pokemon.comSince it’s been a while since an article with my name on it has been published on this website, I’d like to take a moment to reintroduce myself. My name is Mark, and this is my second season of playing the Pokémon TCG competitively. I started last season at Cities, so once those hit around here I will be quietly celebrating my one-year anniversary in the active Pokémon community.
I play in the small but busy Netherlands, where Autumn Battle Roads just ended. From here on out we will have Boundaries Crossed Prereleases, then our first series of Regional Championships (we still have them split in two, unlike the US), and only then will we actually have City Championships.
I cannot pretend to be the best player in any range, or even close to the top, but I do believe what I have to say in this article will be of use to most players who are looking to improve their game and their results. What I’m going to be talking about today will have very little to do with very specific plays, decks, matchups or techs, and a lot to do with how you approach the game in general. Even though I think it has everything to do with preparation, I am not going to delve into decklists.
You probably heard some variation of it before: “He just drew whatever he needed and I did not”, “I hate N”, “I’m so unlucky”, “I should not have lost that game”. It is pretty much human nature to try to pinpoint their losses on something, and preferably something that is out of their control.
However, often (but not always), they forget that part of this is in their control, and that there is actually a lot more nuance to the result of a game of Pokémon than just the fact that their opponent got lucky. That they could have used the tools at their disposal slightly differently and improve their odds of winning.
pokemon-paradijs.comAnother fallacy that needs addressing here is that people have a very selective memory when it comes to this, and very selective standards as well. I have actually heard a player here complain that they never ever draw the cards they need off of their Supporters, or that he has Supporter droughts way too often even though he played overzealous amounts of Supporters in his deck (even subpar ones).
What this player neglects to mention is that by playing so many (inferior) Supporters, he actually reduces his chances of drawing into the actual resource cards he is probably looking for (such as a Pokémon Catcher) since his Cheren for three will often get him stuck with three more Supporters.
When I pointed this out to him, he was quick to assure me that that wasn’t even the case: he still kept drawing Pokémon. Not only do I believe this was his either a rather selective memory at work or downright an untruth, but I also think that was to blame on his deck choice: he had the tendency to play interesting tech lines into his decks, even Stage 2 Pokémon on occasion, and that space obviously has to come from somewhere.
But even if his deck choice was not to blame, it remains that over the course of so many tournaments and maybe even test games, he might have fooled himself into thinking he was genuinely that unlucky simply because he lacked the ability to properly reflect on a game.
A game where everything went according to plan for him? That’s pretty normal, that’s what’s supposed to happen. But when everything breaks down, that’s when the game got a place in his Hall of Fame of Proof of Why I’m So Unlucky.
Recognizing this is extremely important, because as long as you are looking for excuses instead of actually finding reasons, you cannot improve at all. You are stuck as what a well-known Sirlin article describes a “scrub”. But once you tone it down a little bit or even completely and look at your games with a clear mind and say: “okay, I got a bit unlucky there, but what could I have done differently?”, you can make improvements to your game.
A great scapegoat for “unlucky” people in this format is of course N. The fact that your winning hand can get exchanged for a hand of “nothing” on your opponent’s whim is not just a powerful game mechanic, but it is also a mentality to get used to.
It makes it very hard to properly master when to play and when to save certain cards. There’s cards you might want to draw off your opponent’s sure to be upcoming Ns for 4, 5, or 6 to advance your board, but you definitely wouldn’t want to be caught with them off an N for 1.
The N pitfall is hard to pinpoint and improve on, especially if you’re not looking for it, because so rarely do you get proper feedback on it. Sometimes it might hit you during a game, when you have two Ultra Balls and an Eelektrik in your 5-card hand, with no more Pokémon in your deck and all your Tynamo evolved or discarded, and they N you and you draw into some of these cards. But at other times, it won’t occur to you at all and instead you just blame N for losing. It’s more simple, after all.
This is why I like The Top Cut’s videos so much. In those games, there is actual feedback going on, and if you are lucky enough to be featured in one of their matches you get an “I like that play” or an “I don’t know if I agree with this” for pretty much every card that gets put down.
For every mistake you witness there, whether it’s yours or your own, it will be one less mistake that you make without thinking twice about it. Even though every game of Pokémon is different, a lot of the same patterns reoccur, and the more of them you have encountered before the more of them you’ll get right in that clutch situation.
This is what I’m looking to do when I playtest, and then when I play in tournaments: I want to make the absolute best possible play at every moment. Whether I win or lose at the end, I will try to identify what mistakes I made, even if they did not end up biting me in the butt. I want to be able to tell myself I did all I could do before I bit the dust.
BulbapediaSometimes, there is absolutely nothing I could have done, but there are also quite a few tournament games where I made silly mistakes that I should not have, and I don’t want to repeat them.
Players who win while making misplays are essentially capping themselves at the level they are at right now. Going back to the N example, I see a lot of people Junipering away quite a monstrous amount of cards, often including an N just because their opponent did not appear to have much, or simply because they are just looking for more stuff.
While you definitely do not want to N your opponent to a fresh hand of six when they appear to have nothing, going overboard with discarding is obviously going to hurt you in the endgame.
The game as it is right now is very fragile, with a lot of 1HKOs/2HKOs and fast exchanges going on. With N waiting, the board can be frozen and then turned on you within a turn or two, and it’s very important to consider whether what you are doing with that Juniper is actually necessary. I’ve won games simply because my opponent ran out of Catchers, or out of Ns, and as a result I had so many more options that I could turn a prize deficit around.
Something else I want to include here simply because fellow writer TerminalHope mentioned it and I’d like to continue a little bit on what he said. Here is the relevant portion:
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.
This season, I have been extremely quiet when playing. I talk quite a bit with friends, I announce my plays and of course talk to judges, but generally I do not think talking adds much to the game. I am very talkative between games, on trips, etc.
The reason I don’t engage in conversation with other players much during games is that I find that the others generally just use it for sour grapes, even non-verbally. They shake in disgust at their opening hand, say aloud that their top card isn’t helping them, thank me for playing an N when I go first, complain about flipping tails, etcetera.
Each of those things just gets you nowhere. It is nice for your collection of “things that went wrong” when you tell your friends how you lost, sure. But some of these actually help your opponent when deciding whether to play an N or not, and in addition I believe it’s just borderline bad sportmanship.
pokemon.comI’ve made the mistake of trying to tell my opponent (who actually beat me) why there was no real grounds for complaining afterward, and since then I’ve just resolved to shrugging, saying nothing, or just saying “okay” at every complaint.
Not only does it lay quite a layer of sour grape cream over the match to complain during or afterward, it can also come across as rude. If you do it after the game, it just comes across as trying to mitigate the result. If you do it during the game, you’re just setting a bad mindset for yourself. This format, as much as there is to complain about, is somewhat comeback friendly, and very often giving up mentally can lead to actually giving up the game.
This irritates me twice as much when my opponent is visibly making misplays, even small ones. Retreating for no good reason before playing a Supporter or some other card that might end up changing your mind, not realizing some card is not in your deck until late in the game when you have searched your deck several times, that kind of thing. Obviously nobody is perfect, but I don’t agree with cursing your luck without actually giving yourself the best odds of winning.
Now I might have been making it look like I don’t enjoy playing, that I’m extremely cold to play against. This couldn’t be further from the truth: I love playing. But I also love thinking my moves out, and I don’t like giving away anything about my hand strength.
I will also gladly talk to you about Pokémon after the game, though I also think that it’s generally less fun for the loser (whoever of us two it might be) to talk about the game we just played.
I always try to stay modest when I won, and not to find excuses when I lost. If I really drew completely dead, my opponent probably knew that already: I don’t need to rub that in their faces.
So let’s end this on a positive note, shall we? Here’s a few key tips on how to improve your time in the Pokémon TCG in a nutshell.
pokemon.com– Test your deck before you go to a tournament against common decks, and try to give yourself and your playtesting partner feedback during or after the game.
– Stay positive before, during and after the tournament, even if it’s looking bad. Often enough, even if you seem to be eliminated from top cut, you can still score some Championship Points, and games played in a tournament are the best testing games you could have.
– Talk to people you enjoy talking to between games, or new people you haven’t met yet. We have a great community, and it’s nice to know how well your friends are doing.
– Realize your deck’s limitations, its strengths, and its weaknesses. If you play a Stage 2 deck, you are probably going to be on the slow side: you can’t expect a turn 2 Night Spear plus Hydreigon every game. If you play a really quick rush deck (such as CMT or Ho-oh or ZPST), you are vulnerable to running out of steam in the lategame.
If you play a deck that generally involves Fighting/Colorless attackers and/or Garbodor DRX, the fact that you attach all your Energy manually is a big weakness and you are vulnerable to Mewtwo. If you can’t stand those weaknesses, maybe you need a different deck!
pokemon.com– Come to a tournament with overconfidence, or an extremely pessimistic attitude. Neither of them work. I’ll take any win I can get, but I don’t really come with expectations. I just take it one game at a time.
– Complain. At least not during a game. You might end up giving away information that would help your opponent even more, it makes you look like a bad sport and a lot of the time what you’re complaining about might be your own fault. You’re better off using your time to try and find a way out of the sticky situation you’re in.
– Look at your next cards in your deck after you lost to see what you “would have drawn”. This format has a lot of shuffle draw, so a lot of the time that isn’t even valid. In addition, does it really make you feel better if you were close to drawing what you need, or vindicated if you weren’t?
Thanks for reading this!