10 Years of Competitive Pokémon TCG: The Beginning

Hello SixPrizes!

time-capsule-neo-genesis-90pokemon-paradijs.comThis article will mark the beginning of my 10-article series about the 10 seasons I’ve played the Pokémon TCG competitively. In this series of articles, I will not only talk about myself, but I will also take a look at how the Pokémon TCG and Organized Play (and PUI/TPCi/whatever it is now) has been developing during the years and how the Pokémon TCG’s legendary players have been made.

Before starting this 10-part series, I want to emphasize that all the things I say in this series are only my point of view and not “facts.” I may be biased here and there, I may be bitter here and there, and I can be simply annoyed at times, but that’s all part of the human nature, and I hope that this series is able to produce some discussion (or nostalgic moments at least).

The years I have experienced will have a lot of drama, revelations, funny moments, weird moments, and downright irritating moments, and I’m sure you will enjoy these recaps of seasons no matter if you have been playing back then or not. I also believe that many people have faced same kind of challenges and situations with Pokémon TCG as I have during these years, and I hope this will motivate players to give their all for the game.

I will also include decklists of my Nationals and Worlds decks in each of my articles, so you can see very easily how I have been developing as a player year-by-year. And believe or not, I was VERY bad in the beginning of my competitive career. I am excited to share my experiences with you and I hope that reading these articles are experience for you as well.

I’ll release 2 parts of the 10 on SixPrizes, and this is the first one. And naturally the last one, which will be my this year’s World Championship report.

Let the nostalgia begin!

“National Championships of Pokémon TCG, seriously?!?!”

It was a random day in the spring of 2004. I happened to be with my big brother at a league in Helsinki, which is about 60 km from my home city. I was 13-years old (holy crap, it’s been a long time!) and we usually visited the league once every other month.

We only played semi-competitive unlimited in the league and I had the legendary Rocket’s Zapdos/Chaos Gym deck with me. I never ended up winning the tournaments even though I usually placed very well.

There was no real Organized Play in Finland, I hadn’t ever been to an official tournament and I knew nothing about PokéGym, Pojo, or any other Pokémon TCG websites. I didn’t even know that Pokémon had a competitive system! But with one lucky break, my life’s whole direction changed its course.

When we were leaving the shop, my big brother noticed an A4 white paper on the wall of the shop. It said:

Finnish Nationals Championships of Pokémon TCG 2004
Time and Date (2 weeks away)
Format: Expedition-on

We looked at each other and were very surprised. National Championships of Pokémon TCG! Of course I was very skeptical that we could attend them, because our parents never approved our hobby and every time I didn’t do very well in an exam at school, it was always Pokémon TCG’s fault. It was a waste of time and a hobby that both of our parents thought was completely useless. But what do they know…

Also, the venue was in Espoo, which we could only get if our parents gave us a lift, which was very unlikely to happen.

I think this is one of the most defining moments of my LIFE. We only went to the league once every other month and if we hadn’t gone to the league just that month, we would have never heard about Pokémon TCG National Championships and I wouldn’t be writing here this now. Heck, I wouldn’t be playing the game at all if it wasn’t for this one moment! It really makes you think how very small things can have an huge impact on your life.

Nationals Preparation

Enough about the philosophy. The tournament was played in Expedition-on on format. We naturally didn’t have a lot of cards and none of our friends played Pokémon TCG, so we were on our own with card resources. To be completely honest, I don’t remember exactly my decklist of what I ended up playing, but it looked like something like this.

Pokémon – 25

4 Ralts SS
4 Kirlia SS
4 Gardevoir RS
2 Grimer DR
2 Muk ex
3 Eevee SS
2 Espeon SS
1 Umbreon SS

1 Mewtwo ex

Trainers – 13

3 Pokémon Fan Club

3 Wally’s Training

2 Juggler

1 Professor Birch


2 Switch


2 Magnetic Storm

Energy – 22

11 P

7 G

3 Multi
1 Boost

Even though you may not know half of the cards, you can probably tell that the list is HORRIBLE. It’s so horrible that even a beginner nowadays can build a better deck thanks to websites like TheDeckOut. I practically started my competitive Pokémon TCG career with a theme deck, which had too much Energy, too few draw cards, and ridiculous Pokémon lines.

My big brother ran a Sceptile ex deck, which was a lot more consistent-looking than my deck.

The main idea of the deck was Juggler + Mewtwo ex on T1. Yeah. Seems like a GREAT strategy? It sure did…

The Very First National Championship

gardevoir-ruby-sapphire-rs-7pokemon-paradijs.comOur mom really gave us a ride to the National Championship! I don’t know if she pitied us or if she hoped that we would quit playing after losing all the games in the tournaments, but I’m sure she had some evil plan for us!

We came to the venue and were very surprised, there seemed to be over 100 players! We asked the desk where we could register for the tournament and the man behind the desk said that this is a Magic the Gathering tournament. Pokémon TCG tournament is in the back of this room. So, no 100 players.

Instead, when we came to the back of the room, there was a small space for Pokémon players and if I remember correctly, there were about 20 players. Not really surprising with a marketing strategy like that…

In the beginning of the tournament, the TO said that the tournament will consist of 4 rounds. No top cut. Every match best-of-three. The players will play a final if 2 players are tied with the same result. Nowadays, it seems like a very weird tournament format. Also, for those who don’t know, back in the day, a game could end up in a tie if the time ran out or if the players agreed to it. That’s why there could be only one undefeated player at the end of the tournament.

I also want to point out that I had no idea what the prizes were in the tournament. Here’s a quick recap of the tournament.

Round 1 vs. (Don’t remember.)

I won 2-0. I guess he was even worse than I was.

1-0 (2-0)

Round 2 vs. (Don’t remember either! It’s been 10 years after all.)

I won 2-1, that I do remember.

2-0 (4-1)

Round 3 vs. Metagross HL

metagross-hidden-legends-hl-11pokemon-paradijs.comThese games pretty much show the state of the Finnish Pokémon TCG in year 2004. I noticed that he drew 2 cards when he drew for his turn. I mentioned that to him, and he said sorry and put one of the cards back on the top of his deck. I didn’t know if I should call a judge or not, because it was my first real tournament.

Next turn he drew 3 cards!! I don’t know if he thought I was stupid or something, but he cheated SO clearly that I was surprised he was 2-0 at this point of the tournament. I guess none of his opponents noticed anything…

I asked the judge and he gave my opponent 1 “Warning Point” (I don’t know what the crap that was, but in the end it did nothing). My opponent continued trying to cheat and I asked the judge again. He gave my opponent a 2nd Warning Point (????). No Prize loss, game loss, or anything.

That’s why he was still in 2-0, I figured! I won the Game 2-1 to him flipping 4 tails from Metagross’ attack. Served him right…

3-0 (6-2)

At this point there were the two – in hindsight – best players facing each other in another of the 2-0 matches. They both had their decks netdecked from PokéGym or some other site and they were many levels above me. The one was playing Steelix SS/Xatu SS and the other one was playing something else.

Fortunately for me, the Steelix deck was so slow that they ran out of time in the 2nd game and the game ended up in a tie! That meant that there was only one 3-0 besides me and if our game wasn’t concluded with a tie, the winner would win the whole tournament! Of course, I didn’t know it at this point, which was probably only a good thing.

Round 4 vs. Castforms

I remember what I thought when I draw my first opening hand, which had Mewtwo ex + Juggler a lot of Energy – YES! I got T2 Mewtwo ex going first (sounds familiar right?) and crushed all his Castforms. I remember that he attacked with Rain Castform a LOT!

In the second game my nerves got the best of me and even though I didn’t comprehend that I was one win away from a trip to Orlando for me and my parent (which is a huge deal for me, because I’m not from a wealthy family and haven’t traveled a lot). I made a lot of stupid mistakes, but he didn’t get a decent setup at any point of the game either, so I won the games too easily 2-0.

4-0 (8-2)

I really didn’t understand what it meant. That’s why I walked to my big brother (he was still playing his 4th game) and said to him that I won the game. He asked me if I was serious and I was. He shouted something and scooped his own game. I didn’t understand why he scooped his game; why didn’t his own victory mean anything to him?

My big brother and I went to the Tournament Organizer and he said that I was going to Florida. I was like “Ok, cool!” Later my mom arrived back to the tournament venue and we asked the TO explain the situation to our mom.

Not so surprisingly, our mom didn’t believe what he was saying. Free plane tickets and hotel for 2 people to the United States by playing some puny children’s card game? I don’t think so.

I will forever remember that when I started getting excited about my win on our way back home, my mom still said that she wouldn’t believe it until she got to see some official papers. Later on the same week, she finally got the papers and it changed everything.

After being highly pessimistic about the game and our hobby, our parents finally approved it and became INTERESTED in our hobby. It was a relief, because we didn’t have to smuggle our cards to school anymore.

Worlds Preparation

wigglytuff-ex-hidden-legends-hl-101pokemon-paradijs.comAnyone ever going to their first Worlds can relate to the feeling I had. I really didn’t know what to expect from the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS OF POKEMON TCG; OMG!!! I want to emphasize that our card resources were minimal and our knowledge of the real metagame was zero still at this point.

Thankfully we got card support from the Nationals Tournament Organizer (who is a collector) for Worlds, thus getting everything we needed for the tournament. However, there was one funny wrinkle in our preparations.

The TO said that the Worlds would be played in a 2 vs. 2 format. Soooo, we believed him! We already had a cool Relicanth HL/Wigglytuff ex deck together until one night something happened when I was scrolling through my binder. I saw a card named Oracle. A broken Supporter that lets you arrange two cards from your deck to top of your deck in any order.

I remembered seeing Delcatty in the Nationals that drew 3 cards if you discarded Energy… I COULD GET ACCESS TO ANY CARDS WITH THIS SICK COMBO. Omg. Now all I needed was an attacker. Lots of Energy… Gardevoir that is. Which is also my favorite Pokémon from the RS generation. And with Gardevoir ex that I could borrow from the TO, I could do some massive damage!

I felt like a king of the hill when coming up with this broken combo and started to believe I would have chances of doing well in Worlds, even though the deck wasn’t especially designed for the 2 vs. 2 format.

In the end, the decklist looked like this.

Pokémon – 20

4 Skitty SS
4 Delcatty RS
4 Ralts SS
4 Kirlia SS
3 Gardevoir RS
1 Gardevoir ex

Trainers – 20

3 Desert Shaman
3 Professor Oak’s Research


3 Oracle

3 Wally’s Training

2 Pokémon Fan Club
1 Professor Elm’s Training Method


4 Fisherman

1 Town Volunteers

Energy – 20

17 P

3 Boost

Esa, why are you so good at this game? No but seriously, I was pretty proud of my 13 year old self, because I came up with the deck (even though it has some very clear problems, which I will point out later on… For example, who needs starters?). In hindsight, the decklist has a lot of good things to it and a combination of this and the “real” metagame lists would have probably given the best results.

Off to Worlds we go…

World Championships 2004

oracle-skyridge-sk-138pokemon-paradijs.comAs I’m a pretty inward person (as are most Finns), and was especially shy when I was 13 years old, I didn’t playtest with anyone in Florida. My big brother went to the hotel lobby and played games there with my deck. After he had played a few games he reported me two things.

First, EVERYONE was playing Delcatty and Oracle. I was crushed. My combo was found by everyone already. Sadface.

Second, the format was 1 vs. 1. It didn’t really matter at this point, because the deck was very good in 1 vs. 1 as well and wasn’t especially designed for 2 vs. 2. However, if I had decided to go with the Relicanth HL/Wigglytuff ex, which was designed for 2 vs. 2… Oh man. I would have been in deep trouble.

The tournament venue was huge, unfamiliar, and even a bit frightening for me. However, the tournament was pretty well run and I especially liked the “Spirit of the Game” prizes that were given between each round. Here’s how my tournament went.

Round 1 vs. Shiftry HL/Delcatty RS

First game ever against non-Finnish player. His deck had Resistance to my deck and I didn’t run Magnetic Storm (which would have won me the game), so I lost.


Round 2 vs. Shiftry HL/Delcatty RS

See above.


Round 3 vs. Ninetales ex

This guy was from Switzerland and when he got T2 Boost Energy on Ninetales ex he told me to scoop the game because there was no way I could beat him. On T3 I benched him. Weird.


Round 4 vs. 2002 World Champion w/ Slowking AQ/Something

slowking-aquapolis-aq-34pokemon-paradijs.comI remember seeing her name on the old Wizards of the Coast website and recognized her immediately as the 2002 World Champion. And she was 1-2? Strange. I eventually found out that she was playing a deck that didn’t really work and I just steamrolled over her.


Round 5 vs. Swampert RS/Swampert ex/Delcatty RS

This was one of the main metagame decks of the format. It was a very tough matchup, but Gardevoir has the advantage because Swampert and Swampert ex need a lot of Energy in order to attack. And Gardevoir does more damage the more your opponent has Energy…


Woohoo, I had a positive record.

Round 6 vs. Machamp HL/Delcatty RS

auto-win right? Well, he played Ancient Tomb, so no. And I DIDN’T run Magnetic Storm, which would have AGAIN auto-won me the game. Also, there was an errata done to Machamp’s attack (which I didn’t fully understand due to my English skills), which cost me the game.

Even though Ancient Tomb was in play, the Machamp’s first attack would still 1HKO Delcatty.


Round 7 vs. Swampert RS/Swampert ex/Delcatty RS

I couldn’t get to the top cut, which my big brother had calculated, but still I wanted to win the game. This was probably one of the best games I had during the tournament and I remember that I had 0 cards in my deck when I drew my last Prize card.


magnetic-storm-hidden-legends-hl-91Moral of the story? Play Stadiums in a format full of great Stadiums! All the games would have been within my reach with a single copy of Magnetic Storm even though my deck building skills were awful.

So in the end, I ended up with a positive record. Nonetheless, I was heartbroken that I didn’t get to the top cut and spent the whole Sunday in the hotel room depressed about my horrible run. I have always had a huge need to win, win, and win some more, and as a teenager you could say I was a horrible loser and even worse winner.

I did however hear legends about some superb Japanese guy (Yamato), who won all the matches in the tournament. My big brother also got the website address PokéGym.net, which would help us out! Not to mention that I pulled SUPER COOL Blastoise ex, Charizard ex, and Electrode ex in the prerelease tournament of FireRed & LeafGreen.

I already knew my next deck would be Electrode ex/Blastoise ex… And what about that Pidgeot? It was the worst card EVER! Search for 1 card from your deck once per turn? Ain’t nobody got time for that! With Delcatty you could get many cards per turn!

After a fairly successful World Championship, I wanted to play Pokémon like there was no tomorrow. However, the only opponent I had was my big brother, so we needed to get more friends to play Pokémon TCG with us. How could that be possible?

Back in Finland we went back to the TO of Nationals who loaned me a lot of cards for Worlds and he told that he has a Pokémon TCG league that he runs next to his house, and that we could run our own league in Hyvinkää as well. A real Pokémon TCG league!? How awesome would that be?

Finally, in October 2004 my big brother had discussed with our local toy store about Pokémon league and the shop owner agreed that it was a good idea. So, in October 2004, the Hyvinkää league, which was to produce World Champions in just two years, was established by two teenagers that had never heard about the words consistency, metagame, or draw engine.

This is the end of this story, but the real journey is just beginning!

To be continued @ The Deck Out

Reader Interactions

19 replies

  1. Adam Capriola

    So… much… nostalgia…

    It’s kind of crazy to think how many people who qualified for Worlds in 2004 that are still involved with the game. I know making it to Orlando that year was what got me hooked. There was such a cool aura around it being the WORLD Championship, seeing Yamato go undefeated with Magma (which was pretty much an unknown deck outside of Japan), and getting to play against all these people you’ve never met before (not even online) with decks you’ve never played against before.

  2. Mark Hanson

    I am very much looking forward to this series! Ha! You mean one of your nats wins was as a lucky newbie!? That’s awesome Esa! :p

    I can’t wait to hear reports from season to season!

  3. Jak Stewart-Armstead

    I was a lucky noob too. Came 4th at my first Nats and got an invite when I really had no clue what I was doing. Went to Worlds and been hooked ever since.

    Loved this article. Can’t wait for more.

    • Grant Manley  → Jak

      This makes me so jealous :P I’m barely on the brink of my invite as a competitive senior right now and that people who don’t know what they’re doing can go to Worlds effortlessly lol!
      But it was a fun/funny read and I enjoyed it.
      My mom was a little skeptic (and still is a little i think) about Pokemon too.

      • Jak Stewart-Armstead  → Grant

        Back in the day, even if you had even a tiny clue, then you were better off than most players, especially if you had friends to help you with lists. Good lists online were very rare. Now everyone and their mum can get a tourney quality list off the internet, and it really doesn’t take THAT much skill to figure out what to do.

        Bottom line . . . now anyone can win a tourney, but they need a crapton of luck to do it.

  4. Bella Brown

    cool article cant wait to hear more!
    Hmm… i should probably start a league closer to home too, mine’s over an hour away from home! How do you start one?

  5. Piplup_isPimp

    That gym mentioned in the first article, “National Championships of Pokémon TCG, seriously?!?!” brings back a lot of painful memories.

  6. Britt Tanner

    My son and I already read your articles like Pokemon-Gospel, but after this I must say that it is so amazing that you have come so far. My son is 9 and he has boundless enthusiasm for the game so its cool to here that you started with crazy deck ideas and were unaware of what you were getting yourself into at the time. I really enjoy all the detail and thought it really helps.
    Question: In respect to your first Nationals Deck, Why did you go that route? Was that an established deck archetype in your area or literally something you dreamed up because of your card resistant?

    • Deck Out  → Britt

      Hey Britt!

      It’s awesome to hear that you and your son enjoy my articles. To be honest, I played that deck, because they were the only “good” cards I had in my opinion. I had never played in a modified tournament before the National Championships (maybe I should have pointed out that in the article), and thus had no idea, what really was good and what wasn’t. I picked the cards to my deck with pure instinct and I was just lucky to be able to win the tournament.

      • Britt Tanner  → Deck

        Dang dude that is awesome and lucky! Thanks for getting back so quickly w/ the reply I am really looking forward to the next installment of this story, your story! Keep the fantastic content coming!

  7. Roarkiller Master

    Haha, 2004 was also the year of my first nats where I ran Sceptile RS/Sceptile ex status lock and got 2nd. And like Esa, I ALSO had only two weeks notice to source and build a deck.

    Sadly I lost finals boringly due to being benched out TWICE. Who’d have thought.

  8. jbcheshire

    I tell people that my son and I play Pokemon and go to tournaments and they look skeptically at me. But it’s so funny to see their faces when you tell them the prizes you could win like money and trips…

    • Deck Out  → jbcheshire

      That’s one of the funniest (and IMO saddest things) relating to the Pokémon TCG. At least in Finland, it’s often socially almost unacceptable to play Pokémon especially if you are a teenager and the only way to get people approve of your hobby is to almost “brag” about your prizes etc.

  9. Joseph Lee

    Steelix/Xatu will always have a special place in my heart. Locally I invented it, then again if someone else locally thought it up they were probably smart enough to abandon it (I got clobbered by BAR decks). “Locally”: I realize that it wasn’t uncommon to try tanking with something big.

    Okay, enough reminiscing about things that don’t matter. The article was a very entertaining read it seems like quite a few players had similar starts (not me; I never made it to Worlds >.>).

  10. Aron Janstad Wright

    back in 2004 i think i played blaziken hahaha
    <3 blaziken in my heart!!
    i have stopped playing pokemon for now.. i'm gonna see if the rotation does any justice to stage 2 :/
    we'll meet soon again Esa </3

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