There’s No ‘I’ in Pokémon

The Five Ws and One H of Successful Teams and Playtesters

Hey everybody! I just got back from Worlds the other day and had an amazing time as usual. I got to catch up with a lot of friends I only see once a year or less – I even saw our own Adam Capriola for the first time in a loooong time! I’ll be moving to Burlington, NJ by the end of this week and will be starting a new job as a middle school/high school math teacher at Doane Academy in Burlington. I will be much closer to Pokémon events than I have ever been before, so I hope to get back into the game and qualify for Worlds next year (if indeed there is a Worlds!).

Anyway, I’ve had the idea for this article since the beginning of the summer and I’m excited to share my thoughts teams in the Pokémon TCG. But before that – the World Championships just happened, and I can’t write an article without talking about it at least a little bit!

Worlds 2014 Recap

aromatisse xy video

Worlds 2014 had my team and me preparing… probably less than we should have. After my poor Nationals performance with Yveltal/Darkrai/Sableye/Hammers, I wanted to play an Evolution deck. I was very impressed with Ishaan’s Empoleon/Miltank list and played around with that a bunch in testing. Falling in love with Miltank, I experimented with other Stage 2 decks, including Flygon/Miltank and straight Dusknoir/Miltank, utilizing both Dusknoir BCR and Dusknoir FLF. While all of these decks were pretty good, I didn’t think any of them would be a super strong play for the Grinder.

At Nationals I had also seen my good friends Ryan Vergel, Omar Izaguirre, and Chris Bianchi do super well with an Aromatisse deck. Omar and Chris were each one win away from making the top 8, so I knew the deck could perform. I remembered flipping through their decks and ended up coming up with a list that was eerily similar to the ones they played in the Grinder. After a handful of games of testing and convincing some of my teammates to play it (Tyler Ninomura, Paul Johnston, and Michael Chin), we ended up with this list:

Pokémon – 16

2 Spritzee FLF

1 Spritzee XY

2 Aromatisse XY

3 Thundurus-EX PLF

1 Kyurem PLF

1 Suicune PLB

1 Darkrai-EX DEX

1 Landorus-EX

1 Cobalion-EX

1 Virizion-EX

1 Giratina-EX DRX

1 Raikou-EX

Trainers – 33

4 Professor Juniper

4 N

3 Colress

2 Shauna

2 Lysandre


4 Ultra Ball

1 Level Ball

3 Muscle Band

3 Max Potion

2 Tool Scrapper

1 Super Rod

1 Dowsing Machine


3 Fairy Garden

Energy – 11

4 Prism

4 Rainbow

3 Y

This was a super fun deck to play and also very strong. It had answers to everything and had decent matchups across the board. Cobalion for TDK, Suicune for Lugia, Giratina for Flygon and Pyroar, Raikou for Yveltal, etc. We dropped Entei-EX before the tournaments because a) we weren’t beating Virizion/Genesect consistently with it anyway and b) we didn’t think there was going to be a lot of Virgen (oops). Michikazu Tsuda from Japan, however, ran a very different Aromatisse list to much success. Focusing on M Kangaskhan-EX, he ran less of a toolbox and more bulky attackers. I think this probably made his deck much stronger in the Virgen matchup, but weaker against decks like Landorus/Garbodor and Yveltal/Garbodor.

I won my first round of the LCQ against a Speed Lugia with Glaceon and lost my second against a Virgen with Accelgor. Both went to Game 3 and to time, with my second-round opponent needing to hit a Lysandre on an N to 3 to win the game (and he did). My teammates all did okay or mediocre with the deck, losing to all the Virgens they played against. Landorus is super strong against Virgen, but just one Landorus and no Entei is not enough.

I personally think Virgen was a risky play for the main event, but clearly it paid off. The players using it must have expected little Pyroar — which makes some sense when thinking about how little Gothitelle was played at Worlds last year, despite it winning US Nationals. I guess I thought too deeply into it; I thought since Gothitelle was not played much last year, people would expect that Pyroar wouldn’t be played and choose to actually play Pyroar. Evidently, I misread the situation and we just ended up with a repeat of Gothitelle’s fate last year. (Note to self: Don’t metagame too hard.)

In any case, huge props to the Portuguese for a great call and a different Virgen list (which can be found on Poké They ran it much more aggressively than the typical builds — with 3 Colress Machine and 3 Energy Switch — and Igor included Shaymin-EX to steal games at the end. I am curious as to how much Shaymin helped Igor throughout the event (note the only difference between Igor’s and Paulo’s lists is -1 Bicycle, +1 Shaymin-EX). I’m sure other writers will analyze Worlds 2014 more than me, so let’s jump into the main topic of today’s article…

The Team Aspect of Pokémon

ash misty brock

One of the topics I want to talk about that I consider extremely important in the Pokémon TCG, but also in other activities and life in general, is creating a network around yourself. In terms of the PTCG, this manifests itself in playtesting groups, most commonly known as teams. I have had the pleasure and good fortune of being on many Pokémon teams in my career, from regional teams to online teams to teams formed for a finite period of time. While there are many different types of teams out there, all have similar components associated with them.

In my life outside of Pokémon, I work with people. As I mentioned in the intro, I will start my career as a math teacher in a few weeks, so I will need to manage and lead classrooms full of middle and high school students. Throughout college I worked with groups of college students — facilitating, leading, and just being a part of various types of groups. I understand group dynamics pretty well and want to share some tips on what makes some groups successful and others not so much. There will be social and group theory talk throughout this article, but as always, I will try to keep the discussion in terms that everyone can understand.

By the end of this article, you should know how to be a productive member of a team and how to start one if you so choose. Before we look at the how to, however, we need to understand the motivation behind forming a team.

“Why should I be on a team?”

Although Pokémon is technically a solo game, most players will acknowledge they would not have achieved success without the help of this person or that person. You will always see players salute others when writing reports or whatnot (case in point: see above!). Regardless of whether you are on a “team” or just playing with a couple of friends, we need others to help us along in our journey to be the very best. Ash would not be Ash without Misty and Brock. But why is this exactly? Let’s take a look at some reasons:

1. We need others to bounce ideas off of.

Everyone thinks differently and has certain biases, so each one of us will generate different ideas. Since we naturally have biases toward our own ideas, it’s great to have other people to talk them over. Others can point out the glaring flaw that we are too blind to see and they can suggest a change that might fix said flaw. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to my team with the “next big idea” only to have them point out the stupidest and most basic things wrong with it.

2. Similar to the last point, everyone has a different perspective playing Pokémon.

This is twofold. First, some people play competitively, some casually, and some in-between. Even though this article is focusing on the competitive player, it is actually beneficial to run your ideas past more casual players (especially if you’re going into a small tournament like a City Championship). Sometimes us competitive players get so caught up in our own metagame that we forget that others “aren’t there yet” and we actually make poor decisions because the metagame isn’t up to where we think it actually is (or should be). Monitoring how and what the more casual players are playing keeps us grounded and ensures that our ideas are not “over-prepared” for an upper-level metagame that doesn’t yet exist.

Second, and probably more importantly, is that everyone has different playstyles. Some people prefer to play more aggressive (aggro) decks while others prefer more control-oriented builds. Some prefer Energy acceleration and some prefer spreading damage. Some prefer Basics, some prefer Evolutions. And so on. A truly great player can play any type of deck, but everyone still has their own biases and natural inclinations. Building and testing decks is where these qualities really come through, as you are more likely to see the most effective play in a given situation, or what card needs to be swapped out in a decklist. Having people on your team with varying playstyles will ensure that you get this quality work on no matter what type of deck your team is testing.

Furthermore, you may be running a deck a certain way, and one of your teammates will come in and tweak it slightly to fit his or her playstyle and make the deck much better in the process. In my opinion, this is the most important reason to test with others.

3. With a team, you have the opportunity to truly test.

Playing at League or on PlayTCG or PTCGO is great and gives you an idea of how your deck pits against random opponents, but do you get everything you can out of it? By playing with a teammate, both of you will want to learn as much as you can about a deck or matchup, which gives many mutual benefits. I’ll talk more about these in the playtesting section of the article.

4. Taking testing a step further, on a team you have access to ALL of your teammates’ testing results as well.

Pooling results is one of the best things about being on a team — even if you personally haven’t played a matchup, as long as you trust your teammates as competent players, you can draw conclusions from their results, saving you a lot of time. In this data-driven world that we are living in now, this should make sense: more data = more sound conclusions.

5. On a less technical level, you have people you can borrow cards from at events without feeling guilty.

Most importantly, you can talk to, travel with, and stay with these people at events! This is a hobby, after all.

In summary, if you have a team or a testing partner/group, you will all get much better, much faster. Isn’t what everyone wants?!

“Okay… but who should I be on a team with?”

pikachu butterfree squirtle charmander

You’ve made the decision you want to form a team. Great! Now you may be thinking “But who the heck would want to be on a team with me?!” This is a thought that crossed my mind a bunch when I first started playing, so let me share my story. I desperately wanted to get help from more experienced players and it frustrated me to no end when I would post a deck on PokéGym (the main Pokémon site by far at the time) and I would get minimal responses.

You can actually still see some of my first posts here, here, and here – over 10 years ago! You’ll see I kept posting decks and asking for help until I started getting a bit more attention. I even attracted SixPrizes owner Adam Capriola (plaidlesspez) and the well-known Pablo Meza (Pablo) to comment on my Omastar deck — two of the best players back then (not to say they’re not now!). [Editor’s note: I’m not!] Though I don’t remember for sure, I think I reached out to them and other top players through private message around this time as well, asking for help on what to play and how to get better.

I think how I reached out to these players is telling: I didn’t ask them for a list or expect them to just feed me information. I provided my own deck and ideas and asked them for their advice. At some point after discussing my ideas with them, I would ask what they played or, if I could play anything I wanted, what should I play? Then they would gladly talk about their thoughts and sometimes even give me a list to look at.

Very quickly I formed relationships with many of these players and quickly made it onto “Neo” as the youngest player on there. (History lesson: Neo pre-dated “Lafonte” as a private forum for some of the best players in the world.)

Now, Neo wasn’t a team per se — very little of the discussions on there were actually about Pokémon — but it introduced me to people. From there I was able to branch off and test with some very good players and I quickly became much better. Back to you. Whether you’re looking to form a team of your own or join one that already exists, you need to consider some important factors:
Choose friend level over skill level.

1. This may seem obvious, but you need to be friendly with the people you will be working with. Ideally, you would all be friends, but that’s not always possible, especially early in a team’s life. As a rule of thumb, everyone on the team should have one person they can absolutely say is their “friend.” Even if you’re not super close with every member of the team, having each person strongly connected to one other person will help ensure the team’s success. Everyone will have someone that can vouch for them in a dispute and no one will get ganged up on when discussing ideas or making decisions.

If you are currently on a team and looking to bring someone in, look for players that are friends of your teammates. On the flip side, if you are looking to join a team, the best way to start is to become close with someone that is on a team and slowly and delicately push the idea of you joining.

2. Beyond simply friendliness, you must link up with people you trust, will keep ideas within the team, and follow whatever expectations the team has set out. This can be tricky but is extremely important. There are many players who wish to keep their lists and ideas very secretive and there are just as many players who could care less. If you’re looking to work on a team, you are probably looking to be more competitive and will probably err on the former side, but realize that not everybody thinks the same. It’s important to communicate about these things. I will touch on creating expectations a little bit later.

3. Ideally, you are going to want to team up with players that complement your playstyle. I touched on this in the section above — if you know you are really good at taking an idea and creating the best list for it, but you’re not so good at coming up with the idea itself, then you want to look for an idea person. There are many subtleties to how different players see the game, and someone could probably write a whole article on it, but here’s a brief and general list of what I’m talking about:

  • Idea person: These people spit out ideas like there’s no tomorrow. Most of their ideas are bad, but that’s okay! Every once in awhile there is that diamond in the rough and if they have someone to refine a list for them, it could spell big success for everyone on the team
  • List perfecter: These people take an idea — whether it’s an archetype or a rogue — and can tweak it into a well-oiled machine. They can see exactly how a deck works and what it needs to be successful, so when it comes down to draw engines or just tech cards, they know what the deck needs.
  • Metagame-er: These are the meteorologists of the group (hopefully better than real meteorologists, though…). They can tell what is going to be played at a given tournament and can recommend which decks to play to give the best chance of winning.
  • Technically strong: These are the people that can pick up any deck, at any time, and just crush it. Misplays are few and far between and you can learn a lot about how to actually play by their decisions and thought processes.

Now, everyone has traits of all of these roles in them, but we each have our natural tendencies and one of them is bound to be stronger. Recognize this in yourself and others in order to form a balanced and successful team. Note that even if you don’t think you fit into a role, psychology says that simply by joining a group, you will find a role.

4. Lastly, you will need to decide where your teammates will be physically located from you.

  • Local team: This consists almost exclusively of players from a specific region. Many local Leagues have teams that support each other at local tournaments, but more importantly at larger regional or national tournaments. The most obvious example of a team like this that I can think of is Team Warp Point, which was based in the Midwest.
  • Online team: In this case, the majority of your members live far away from each other. While a couple players may live in close proximity to one another, the majority of discussion and testing is done online. Having never lived near a League or other Pokémon players, I have always been a part of online teams.

There are pros and cons to each of these types of teams. Local teams enjoy the ability to test in real life on a regular basis. This is certainly the ideal way to test, so this is a huge plus. Travel to tournaments also becomes much easier when you have a good group of people to go with. On the other hand, since you live near each other, it is likely you will often play one another in tournaments. You probably know each other’s lists, so this can make for some strange games and tense moments if a judge ever needs to get involved. Furthermore, some teammates may end up teching for one another, which can be awkward. We’ll touch on this a bit more in creating expectations.

Online teams benefit and suffer from the opposites of the above points. While you don’t get that full, real-life testing environment, you won’t have to play each other very often. This can lead to more open and honest discussion about decks, which is always a good thing. Another benefit is that more members of your team can potentially win an event at the same time – since you’re at different events. This point reminds me of Team R all using their Dialga deck in 2009 at different States and winning many of them.

5. Lastly, again on a less technical level, you want to play with people you can have fun with. Beyond just being friendly, if you hate most of your team, you’re not going to get very far in the Pokémon world with them. If you find yourself on a team and not hanging out with your teammates for at least half of an event, you should probably reconsider your place on the team.

In summary, you want to find others that you get along with, have fun being around, and will help reach your goals of becoming a more well-rounded player.

“That’s all great, but how can my team be successful?”

ash misty tracey map

So far we’ve looked at the ‘who,’ the ‘why,’ and the ‘where’ of creating and being on a team. The ‘when’ is easy — all the time! That leaves us with the ‘what’ and the ‘how.’ I will share some of the methods that my teams have used to be successful and some of the methods that have been unsuccessful.

1. Logistically, the biggest and best thing you can do as a team is to create a message board or some sort of online meeting place. Regardless if you are a local or online team, having somewhere to record results, deck ideas, lists, and discussions will prove invaluable leading up to a tournament.

I much prefer a message board over something like a Facebook group, as there are search options and it’s easier to find old posts. It becomes difficult to find a Facebook post even after just a week. Another option that I never tried was to do it all through email, but I imagine this can get cluttered and people may forget to hit “reply all” sometimes. Proboards offers free board hosting, so in my opinion, there really is no excuse for using anything else but a message board.

2. In terms of interpersonal relations, it is extremely important to create clear expectations for your team. This is the same as any other group: as a teacher, I will have expectations for my students and they will have expectations of me. As a parent, you create expectations for your children and they have expectations of you. As a band member, you have expectations for your fellow musicians and vice-versa. If you want to avoid controversy with teammates and truly be a part of successful team, you will work with one another to come up with a set of expectations that you all agree with. This does not have to be a long list — just a few ideas that will put the team on the same page. Everyone should feel as if they have an equal say in the creation of these expectations. Examples of some expectations that you could use that my teams have had:

  • Secrecy: This is usually the big one and consistent through most teams that I’ve been on. If someone on your team asks you to keep an idea private from members outside of the team, you need to abide by that. Of course, this can be a grey area at times. There is no reason you can’t play decks like Blastoise or Plasma against players outside of the team. But what about a tech card in one of those decks? You can often be a little unsure of what to do. If it’s your idea you are usually safe to do with it what you want. But if it’s someone else’s, it’s always best to be safe and ask. There are many factors that go into a decision like this — such as what time of year it is, what deck it is, how different the idea is, who the idea originated from, and so on.
  • Metagaming/teching against teammates: This is a touchy subject, but as long as you communicate with your teammates, I think either direction is fine. I’ve had teammates that played in the same area, and during local events like City Championships, they would discuss decks generally in the main threads, but talk about more minute details with me privately. Everyone was well aware of this fact, so it wasn’t a surprise when these players would come to these local tournaments trying to beat the others. There were no hard feelings because we had set the ground rules and communicated. If you want to go the other way and agree that you shouldn’t be gunning for each other in a tournament, that’s fine too. But again, make sure this is communicated to all members!
  • Public appearance: This encompasses a lot of different things: dress, public visibility, image, and more. Some teams are more casual and want to appear that way, so you will see them make posts about their team on things like Virbank City and they will have references to their team on message boards through their signature (example: Team Hovercats). Other teams (and these are more prone to called “testing groups”) prefer to remain more anonymous. Sometimes it only becomes apparent that players are working together when a tournament is underway and you can notice them playing similar or identical decklists. Again, this is something you should talk to your teammates about so that no one is caught off guard by a public shout out.
  • Scooping and prize sharing: More drama-ridden subjects that can be avoided with communication include scooping in tournaments and sharing prizes. I personally don’t think it should ever be expected for teammates to scoop to one another, but that it should be up to the individual. For example, I played against one of my teammates at Nationals 2008 and he already had his invite locked up, while I didn’t. Though I didn’t ask him to, he scooped to me so I could have a better chance at the invite. I ended up in the top 4 — so in this case, it worked! In the CP world that we live in now, these discussions are even more relevant and should happen before a tournament begins, rather than in the moment. Sharing prizes/winnings is another interesting phenomena. I have not heard of many teams agreeing to this, but I think it is perfectly acceptable to. For example, if someone on my team wins a free room, unless they want to bring their family, we use it as a free room for our team and help subsidize the rest of our costs.

3. You will also need to be able to hold each other accountable for not following expectations. This is much more difficult than actually creating the expectations in the first place. What are the consequences for leaking a secret deck to someone? For being inactive? For totally metagaming a teammate when you agreed you wouldn’t? I think the first thing you need to do is actually talk about it with the other person. Communication has been a common theme throughout this article and most hard feelings can be avoided or dealt with up front if communication occurs.

If disputes can be settled one on one, it usually in the best interest of both parties to do so. However, if they cannot come to an agreement, getting others in the team involved can be helpful. Others on the team must try not to take sides but instead look at the situation objectively in order to reach a just compromise for both individuals.

4. As your team grows and evolves, embrace the change. Every group will change and it’s okay! Think of all the groups you have been a part of in your life: high school classes, orientation groups, college clubs, sports teams, co-workers, etc. All groups gain and lose people, change expectations, and change goals. This is normal and to be expected of a group, so look to the positives of such change rather than focus on “Well, our team used to be like this…”

5. Lastly, members of your team need to actually play and share ideas! They say a team is only as strong as its weakest link, so getting input from as many people on as many different ideas as possible is important. At duller times of the season and when people get busy with work and school, this can get tougher.

Teams are an exciting part of the Pokémon TCG. They promote camaraderie, competition, and bring everyone’s ability level to the next level. Remember that we’re all playing a game and have fun with your teammates.

“Playtesting — an art or a science?”

metapod versus

I get asked this question a lot about teaching: is it an art or a science? Of course, it’s both, and I think a similar response could be given to playtesting. For the next part of this article I want to talk about some of the things that go into playtesting effectively in order to maximize your results and output. First let’s look at the goals of playtesting.

Goals of Playtesting

  1. Get better with decks. This much should be obvious — the more you play, the better you will get. But it’s important to realize there are good ways of playtesting and bad ways of playtesting. We’ll talk about the good ways below.
  2. Especially as a top tier played, the more important goal of playtesting is to gather accurate data and results. Most top players would consider themselves competent to pick up most decks and just play them without misplaying too much. So why playtest? Mostly to understand the matchups more fully. This entails certain tech or swing cards to play and even which deck to play given a certain metagame. Similarly to the first goal, there are better ways to come to legitimate results.

Before going into the intricacies of playtesting, let’s look at some of the benefits of working with a team when testing. This is not an exhaustive list, but highlights some of the best things that come out of working with a team.

Testing with Teammates

  • You can talk through every move, every turn and evaluate the costs/benefits of each choice. This ensures you are making the correct move while testing, which means you are more likely to make the correct move in a real game. There’s a saying that practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. If you are playing against a random, it’s very hard to make note of every play that you were questioning at the time and trying to think through how it would have affected the game state later. (Though, if one of your testing partners is not available, playing against someone is better than not playing at all!)
  • Similarly, you get constructive, immediate feedback. As an educator, I am acutely aware of how valuable this information is. People learn best when they see their results, the mistake, and how to fix it immediately after making the mistake. Even when you’re playing with a partner, sometimes it is good to play your turn normally to see what would happen, then pause before your opponent goes. Your opponent can talk through the plays you made and why he/she thinks each one was optimal or not. If you are coaching someone on how to become a better Pokémon player, this is a good method to use as well.
  • You can (and should) allow takebacks. Once you discuss each play (or the turn), when you’re testing with a partner, you can change your moves based on the critiques. The biggest advantage of this is not that you have a “better chance to win” but it gives you more accurate testing results! You always want to assume your opponent will make the most optimal play, so allowing takebacks on plays helps steer you closer to true results. I get pretty annoyed when people online won’t let me take even the most simple plays back. It’s testing for goodness sake!
  • You choose the matchups you play. While it’s good practice to expect the unexpected going to a tournament, I don’t really want to play against your Ninjask/Shedinja/Crobat deck when Yveltal and Plasma are all I expect at a tournament. Playing against random opponents does not allow you the ability to get practice against certain decks (and even certain lists of certain decks). When playing with partners, you can each agree on a matchup to play. You want to have a healthy amount of playing time against all the popular decks, so this is an extremely nice perk of playing with partners.

Playing Against Yourself

Another method to test that I think often gets misunderstood and misused is playing against yourself. I know some players that swear against it and I also know players, like Ross Cawthon, that do the majority of their testing against themselves. Depending on your physical situations, it can make sense.

For example, when I was younger I worked at a farm stand for the summer with my best friend. There was no internet at the farm stand, but we had a lot of down time. I couldn’t convince my friend to play with me, so I got in the habit of bringing two decks and playing against myself in between customers. The benefit here was that I got to play at my own pace and it was okay if a game took an hour or two.

Beyond situations like this, there are not too many instances that I can think of where I think it would make sense to play yourself. One that comes to mind is when you want to keep an idea secret and one of your teammates isn’t around to play. By playing against yourself you ensure your idea doesn’t get out. This can also be a double-edged sword, though: sometimes you will subconsciously play so that your idea will succeed. I catch myself doing this sometimes and have to be extra careful to play so that I set my idea up to fail rather than succeed. If it succeeds in spite of this reverse-biased play, then the idea might actually have some merit!

On the other hand, it’s also important to remember that real opponents won’t have the benefit of knowing the exact list of both decks and won’t make the exact same decisions. While I tend to play more cautiously, there is some merit to try playing against yourself more realistically. I don’t think there is a clear-cut answer, but simply being aware of both styles is important.

Overall, I would recommend to play with someone else whenever possible – it will give you more realistic results.

Playtesting Tips

  • Alternate who goes first, regardless of the winner of the last game.
  • If you don’t want/need the practice of determining your Prize cards, just look at your Prizes after your first search. Then, as the game goes on, feel free to look at your Prizes (and then shuffle them) throughout the game. Results are skewed if you “forgot” you Prized something later in the game.
  • Similarly, allow each other to search your own deck as the game goes on. The contents of your deck should be apparent to you especially by the late game, so there isn’t any harm in searching through and double checking.
  • For the previous two points, there is some value in practicing these skills. But that’s all you’re doing — practicing these skills. You are not technically “playtesting,” at least in a strictly matchup or deck sense. You can practice these skills on your own, so I don’t see the need to slow down testing games for others for you to refine skills that you can work on privately.
  • Depending on the “stage” of playtesting — i.e. how many games you have played with a deck and how many more games you intend to play with a deck — I think it’s fine to change your Prizes if something silly happens. For example, when I was testing Aromatisse, I knew I didn’t have time to test all that many games with it. So the first couple of games where I Prized both Aromatisse, I just traded one with another random card in my deck. This gives me more legitimate results in a small sample size. If you know you’re going to be playing hundreds of games of testing, then doing this might not be your best option.
  • In general, play against standard lists when testing. You can really screw yourself if you and your friends constantly tweak your lists to beat each other, as you may eventually find your deck losing in matchups it shouldn’t. Kyle (Pooka) was telling me at Nationals this year that he and Sebastian (GrandmaJoner) used to play the Pow Block/Flariados (I think) matchup a lot, so Sebastian kept putting in more Heal Energy and other ways to get out of Special Conditions. They kept metagaming each other, so eventually the decks looked completely different from normal lists. Now imagine if they wanted to test a new deck against those decks – their results wouldn’t be so accurate!
  • Something I find very important when preparing for a tournament is to actually play a couple games with every major deck. Beyond just getting a feeling for your own decision of what deck to play, the information you gain from actually piloting a deck is invaluable when playing against that deck.
  • An analogy, if I may: I have been going out with my friend Ethan for years on his boat. Ethan loves to wakeboard and either myself or someone else will drive the boat while he boards. Though I have been out on the boat the most times with him, I’m usually not the most effective driver because I don’t myself wakeboard. This automatically puts me at a huge disadvantage, as I don’t know the little intricacies of what he wants done. But when my friend George, who also wakeboards, drives the boat, he is perfect.
    • On another note, I have been playing a lot of Hearthstone recently. It has taken me quite some time to be at a level that I am comfortable with, mainly because I’ve had to learn how to play every deck. Now that I have this knowledge, it becomes a heck of a lot easier to try and counter and play against each of these decks.
  • Some people like to play into “forced” situations. I’m not a big fan of this, as it generally gives you less reliable data to draw conclusions from, which goes against the second goal of playtesting. What I mean by a forced situation is always assuming your opponent starts with X, Y, and Z in their opening hand, or you not starting with V or W in your opening hand. While this may help you some in achieving the first goal of becoming better with a deck, it severely hurts your progress toward the second goal. If you find yourself needing to get better technically, then go for it. Otherwise, stray away from artificial situations.
  • When testing, control for card changes. Hopefully all of you are familiar with the scientific method, where you form a hypothesis, test it, analyze the results, and then draw conclusions before making another hypothesis. This should be how you approach testing. You don’t want to change too much about a deck at once, as then you will be left wondering exactly what the change was that helped or hurt your results. By changing just a few cards at a time, you can more reliably determine what is working or not.
  • Quantity vs. Quality: What’s the balance? Hopefully these tips will allow you to have more quality playtesting sessions, but there is still the question of just how much testing one should do. This is a deeply personal question and depends on a lot of things — how motivated you are, the time you have available to play Pokémon vs. other things, etc. I didn’t test all that much quantity wise for the LCQ this year, but quality wise, I thought I was fine. My friend Josef (Bolt) came out one weekend and we played three games of Empoleon vs. Aromatisse and I learned sooooo much in those three games because we talked about a lot of the decisions, how the matchup should play out, and took each game slow. I didn’t feel like I needed to play the matchup anymore in order to understand it. Would I have learned things if I did play it more? Of course! But I was at a comfortable level with myself, and that’s what mattered.


ash misty brock pikachu balloon

My intention with this article was not to go over the history of teams in the Pokémon TCG, though that might be an interesting discussion one day. I think many “teams” have flown under the radar over the years and I’m not sure that all of them want to be called out. I did talk about public appearance, after all.

What I do hope this article has done is shed some light on how to run and be a member of a successful team. Remember that a team cannot succeed with one person running the show — there needs to be buy-in from all of the members. You need to trust and be friends with one another. Playtesting is the central component of operating a successful team, so I think it made sense to talk about it in the same article.

As always, I welcome any and all questions, especially on topics such as these. And if you liked the article, make sure to hit “Like” below. Thanks all!



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