Why Do You Even Play This Game?


In the Fall Battle Road series of the ’09-’10 season, I found myself in a most amusing situation. I was playing a Gengar SF/AR/LV.X deck that was meant to lock up Trainers with Spiritomb AR while powering up Gengar in order to get damage on the field, then manipulate it. The deck was very balanced, and I ended up winning the tournament.

In my third or fourth round, I faced a good friend of mine piloting a Flygon RR/Donphan Prime/Slowking Prime deck. I naturally had a good matchup because of the Colorless Resistance on Gengar, but his Donphan scared me a little.

As the game progressed, however, none of these factors became a consideration, as my opponent ran into an Energy drought that was lengthened by his use of Slowking’s Poké-Power. Essentially, every time my opponent used “Opponent’s Choice,” I sent any Energy cards I saw to the bottom of his deck.

As I continued to aid in my opponent’s drought, I resorted to using Gengar SF’s “Shadow Room” attack, which placed 3 damage counters on any one of the opponent’s Pokémon (and 6 if that Pokémon had a Poké-Power). I did this the moment my opponent refused to back down from Slowking’s Poké-Power.

Indeed, many turns later (and no Energy for my opponent), I was able to KO five Pokémon in one turn, then take my last Prize by using Gengar’s second attack. My opponent congratulated me on the win, then revealed something like 6-7 Energy cards on the bottom of his deck.

Once the game concluded, I asked my friend about the Slowking, thinking he might very well concede it as a bad idea and admit Uxie LV.X (which did nearly the same thing) as the better card. Instead, he stood by his choice, explaining in a convoluted way how Slowking Prime was a truly underrated card. In hindsight, I honestly think he was just a big fan of Slowking.

I’ve kept that memory with me for a long time, mostly because I questioned my opponent’s motivation. Why would he choose such a subpar card? And then, why did he use its Poké-Power when it was clearly at his disadvantage? When I asked him about the choice, the answer was still muddled.

For years, the twinkle on Slowking’s apple (more likely a “leftover”) haunted my dreams. The look on Slowking’s face, cunning and cryptic against that decorative purple background, seemed a dark splotch on an otherwise clear understanding of why players do the things they do.

And so, with that said, today I will answer a great question that has been on my mind for years. I will look past the broad statement that so many have made concerning this game — that the best players “play to win” — and delve into the motivations that surround a player’s intent. Because behind the concern of why a player would use Slowking Prime, there stands a question of utmost importance to any serious competitor: Why do people play this game?

To answer this question, I will be looking foremost at player profiles. We will look at the different motivators for why people play this game. I will also take a peek at each profile’s greatest weakness and strength (for instance, some people are Deck Innovators, which is unbelievably useful with every set released). Lastly, we will examine some hybrids of these different profiles.

Table of Contents


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What would your Pokédex entry say about you?

I feel it is important to touch upon something that is probably at the tip of many a reader’s tongue — basically, what do player profiles have to do with getting better at this game? The answer involves what nearly every single one of my articles has asked players to do: be responsible for your own success.

Many of the writers on this website provide expertly crafted lists that create a standard for any serious competitor. I applaud their efforts and frequently gain from their knowledge myself. And while they touch on some truths behind this game here and there, I intend to collide with those truths head-on: I feel that in the process of learning about this game, there are huge opportunities to learn about ourselves as well.

That said, understand that there are many different routes to success in the Pokémon TCG. Some are paved and polished, traversed by a multitude of players who find an impressive list for a popular archetype and supplement that list with their own talent and skill. Others are but paths of craggy dirt where forlorn trainers pursue with offbeat deck choices and ostracized theories. And then there are those faint passages with an abundance of overgrowth and dead ends, marked by the oddest of deck choices that can hardly look like a deck at all.

Player profiles are important because you need to know where you fall in the grand scheme of things. It will help you put your energy where it needs to go. A “List Perfecter” approaches success in a wildly different light than does a “Metagamer.” Rather than boldly proclaiming that you “play to win,” go where your strengths are and start from there. In a couple of words, “know thyself.”


For many players, the Pokémon TCG stands as nothing more than a hobby. The players who fall into this category recognize the game as a means to have fun. If they aren’t having fun, then it’s simply not worth it to play. To be honest, this type of player makes a lot of sense to me. The Pokémon franchise encompasses far more than just the Trading Card Game, and so many players get into the TCG as an extension of their involvement with the video game (or the manga, the series, the movies, etc.).

Players who share this perspective of the game as fun present a paradox to competitive players. On the one hand, they are mischaracterized as inexperienced and inferior, seen almost as an irritation in the Pokémon TCG community (trust me, if you want to hear some “sour grapes,” just talk to a competitive player who lost against a random playing a Samurott deck). On the other hand, the very rules of the Pokémon TCG stress aspects that are better portrayed through the casual player. “Spirit of the Game” runs through this type of player’s blood.

Perhaps the largest takeaway with this group of players is that many players who view the game as an “art” or a “challenge” still borrow elements from this category for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s the chance to play a deck with a favorite Pokémon. For others, using a certain type brings excitement. No matter the case, it’s important to remember that “fun” is built right into the game’s rules itself.

Let’s take a look at some of the subgroups of players that fall into this broad category.

The Social Butterfree

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“Hello, there!”

The first subgroup of players who treat this game as a hobby make a lot of sense to me, mostly because the Pokémon TCG has allowed me to meet and befriend people all over the world. The Social Butterfree (or Social Gamer) plays this game because it allows them to meet new people. They continue to connect with others online, and they’ll often meet up with people for some friendly playtesting.

While they’re happy to win, they can often be found talking to their opponents and building some sort of relationship from the moment they sit down.

This gamer is in luck, of course, for both League and Premiere Events offer them a chance to connect. Not only that, the Pokémon TCG community is (in my opinion) by and far the most close-knit. I’ve heard of many players with a distaste for the format continue to play just because of the other people involved.

Greatest Weakness: Social Gamers have the tendency of using their deck choice as a conversation starter. They often ask if others would like to play against their random rogue deck, mostly just for laughs. If this carries over into their deck choice for a tournament, it usually spells bad news.

Greatest Strength: Don’t underestimate a Social Gamer’s ability to get their hands on a “secret deck” or really good decklist for something. Since their focus is on people, people become their greatest strength. They might not pilot the deck to success, but sometimes the list itself is enough to overwhelm.

The Power Player

Many Tyranitars of the past have been piloted by Power Players.

This subgroup of players enjoys simple extremes. Whether it be stacking a bunch of Energy on one Pokémon in order to do a bunch of damage, or seeing just how quickly they can start wreaking havoc, the Power Player’s aim is simple: go big or go home! They’re usually not ones for combos or strategy, but that does not mean that they’re automatically bad players.

Traditionally, this type of player used a beefy Stage 2 with heavy attack costs that did loads of damage (think Tyranitar ex UF), but lately the format has lent itself to this philosophy by providing players with Pokémon-EX that are all beefy Basics, most with a high damage output for large amounts of Energy. I surmise that the distaste many players have for the game stems from this simple truth — the game is very much a “Power Player” game at the moment!

Also, I think it’s worth noting that Power Players are not always looking to load up a bunch of Energy on one Pokémon to do a bunch of damage. The Power Player is defined as someone looking to sacrifice complex combinations and strategies in favor of a simple extreme. A player looking to load as many F Energy on a Conkeldurr NVI 64 as possible would, by this definition, be a Power Player.

Greatest Weakness: By definition, Power Players tend to centralize all of their resources on one Pokémon. If that Pokémon goes down, then the game is usually over.

Greatest Strength: With Basic Pokémon-EX’s clocking in at an average of 170-180 HP, and capable of doing more damage than most Stage 2’s, the current format is largely a Power Player’s paradise. This shows that every now and then, things line up to favor the Power Player’s simple approach.

The Sampler

Some players settle into their niche, playing exclusively with Psychic Pokémon or focusing on the strength behind a good Basic deck. The Sampler, on the other hand, wants to experience everything the Pokémon TCG has to offer. From “Big Basics” to Stage 2 decks, they rarely stick to a pattern, and for them the fun of the game comes from its diversity.

Some of the players in this subgroup also tend to approach the game as a challenge, trying inevitably to prove that they can perform well with every type of card. Of course, the benefit here is that Samplers often rack up on experience that many other players miss out on. Additionally, they are often drawn to the history of the game, exploring different combos and ideas that worked in the past.

Greatest Weakness: In moving rapidly from one strategy and deck to another, this type of player often has a hard time connecting with a deck that truly works for them. In preparing for a tournament, it’s not uncommon to find these players trying to decide from ten or more different decks. With a focus on so many different choices, it’s hard for this player to chisel out a good list for any one deck.

Greatest Strength: The Sampler enjoys the benefit of being well-versed in many different strategies. Rather than going with their own deck choice, they’re better off getting a solid list/deck from a friend and playtesting like crazy right before the event. They are also comfortable with grabbing a random deck just before a tournament and performing well with it.

High Risk Gamers

Also known as YOLO players.

In the Pokémon TCG world, this type of player absolutely loves the coin flip, often carrying a Base Set Chansey coin with them everywhere they go. High Risk Gamers want to win or lose by the flip of a coin. They absolutely love any attack that offers a huge risk, and they aren’t afraid to structure their deck’s strategy on the foundation of chance.

Of course, if they’re running hot, it can spell bad news for any opponent. Since cards that require coin flips or other matters of chance are often very powerful if successful, this type of player can be an unstoppable force if things go their way. And of course, when the flips aren’t in their favor, they are easy to overcome.

The problem is, it’s not up to you to determine the strength of this opponent! In many cases, the outcome of an encounter with a High Risk Gamer depends on chance and chance alone.

Greatest Weakness: Flipping tails.

Greatest Strength: Flipping heads.

Note: Of course, there are many decks that take calculated risks in functionality. Before Pokémon Catcher, many players used Pokémon Reversal because of the huge benefit a coin flip of heads would often give. For the High Risk Gamer, however, the presence of chance is such that flipping tails doesn’t just mean a missed effect, it can mean an entire missed attack! High Risk Gamers play their decks in spite of the fact that the concept of skill is swallowed up by chance.

The Obsessed

This type of player wants to have a common specific experience over and over again, even at the cost of performing well. An “Obsessed” player might have a profound love for Eeveelutions, and so always competes with those Pokémon. Or, they might like Water Pokémon so much that only Pokémon of that type will find their way into the decklist. They might even be obsessed with a certain strategy, such that nothing else will do.

For this type of player, they connect very deeply with a certain strategy or aspect of the game. They want to become an expert at it, but only because it’s fun for them. If they lose while trying in vain to get a Glaceon/Umbreon/Espeon deck to work, it’s no big deal — for them, it’s enough to know that they played with Eeveelutions.

Greatest Weakness: These players often face dead ends with a certain strategy or aspect of the game, but will continue beating their head against the wall. They might also work hard at justifying an ineffective card or combo, letting their obsession cloud their good judgement.

Greatest Strength: In some cases, an obsession can lead to a surprising outcome: a player might find a combo or aspect of the game that actually works! When this happens, it’s up to the player to chisel the deck into something worthwhile and use it to his or her full advantage. After all, Eeveelutions were actually good at one time in the game’s history.

The Collector

At first, I didn’t even want to include this type of player, but I eventually caved in. The Collector is someone who first collected the cards, then eventually got into the game for the fun of it. Most Collectors don’t take the game too seriously, and in fact are mostly playing the TCG because it’s another part of the Pokémon franchise.

These players do not spend a great deal of time on strategizing and building decks. After all, they don’t need to if they’re only looking to connect a little and have fun.

Greatest Weakness: Simply put, these players are more concerned with collecting the cards than playing with them. They don’t care that much about taking the time to strategize, plan, etc.

Greatest Strength: These players are often the ones who have all the cards. If they need to throw together a deck on the spot, they’re usually able to. If they don’t have the cards, there’s a good chance they will be able to trade for them.


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“The cards are my canvas.”

It seems at odds with a game that operates so much off of numbers for a player to establish themselves as a Pokémon TCG “artist,” yet many players do just that. While some view the game as a hobby, others view it as an opportunity to express themselves, to stamp their name on the history of the game. They want nothing more than to be referred to as “the guy that made Vanilluxe work,” or “the person who made a deck without using any Energy cards.”

For these players, attention is given to the creativity behind their decks. Unlike those who view the Pokémon TCG as a hobby, however, these players are motivated to win to get their name out there and cement themselves as doing what many thought improbable (or even impossible). These players love it when an opponent asks to read a card, and they’re particularly fond of offbeat ideas and bewildering combos.

In many ways, I think the Pokémon TCG lends itself to this player profile simply because we as fans of Pokémon often have a favorite Pokémon or type. We want to see that Pokémon or type find success, so we are willing to look past a card’s inherent flaws and give it a shot.

I will say, however, that Pokémon Card Laboratories (PCL) can definitely get more creative in their card design. Many mechanics, attacks, and Abilities are recycled from formats past, and I think we’d see many more creative souls rise to the top if they introduced some new mechanics to the game.

With that said, let’s get into the different subgroups for this player profile.

The Combo King

Let me be clear: there are people who find effective — often apparent — combos for competitive play, and then there are Combo Kings. Combo Kings peel past that initial layer of strategy and search for something a bit more clandestine. They want the combo to be effective, and they get a thrill from connecting different cards to form a cohesive strategy.

As a good example of this, I played against a fellow at Georgia Regionals a year or so ago that used Electrode Prime, Shaymin EX, and Dialga & Palkia LEGEND to pull off a fairly interesting combo. He would use Electrode Prime’s Poké-Power to load Palkia & Dialga LEGEND up with Energy, then would use “Time Control” to give the opponent more Prize cards.

Noting the wording of Shaymin EX’s attack “Revenge Blast,” he would keep count of how many Prize cards the opponent took. At some point, “Revenge Blast” would be doing incredible amounts of damage while the opponent still had plenty of Prize cards left!

The Combo King often doesn’t explain the strategy of their deck until you play them. They absolutely love the sight of a perplexed opponent, and like nothing more than to explain how their deck works (after the game is over, of course). While it’s tempting to lump Combo Kings into the “play for fun” category, remember that they truly want to leave their mark on the game. The best way for them to do this, of course, is to win with their crazy combo.

Greatest Weakness: Combo Kings fall prey to stale formats. When the undeniable best decks in the format are decks A, B, and C, there just isn’t any room for deck X or Y. Unfortunately, Combo Kings also suffer at the hand of speed. A deck that presents early pressure can absolutely wipe the floor with a deck that takes a full 4 or 5 turns to setup.

Greatest Strength: Combo Kings by definition work beneath a shroud of secrecy. In many cases, the combo isn’t fully realized until the game is lost. Since Combo Kings are using decks that are essentially rogues, they enjoy the benefit of facing opponents who might stumble as they try to figure out a counterstrategy.

The Tech Specialist

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Playing Gold Potion in Darkrai is an example of this.

While Combo Kings are searching for that brilliant combo, Tech Specialists are looking for that brilliant tech. It’s a more specialized manner of looking at the game, and it usually assumes that a standard archetype is being played, but Tech Specialists are still looking to leave their mark on the game in some way.

This subgroup resembles List Perfecters in many ways, but there’s a main difference. Tech Specialists are still motivated by the idea that others will recognize their ingenuity and creativity in the form of a tech. List Perfecters (to be explained in more detail later on) are concerned with tweaking a deck for the sole purpose of winning.

Greatest Weakness: Tech Specialists have the tendency to make odd choices in techs, aspiring to be remembered for it later on. While the tech might be different, it doesn’t mean that it’s good. These players sometimes lose sight of this.

Greatest Strength: Combined with solid deck building, a Tech Specialist can create truly effective decklists that manage bad matchups and even compensate for auto-losses. These players understand that a few cards (in some cases, even just one) can swing a match entirely.

The Deck Defier

What are the limits to what a deck can and can’t do? For Deck Defiers, this question is a central one. Deck Defiers like to analyze the rules and norms of the game and go in the opposite direction entirely.

These are the players who construct decks without any Energy Cards, or they may play with four Stage 2’s in the same deck, or they might center an entire deck around one Basic Pokémon. For these players, they don’t just want to ignore norms, they want to defy them entirely!

Back in the golden age of Pokémon — the ex series days — I remember my friend and Pokémon TCG mentor Jacob Burt showing up at a tournament claiming that he had a really weird deck he was wanting to try out. When I asked him what he was running, he showed me his Energy line: it featured something like 20+ Energy Cards, practically unheard of at the time. I later found out that he was running Delcatty ex/Electabuzz DF — an insanely good deck that indeed needed a lot of Energy cards to work properly.

In showing me the odd Energy count, Jake was essentially saying, “Look at how I’ve defied today’s standard!” Of course, the Deck Defier has to do more than just make up weird deck ideas — they also must perform. For the same rings true here: if you’re going to make a name for yourself with a weird deck, you have to do at least moderately well for people to take notice.

Greatest Weakness: Deck Defiers often get hung up on defying the norms, almost to the point that they’ll ignore important cards or aspects to maintain their defiance. If a deck will perform better with 3-4 Energy cards, Deck Defiers are likely to ignore that simple truth so they can say they’re running a deck “without any Energy cards.” It can be a trademark, but it can also be a weakness.

Greatest Strength: Deck Defiers are special in that they go mentally where many never will. If there’s a good deck out there that doesn’t run any Energy cards, the Defiers will be the first to it. They have stripped away the agreed-upon criteria for what a good deck consists of, so they see the game from an entirely different perspective. With the right level of commitment, there exists many gems for these types of players.

The Rebel

“I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.”

Much like the Deck Defier, the Rebel is out to prove someone wrong. Rather than defying the norms and unspoken rules of a format, however, the Rebel sets his or her sights on the impossible. If players agree unanimously that a card is bad, the Rebel is often there to pick it up and run with it. For the Rebel, there’s great joy in seeing just how far a “bad card” or “bad idea” can go.

It’s worth noting that this type of player is more likely to face failure than success in their endeavors. No matter how skillful a player is, many cards in our format are hopeless. It’s not uncommon for a Rebel to end the day with a single victory and feel accomplished. As is the case with the other players who treat the game as an art, the ultimate goal of the Rebel is to win — to find success where others fell short.

Greatest Weakness: Many Rebels get locked into messing around with cards that are inferior to other similar cards. The player I mentioned in this article’s Introduction fits into this category. His goal was to perform well with Slowking Prime, so he couldn’t just avoid using its Poké-Power.

Greatest Strength: A Rebel can truly be confounding. For most players, the Rebel’s motives will make no sense at all. This might confuse players, though at times it will bring anger. Rebels are also more likely to stumble upon effective combos in the game, though I should stress that this is rarely the case.


For our last broad player profile, we are looking at players who identify the Pokémon TCG not primarily as a means to have fun or a way to “express oneself,” but rather as a challenge. For this group of players, the Pokémon TCG presents a challenge and is something to be conquered.

Many players fall into this category, and these players are motivated the most to win. Usually, they are out to prove something (normally, their level of skill). The phrase “play to win” fits most here, though I still think it’s a bit of a misnomer. In truth, players who fall into the other categories would also like to win. For this group of players, though, this is the main objective.

Players who fall into this category tend to use a variety of resources to stay on top of the game. They take the game very seriously and can be found mostly at Premiere Events, trying inevitably to come out on top. Even here, however, there are some variations in what motivates each player. Let’s look right quick at some of these subgroups.

Deck Innovators

The life of the deck innovator. Always on a secret mission.

Players who fit into this category are always looking for the “next big thing.” They start building decks the moment they see the Japanese card scans. It’s no surprise, then, that these players normally perform well at tournament series following the release of a new set. For the Deck Innovator, being at the forefront of a trend is immensely important.

Deck Innovators are also comfortable with set rotations. They spend their time planning ahead and gauging where the format will be. They compile information from friends and pay careful attention to TCG news from Japan. There aim, essentially, is to create the next big archetype.

Deck Innovators trust that this information will carry them to victory. After all, if they have the list for the next “best deck in the format,” they are already way ahead of the game.

Greatest Weakness: Though having a strength in one area doesn’t always mean a weakness in another, Deck Innovators often spend a great deal of time on predicting future formats. When this happens, they miss out on precious time for playtesting and analyzing the metagame. Also, at times the decks that perform well in Japan flop elsewhere in the world. If a Deck Innovator is piloting one of these decks, they may find themselves in a tough spot come tournament time.

Greatest Strength: Deck Innovators have a huge upper hand when it comes to performing in tournaments after new sets have been released. These are the players who have been testing popular archetypes months before the new set was even released. As a result, they’re comfortable with the new cards and confident in their performance.

List Perfecters

A List Perfecter is exactly as the name implies — someone who takes a standard decklist and works on perfecting it to squeeze performance out of every single card. As mentioned earlier, the Tech Specialist resembles a List Perfecter, but these two are not the same. A List Perfecter doesn’t care which Pokémon they use as a tech so long as it works. This player can win with the most boring of archetypes, yet if they do it with a perfected list they are happy.

For the List Perfecter, every card counts. While others playtest to grow accustomed to a deck or to develop counterstrategies to popular archetypes, the List Perfecter questions the presence of every single card as they playtest. The do not want a solid list, they want the best list.

List Perfecters are also the ones who go through painstaking efforts to determine such things as Supporter counts, Supporter choices (Bianca or Colress?), which cards can be run in singles, and so on. The presence of Energy Search in many decks that run Skyla is more than likely a mark of brilliance from a List Perfecter (though I’m still not crazy about the card). They are known to question conventional wisdom as they develop a truly astounding list.

Greatest Weakness: As is the case of any perfectionist, List Perfecters can get stuck dedicating enormous amounts of time to a single deck, questioning and re-questioning the use and function of each card. If left unchecked, these types of players may argue with themselves to no end.

Greatest Strength: List Perfecters are sure to have solid lists with them at all times. When accompanied by skill, this type of player wins tournaments — it’s really that simple. List Perfecters are also good at finding unconventional ways around a deck building problem. And finally, these players are able to whip up a good list at the mere thought of a deck idea.


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Klinklang is a recent example of a Metagamer’s deck.

Rather than proving one’s ability to build a deck or perfect a list, the Metagamer shows that he/she can play the game “within the game.” They always happen to show up at a tournament with the right deck, and they find strength in deck choice rather than construction. For at the heart of every Metagamer, there’s a burning desire to be one step ahead (“ahead of the curve”).

These players are often very interested in tournament results. If they could, they would want to find out what decks every single player played with at a tournament. For them, this is vital information that will shape what deck they use at the next tournament. Some Metagamers are so good at what they do that they will tech specifically for their own local metagame (sometimes they will even tech with a specific player in mind).

Metagamers tend to be silent about what they’re doing to win. Even though they want to prove that they can beat the game “within the game,” they aren’t very vocal about it when they do, for that would defeat the point of being a Metagamer. Instead, they’ll show up the next weekend with that deck you didn’t expect to see and repeat another stellar performance.

Greatest Weakness: Metagamers tend to bump up against other Metagamers. It’s a Metagamer’s paradise when they play in a field of people who don’t know quite what they’re doing, but the moment other players start changing up their play, the Metagamer can be in trouble. Also, sometimes the deck choice alone cannot bring victory, especially if the metagame itself is more wide open.

Greatest Strength: The Metagamer can find repeated victories when the field of players is unprepared Players who do not know what they’re doing tend to repeat patterns, and the Metagamer is fully aware of this. With the right conditions, the Metagamer can absolutely dominate.

“Perfect Play”

The player who relies on “Perfect Play” seeks to perform without making any misplays. In their mind, the key to victory is the implementation of a sound strategy through a flawless performance. They frequently playtest to hone their skills, and often stick to one deck since they can concentrate their efforts. This player wants a solid list, of course, but they don’t labor over each card. Instead, they squeeze value out of their deck by playing it better than anyone else they know.

Perfect Play is a concept that is near and dear to many players’ hearts. As a result, players often scowl at misplays and can be openly critical when they happen. The player who relies on Perfect Play understands this as well, and so will go through great lengths to extinguish any doubt in their in-game choices. They study videos, pose questions of strategy, and develop their own manner of playtesting — whatever works for them, so long as they never make a misplay.

Greatest Weakness: It’s often hard to become a Perfect Player, as it requires both introspection and a personalized approach to clearing up misplays. As a result, many players misinterpret the occasional good performance as a sign that they have mastered Perfect Play. When this is not the case, they will still boast about how well they handled their deck and overlook key gaps in their play. The first step to mastering Perfect Play is to admit where one is wrong, and many players just can’t do that.

Greatest Strength: The strength of a player who makes minimal misplays is the envy of most. After all, playing a deck perfectly is what many players wish they could do. This player is extremely hard to face, since they will leave no opening for attack. They also have a knack for getting out of extremely tough spots, and on more than one occasion mount incredible comebacks.

The Psychology Major

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I’m in your head…

In many ways, this player is out to prove that the “psychology” behind the Pokémon TCG is of equal importance with its other factors. Back when Power Spray was popular, these players always seemed to have two copies of it their hand at all times. They anticipate a player’s move and play accordingly.

At present, the Psychology Major recognizes that decent play first starts with broad terms like “confidence” and “willpower.” They talk about things that many players find odd, like getting lots of sleep and eating a large breakfast (or, if you’re me, going to a solitary place and doing confidence-boosting “power poses”).

Yes, this player can seem a little strange, but their approach is often sound — they want their mind to be at its best when they enter a tournament.

Greatest Weakness: These players often fall back on routines to prepare for a tournament rather than good old-fashioned playtesting. While there’s a lot of strength in being mentally prepared for a tournament, smarts alone can’t make a player good, and it would do this player a lot of good to sit down and do their homework.

Greatest Strength: There are certain cards out there that lend themselves more to this type of player than anyone else. Team Galactic’s Wager, for instance, was loved by any player who wanted to play a mind game. Power Spray also had its uses here. Currently, there aren’t many cards that give the Psychology Major a big boost. This player is also capable of performing well under a great deal of stress, mentally sharp they are.

The Math Major

The Math Major sees numbers in everything, and so wants to prove this as a means to becoming victorious. They are prepared for any question about the chances of starting with a Basic Pokémon, and they have a numerical way of explaining such things as Supporter and Energy counts. For the Math Major, numbers play the biggest role in things such deck construction and metagame analysis.

This player doesn’t mind taking the whole “math thing” one step further by compiling data on deck performance and demonstrating with numbers why a certain deck is the best choice. Before they even construct a deck, they often project its effectiveness by “working the numbers.” They enjoy cards like Hypnotoxic Laser, Eviolite, PlusPower, and Deoxys-EX since they alter the damage done or received and turn the game into a game of numbers.

Greatest Weakness: Crunching the numbers in this game can often be laborious, difficult-to-follow, and even boring. And when things don’t go as planned, it can be quite frustrating. While looking at the math surrounding the Pokémon TCG can reveal many powerful truths, it can also attribute to a strategic “nearsightedness” that has a player missing out on many powerful concepts.

Greatest Strength: For many players, math just “isn’t their thing.” This is where the Math Major can truly shine. While a good portion of players get hung up on the usability of cards like Fast Ticket, the Math Major has already done a quick analysis and moved on to the next idea. This, of course, removes doubt in the Math Major’s mind, which in its own way boosts confidence.

The Unoriginal

Unoriginal and proud of it!

And now, I’d like to introduce a type of player that seems a little at odds with the whole “Pokémon TCG as a challenge” thing. The Unoriginal is the type of player who introduces no new tricks and yet still performs well.

My brother for a long time was recognized as the player who used Palkia G LV.X at every major tournament. After getting top 64 at Nationals, 1st at Regionals, and 2nd at another Regionals with it, people began questioning if he even playtested at all.

For the Unoriginal, the challenge is in demonstrating the effectiveness of a single deck or aspect of the game. Other players will overlook the modifications made to the same deck in order to criticize the Unoriginal for being, well, unoriginal. At worst, they may even criticize the player’s skill entirely, wondering why seem to be a “one trick pony.”

Greatest Weakness: An Unoriginal may feel compelled to play a certain deck in order to keep up their pattern of play. If the metagame has changed significantly, this can spell disaster for them. Although it shouldn’t bother the Unoriginal, it’s never fun to receive criticism for what other players perceive as a lapse in creativity.

Greatest Strength: For the Unoriginal, the appearance of truly underwhelming play matters not. Instead, they have found a strategy that works and plan on milking it for all that it’s worth. The Unoriginal doesn’t care if they receive praise or not, the win is worth it enough to them.


There exist hybrids of all kinds of these various player profiles, for the distinction between treating the game as a hobby, an art, or a challenge can become fairly vague. Imagine the Math Major who aims to pull off some incredible feat of damage output — these players are in it for the challenge, but are largely doing it because both the Pokémon TCG and math are their hobbies. Every now and then, for example, a player posts about the highest amount of damage a single attack can do in the current format (barring attacks that can do infinite amounts of damage).

So what do these hybrids look like? Recognizing the purpose of the game for most as either a hobby, an art, or a challenge, let’s take a look at some of these hybrid profiles.

The Pokémon TCG as a Hobby AND an Art

This player wants to have fun, but largely wants to be expressive in how they do it. They might introduce card constraints (no Legendary Pokémon allowed) or even invent a new way to play (the Cube). I like to think that the minds behind the Professor Cup at Nationals every year would fit perfectly into this category.

The Pokémon TCG as a Hobby AND a Challenge

While this type of player wants to have fun, they also want to win. In other card games, this player is usually torn. In the Pokémon TCG, however, I think they are most welcome. These players can be both social and competitive, or they can be a Math Major and teach it to a younger generation.

Since the Pokémon TCG stems first and foremost from the concept of “Spirit of the Game,” these players find a nice home in this game.

The Pokémon TCG as an Art AND a Challenge

The players that fall into this category are largely the rogue deck builders. They accept the game as a challenge, and that challenge often involves winning with something never seen before. Players in this camp will definitely play a popular archetype — after all, they aim to win — but if they can get by while making a statement, they will.

In my last article, I described how I used a Darkrai EX deck with both Hammers and Potions. In a big way, this was me approaching the game as both a challenge and an art. I aimed to win, but I wanted to do it in a way others would remember me by.

The Pokémon TCG as a Hobby, an Art, AND a Challenge

All three. This player is truly a special case, representing equal aspects of the various approaches to the Pokémon TCG. While rare in many card games, I feel this player is represented a bit more in the Pokémon TCG, mainly because of the focus The Pokémon Company has on keeping this game primarily a hobby. Still, most players fall into one or two profiles, and so being equal parts of all three is a rare sight.


ash ketchum pokeball
Take some time to self-reflect on what kind of player you are.

As I mentioned before, my aim with this article is to leave you thinking about where you fit into this game. After all, if you can know what motivates you to play this game, you’re more likely to follow that train of thought. If, for example, you just love the “math” behind the game — and you know that you enjoy that aspect of the game — you’re more likely to get the most out of situations in the game that require a clear understanding of mathematics. Use that knowledge to your advantage.

For those who want to continue to enhance their game, consider putting on a different hat every now and then. Buddy up with someone who knows how to metagame, or make it your goal to learn everything you can about a certain player profile. Imitate that player if you can, as you will have gained a lot of experience in the process.

Lastly, my current view of the game is that we have a pretty stale format. A great deal of power resides in powering up Basic EX’s with loads of HP and damage output — nearly every deck operates off that same principle. At the same time, I think many players fall into a rut because they see everyone around them doing the same thing. If everyone is playing Big Basics (Landorus-EX/Mewtwo EX/Tornadus EX) why play anything else?

Trying to view the game from a different perspective can reveal some truly hidden gems. At the last State Championship I attended, I lost to a guy playing Darkrai EX/Hydreigon DRX 97. I thought that deck was completely gone, but there it was, completely dominating. Big Basics pulled through to win the tournament, but there were definitely some surprises along the way.

As we move forward — and especially as we get closer and closer to Pokémon X and Y — consider changing your perspective. Try to experiment with the numbers behind the game, or invent a deck just for the fun of it. You might not create the next “secret deck,” but it will definitely help you improve your game. And for most of us, that’s exactly what we’re after.

…and that will conclude this Unlocked Underground article.

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