you or are respectful of and believe you shuffled well. I used to believe this, and act in this way.

However, now I feel differently – not because I have dealt with people that have used this to their advantage, but rather because of this thread on PokéGym where a Masters player very clearly controls his top card with careful shuffles, and then when his opponent declines to cut, the player draws the card he placed there.

Nothing is wrong with further randomization, and all it takes is a single player with bad intentions to ruin your day.

Warning Signs

If your opponent sighs whenever you take even a moment to consider a play, if they ask you if you’re finished the moment play turns over to you, if they spend ages shuffling your deck, if they grab your discard pile without permission – this should set off warning bells.

There are many ways to metagame your opponent like this, and what’s worse many of these techniques are difficult to prove and therefore unlikely to result in censure from the judges. Nevertheless, it’s important to take note of and report these behaviours to the judges, as they are not legal in this game!

So what happens if you do encounter some of these behaviours from your opponent?

1. Keep Your Cool

pocketmonsters.netMaybe this is easier said than done. In the heat of the moment, especially under the pressure of a high-stakes tournament, it’s easy to get flustered. Just remember that there are rules that govern your match, and that you should not resort to parroting your opponent’s questionable behaviour.

2. Check Your Gut

You’re keeping your cool, and looking at the situation. Obviously all of this has to happen quite quickly so as to not disrupt the tempo of the game, but you should consider now how you feel about calling a judge to the table. If you feel anything but certain that you don’t need a judge, you should call one. It really is a simple as that.

3. Call the Judge

So you get a judge to come over to the table. If your concerns are unfounded, or the judge feels that everything is above board, you’ll at least feel better knowing that you took the steps you felt necessary. That’s the job that judges are there to do, and calling a judge is neither an extreme action, nor something to hesitate over.

– A Note for Seniors

Seniors, you are likely to also experience some of these behaviours. I want you in particular to understand that they’re not a good way to be – you can maintain the camaraderie and fair play that I see so often among the Juniors, and embrace the more complex strategies of your age division without resorting to dirty tricks.

Be confident, not cocky, and accept failure graciously. You’re the future Masters, after all, and you determine the near-future of our community and the game we love in so many ways.

4. Be an Adult

filb.deObviously this can read “be mature” for Juniors and Seniors!

But seriously, I think all reasonable competitive players should look at their play and consider that even though we’re playing what many consider to be a “children’s card game,” we need to stand up and play the game like the adults we are, with respect, sportsmanship, and magnanimity.

We need to reinforce the “Spirit Of The Game” and think of it as a compass by which to plot our course. We can compete, and strive, and succeed without resorting to questionable methods.

The more of a positive social experience we make this game, the better it will be for everyone involved, regardless their age division. Masters should be setting this example.

May the best player win.

Reader Interactions

25 replies

  1. Oliver Barnett

    We need more of this on the Front Page. Period.

    Good Job +1

  2. Mario Solis

    Nice, this article really helped me a lot. This is my first Season being in the Masters division, and I noticed a lot of my opponents doing a lot of similar things described in your article at various Battle Roads I attended. Thank you and good job!

    • John Gregory  → Mario

      Awesome! More than anything I wanted this article to have utility as a resource of some sort for people in your position. It might not be long, or overly comprehensive, but if it equips you for competitive play to any degree, I’m more than pleased.

  3. Jak Stewart-Armstead

    You’re right. If anything makes you feel uncomfortable or doubtful, you should always call a judge.

    • Calling a judge is not the same as accusing your opponent of cheating
    • Actual cheats rely on people being ‘too nice’ to call a judge for shady actions
    • Trying to fix things yourself always ends up in a bigger mess which is worse for the judges

    There should be no stigma attached to people who call judges for legit reasons.

    • John Gregory  → Jak

      Agree 100%. I know for a fact that friends of mine feel like they are being rude by calling judges – it’s simply not the case.

  4. Rockendorf

    Hey, that’s what the judges are there for. And it really is difficult to cheat in this game, even without a judge nearby, if everyone remembers to always CUT THE DECK.

      • Andrew Wamboldt  → Christopher

        It’s best to mix up the actions you take between shuffling, cutting, and tapping if you expect your opponent is playing in a dubious manner.

        For example, say there was a player playing Garchomp/Terrakion who had only two Rare Candy in his list, but was able to consistently get off the turn 2 Garchomp. How could he possibly do this? Anyone who has ever played a Stage 2 deck knows that it can be inconsistent to get out a turn 2 Stage 2, even when playing 4 Rare Candy and consistency cards like Sableye to bring Rare Candy back from the discard. This Garchomp players magic? Bent RH rare candies.

        If you choose to shuffle this players deck after an N, Pokemon Search, or whatever, you are giving them the opportunity to cut themselves into one of those Rare Candies that they need it.

        The best action is to mix up how you choose to randomize/not randomize your opponent’s deck, as just relying on one method can lead to your opponent stacking their deck in some way or another to get their desired outcome.

        Luckily, it is just a very small number of poor individuals in this game who are sad enough to try to cheat. But those players who do cheat know how to manipulate their deck after an opponent shuffle, cut, or tap if you just rely on one or the other. Mixing it up is the best way to avoid being taken advantage of by a cheater.

  5. theo Seeds

    At a Battle Roads recently I played against a Garchomp/Terrakion deck in Round One. He was up 2 prizes late in the game, but had no attackers left to use (He milled them all). I checked my watch and saw there was five minutes left, and he managed to use up all five minutes by searching his discard a couple times and slow playing. He then promoted his Terrakion with no energy and passed, and the second later time was called.

    So yeah, I can relate.

  6. Pokémon 31337

    I do get “mind gamed” sometimes where I live, as I try to practice keeping my cool. It usually doesn’t matter anyway, since I only have a Mewtwo EX and a half-bad Zekeels, so until I have ways to get a better deck, this won’t be of much use to me :/
    However, this article felt very informative, I’m sure many people will make good use of it.

  7. Jem Perks

    Hmm so you’re in the Masters division, I wonder if you “got played” by the same person as I did (and other people have) too? Of course calling a judge would have made no difference as one was watching back then!
    I don’t play competitive Pokemon anymore… cheating at UK Nationals level drove me away and just when I was coming back B&W series kept me away :/

    • John Gregory  → Jem

      I honestly wouldn’t know if it was the same player, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same person in both instances. I was seriously considering dropping the game after Nationals, mostly because I had taken that match as an indicator of what ALL competitive players are like, but eventually I realized that it was really just a single individual who was responsible for the situation, and not necessarily a culture that encouraged that kind of play. Though I believe we could, and should, do more to discourage that kind of play.

      • Jem Perks  → John

        I realise that it’s just one, or a small group of people but it just puts a boundary on how far a UK player can get competitively, especially if Judges (one or many I don’t know) will turn a blind eye to certain people. You can get as far as Nationals but most likely you’ll get to the top cut and no further because no matter how good a player you are you can’t beat another player who IS a good player but who also cheats.
        What happened with me was the guy swapped cards in his hand for cards in his prizes that he needed to win and the judge overseeing the match “failed to see” it, that was in 2008.

        • John Gregory  → Jem

          If you want to discuss it privately, feel free to message me on my League’s Facebook page.

  8. ofr3ako

    I HATE when people touch my cards without asking. Especially when they just grab at them. Also, it’s annoying to me when an opponent chooses to shuffle my deck, bends one of my cards, then looks at me like I won’t say anything. And my NUMBER ONE pet peeve is when an opponent plays a catcher and feels the need to reach across my play space to touch the damn pokemon they are “catchering” as if they hold some sort of magic wand.

  9. nicholena moon

    Good and relevant article. I don’t comment that much but have a related story. At Regionals this year, which was my first one and the largest tournament I have been to yet, I had the worst match ever. Seriously, if it had been my first tournament match I think I would have quit Pokemon right from the start, but since I have had many pleasant opponents that’s not the case. Anyway, I had a pretty poor day (Hydreigon betrayed me!) and at the end I was 4-4 for the last match. Everyone at my table was not really in a competitive mood anymore since well, we weren’t doing so hot. So it was kind of a jokey fun table. First off, my opponent sets up while I am still shuffling and doesn’t offer to let me cut his deck. He cuts mine and I remark on this fact, and he says, “I’m already all set up!” I’m not in the mood to be combative so I just raise my eyebrows. I go first and N, to which he says “Awww I had an amazing hand!” I said, “Yeah I wonder why.” This sets the tone for the game with me becoming increasingly put off by his comments, which included such gems as “After this, when I’m 5-4 maybe I will get some championship points.” I couldn’t believe he actually said that. He did other bad behaviors, like hiding his energies and tools under his Rayquazas so I had no idea how many were on each one. I asked him several times to reveal them and he complained loudly and mocked me, asking if he had to show a Tynamo after he evolved to an Eel. I kept my cool but became disinterested in the match, I wanted it to be over asap. He ended up winning, and when we signed the match slip, he discovered he was at the wrong table. We called over a judge who ruled that I would take the win and he the loss if we agreed. If he hadn’t acted so horribly, I would probably have given him the win since he did win. His parting comment was “Most players check the match slip and say hi to their opponent, but you didn’t do that.” When I replied that neither had he, he scoffed “I never do that!” Obviously I had checked for my own name but it’s not my responsibility to babysit my opponent. Anyway, sorry for the long comment. I know most players are not like this but it can really ruin someone’s day when you get a bad match! And also, there is such a thing as karma. :)

    • John Gregory  → nicholena

      Sarcastic, unpleasant, arrogant… sounds very much like my opponent at Nationals. But you’re right – they’re a minority in our game, thankfully.

      • Hurr Durr  → John

        Luckily. At my local game store there are a bunch of rude Magic the Gathering players who call this game gay and have horrible facial acne. Plus, the Yu-Gi-Oh players are all spoiled rich mama’s boys who force the loser to buy them a booster box. One of them borrowed one of my decks, then he kept cheating by reflipping the coin for Pikachu’s Thundershock WITHOUT Fliptini’s Victory Star, and he kept flipping tails then proceeds to flip again until he gets heads. It was open play so I couldn’t get any authority to do anything about it. That kid still hasn’t reached puberty and he touches other men, says even is tails and odd is heads (by taking advantage of my speech errors, I have ADHD and slight speech problems so he cheats using those errors), and cries when he loses. This is why I only play Pokemon and am willing to deal with the occasional rude person, because overall my observations of Pokemon players is 68.5% more polite people than players of other TCG/CCGs (if the other game has 20/100 polite people), and this may vary by area. Please excuse my long comment/rant, I talk too much.

  10. Hurr Durr

    The really experienced Seniors at my league take advantage of me by looking at my discard pile, knowing I’m likely not to tell. This Absol-utely great article taught me to take action by calling a judge when that happens (please excuse the bad pun). I’m a mediocre player, so people always look at my discard without permission at Cities, States (IL), Battle Roads, and any other tournament I have been to. It happens in at least 3 of 5 games I play (I’ve never been in top cut).

    • eahgeasheash  → Hurr

      Late comment, but, uh, the Discard Pile is public knowledge and you are allowed to look through it without asking. It’s “polite” to say “hey, can i see your discard?” but it is not an OPTION. You can’t say “no.”
      If anyone were to call a judge on me for looking through their discard, I would laugh.

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