Play It Out

In-Game Skill, Part 2: Thinking Strategically
ash hat backwards
Backwards hat not required.

Today I’m continuing my foray into the wonderfully complex facet of the Pokémon TCG known as “in-game skill.” Last month I provided a good background on what in-game skill looks like and this month I’m going to start digging into real examples. It will be a hands-on look at how the game plays out and how players arrive at optimal strategies.

Before we get started with that, though, I’m going to pick apart the notion of “playstyle,” defining what it truly is and setting it apart from what it definitely is not. The way I see it, it’s hard to discuss in-game skill if it gets lost in the fog of what people think of as “playstyle.”

Also, just a quick note that with the exception of my older format decks (Gyarados SF, Steelix Prime), the decks I will be mentioning are card for card the decks that Kyle Sabelhaus used in his latest article. I thought he did a great job on giving players a lot to test with, myself included, and so I thought I would feature those decks here. Thanks Kyle!

Sorry for the short introduction – I’m ready to get on with the show!

Remember to click on the link in the table of contents to go directly to that part of the article.

Table of Contents


hot air balloon
The concept is merely hot air.

One of the first things we as players need to change is our comprehension of what playstyle is as compared to strategy. For a long time, I was confused about playstyle. It kind of made sense when I saw other players win a game with an offbeat approach. One could point at a scenario like that and state that playstyle had a hand in the victory. Still, when I tried to identify my own playstyle, I kept coming up with a category of decks that I enjoyed playing (tier 2 decks with smart techs that gave them a sizable advantage).

This, though, was not a playstyle, at least not in the sense that I understood it. When a player plays a deck based around defense (or “tanking”), we might identify their playstyle as such, but that is not a true representation of playstyle either – that’s just a characteristic of the deck, not necessarily the player.

About five years ago I was introduced to the deck-building game Dominion. It’s an ingenious game in which all players start with the same hand and must “purchase” cards that are set out in front of them. Every game is different because the 10 cards that are set in front of all players change with each game. These 10 cards have effects that are very much like Supporters in the Pokémon TCG. Players can purchase whatever cards they want, and these cards then define their own deck’s strategy as the game progress.

While one could argue that there’s an optimal set of plays for every game of Dominion, this is largely obscured by the multiple cards players can choose from. If I start buying cards that give me a lot of draw power, for instance, my opponent(s) may buy cards that disrupt my strategy.

The reason I mention Dominion is because I feel it gives the best possible example of what playstyle looks like when it operates during a game. When most players talk about playstyle, I really think they are understanding it as it operates in Dominion. Under this assumption, I should be able to clearly identify my playstyle when I play Dominion. As it turns out, I can!

When I play Dominion I always buy a blend of cards that disrupt and offer draw power. I then sway in one direction or the other when buying cards based on what my opponents start doing. I can also identify the playstyles of most everyone I’ve played Dominion with. My wife almost always buys money cards that help her make heftier purchases later in the game (I would say she plays extremely conservatively). My brother chooses intricate strategies and works off what everyone else is doing. My daughter Naomi chooses to end the game right away by trying to flip the table or eat the cards (it’s very effective).

Back to the Pokémon TCG. We all have an approach to win when we play the Pokémon TCG, but playstyle as most understand it implies that a player has a strategic choice in their victory as they play – as though a player may play “conservatively” by holding off on playing Professor Juniper and sacrificing Pokémon, aiming for the right moment to strike. Or that they can be an “aggressive” player who junks precious resources in an effort to speed through their deck and attack as fast as possible.

What’s the issue with this point of view? Well, it assumes there are multiple strategies we may employ to win during a game. See, this isn’t war, it’s Pokémon. And as much as I love this game, I truly feel that “playstyle” and in-game strategizing are incompatible – for the most part at least.

When a player dumps precious cards by using a Professor Juniper, a few things may be said about it. Perhaps they are playing aggressively, a trademark of that player’s style. Maybe they’re just being reckless. It could be that it’s the only play that player can make. No matter the case, though, there’s usually an optimal play that can be made.

The Pokémon TCG is straightforward like this. We don’t have to sit around and theologically determine the merits between playing aggressively and playing defensively – these factors are usually predetermined before a game even begins. If I’m playing with Seismitoad-EX you can bet that my deck will disrupt; if I’m using a Fighting type deck I’ll be slugging it out with aggressive damage modifiers.

So what then is playstyle? Is it a myth, or does it have some bearing on how we play the game?

After much deliberation on this question, I think playstyle is a thing that occurs primarily pre-game rather than in-game. There are various options available to players in-game, but I strongly feel there to be an optimal play in these cases – when that play exists, there is no style, there is only the optimal play and misplays. When we begin to suggest that misplays are actually a player’s preference, it demeans the value of in-game skill. Suddenly, a player who kills off precious resources by playing a Juniper rather than an N is just “playing aggressively,” and someone who mistakenly sacrifices a Pokémon when they shouldn’t is doing so “conservatively.”

So then, if playstyle occurs pre-game, what does it look like? What does that even mean?

I want you to consider Russell Laparre, the player who finished in the top 8 at two separate Regional Championships earlier this year with Flygon BCR and is the brains behind the Donphan PLS deck that has spilled onto the scene recently. If asked to describe his playstyle, I would say he builds rogue decks off the idea of “walling” (using a Pokémon whose attack allows its user to send up another Pokémon from the Bench for another purpose).

Could anyone have figured out the Donphan PLS deck? Of course, but I think it’s telling that the same guy who was walling with Flygon BCR was testing around with Donphan PLS in the first place. His style of play has nothing to do with what’s happening during the game (anyone with even the faintest idea of the deck’s strategy would play it similarly), it has to do with what’s occurring before Laparre even goes to a tournament.

This same idea can be applied to many other players. Ross Cawthon, the guy with incredible in-game skill who plays offbeat rogue decks. Jason Klaczynski, known for picking up a deck and playing it perfectly all season long. Ryan Sabelhaus, known for making minute changes to popular archetypes for a slight advantage – then outplaying practically everyone around him. In each of these cases, the pre-game approach is different, but there is something that is constant: all of these players have incredible in-game skill. Their play is nearly flawless.

My point in spelling all of this out is that I have to do away with the notion that in-game playstyle is a big part of the game. Simply stated, it isn’t. When we as players can understand that, we can get closer to playing optimally rather than playing “stylistically,” whatever that means. The rest of this article will focus on identifying optimal plays in a given situation that stem from proper strategizing. Some of this strategic groundwork takes place before the game begins, so follow along as we investigate what solid in-game skill looks like.


ash misty tracey map
Map it out.

Have you ever watched someone play a game of Pokémon all wrong from start to finish? Like, you knew exactly what they needed to do strategically to win and they did everything but that? If you’ve had this happen to you, you were probably like me and wanted to be polite, so you watched them all the way through, turn after excruciating turn.

While the Pokémon TCG has become extremely simple over the years, there is still room for developing and maintaining an effective game plan for whatever decks you may face in a tournament. One may even argue that with the simplification of the Pokémon TCG comes a heftier price for when a misplay is made. Here’s an example, using the Manectric-EX/Black Kyurem-EX PLS deck that Kyle Sabelhaus included in his latest article (in case you missed the note in this article’s introduction, the decklists I used for this article all come from Kyle’s article – he gave a really good snapshot for where the game is right now and I’d like to build off that to make it relevant for players).

For the most part, playing against Seismitoad-EX decks means you’ll be playing without a third of your deck as soon as your second turn – fun! There will be games you lose just because you couldn’t run into what you needed. As such, I really thought the matchup between it and Manectric/Black Kyurem to be nothing more than slapping cards down as fast as possible and praying your opponent doesn’t get what they need.

As I tested this matchup out, I found myself exploring an interesting little trick I found helpful in leveraging things. By playing a Black Kyurem-EX PLS to my Bench in the first couple of turns, I gave my opponent a perfect opportunity to use a Lysandre to pull it up and start attacking into it. To the opponent this seemed like a good way to avoid an onslaught from multiple Manectric-EX, yet in reality it allowed me the time I needed to get that onslaught ready to go. Between Crushing Hammer flips, Head Ringer, and the occasional Mega Evolution, things can move surprisingly slowly for what should normally be a lightning-fast deck.

As it turned out, this strategy was less reliable than I wanted, and so I tried swarming with Manectric-EXs. This too proved difficult depending on Crushing Hammer flips, so I shifted my focus to trying to get a Turbo Bolt off twice to power up a Black Kyurem-EX. So far, this has been a more reliable strategy and opens the opportunity for my opponent to take the bait on Black Kyurem.

I mention this because it represents more of the “active strategizing” I feel accompanies solid play. By contrast, it’s very easy to settle into a “one-size-fits-all” strategy with your deck, especially with how simple the game has gotten. Unless you’re playing some wild conglomeration of Pokémon in your deck (think Donphan PLS or Night March decks), you’ll probably be using at most two or three attacks. This doesn’t mean, however, that your play should be just as simple.

Finding a Winning Strategy

Let’s look at another matchup and work our way toward a cohesive strategy. For this, I’ll be testing Donphan PLS/stuff against a Dialga-EX/Aegislash-EX/Bronzong PHF.

Game 1

For the first game, I knew the matchup would be tough when my opponent flipped over an Aegislash-EX. My opening hand included two Double Colorless Energy and a Strong Energy. My draw Supporter? A Professor Juniper. Needless to say, I didn’t win this one, but I did learn some important lessons. First of all, Aegislash-EX is going to be a pain in this matchup, but Donphan PLS can still handle it in two hits so long as it has a Silver Bangle attached to it and a Fighting Stadium is in play. Second, walling with Wobbuffet PHF is crucial once the opponent sets up some Bronzong PHF. And last, walling in general with Sigilyph LTR puts a lot of pressure on the opponent.

While I tried to pick up on these things right away, Aegislash-EX proved to be too much to handle. When trying to mount a fight with a Donphan PLS that had only basic Energy attached to it, the opponent was able to bring it up with a Lysandre and land a Knock Out in one hit. Eventually, I was unable to get anymore Donphan PLS in play, which sealed my doom.

Game 2

After the first game, I now had an idea of how to win the matchup. My strategy was fairly simple: get two Donphan PLS in play with a single F Energy each and work on powering up a third one to do Wreck. When bringing up a Pokémon from the Bench, I would send up Sigilyph LTR unless my opponent desperately needed to use Bronzong PHF to get Energy in play; in those cases a Wobbuffet PHF would do.

This strategy gave me a somewhat challenging win. Aegislash-EX was still annoying, and my opponent was able to use Lysandre twice to Knock Out my two “basic” Donphan PLS. Still, by the time my second Donphan PLS went down, I had a couple of Hawlucha FFI left to snatch up the win.

Game 3

This game went decisively different than the first two. In a few words, I overran the game within the first few turns with Hawlucha FFI. I was able to Knock Out an Aegislash-EX in two hits before it even attacked, and the game went my way without my opponent putting up much of a fight.

So, it might be obvious, but you always need to be ready and willing to change up your strategy given the state of the game. Being able to switch it strategies seamlessly is just as important as having a defined strategy. In this game I recognized a weakness and took advantage of it.

Here’s the last thing I want to say about developing a game plan: avoid passive play and be wary of playing your deck the same way every time. If there are five main archetypes in the format, be prepared to face each of those decks with a well thought-out strategy. I admit that some decks will play out the same way no matter what you face, but that isn’t always the case.


As I said in my previous article, the term “technical play” refers to the various steps required to actually play a game of the Pokémon TCG – draw a card, attach an Energy, use Abilities, play a Supporter, and so on. These are the very building blocks of the game itself, and so any deck will present you the opportunity to play soundly from a technical viewpoint.

Here I will introduce a few scenarios for you to look at. Consider how you would handle the situation, then see if you got close to what we might call the “optimal” way to play. Bear in mind that we aren’t looking at your strategic choices right now, just technical play.

Scenario 1

erik nance technical play 1

If we’re looking to give ourselves the best chance to win, we must consider a couple of factors here. Given our hand (Cheren, Tool Scrapper, Double Colorless Energy), we don’t automatically have the win, so we have to play it safe. Pawniard XY has an Energy attached to it, so we can get a retreat out of it if we need to. The biggest error one can make is to send up Bronzong NXD. Yes, you might end up attacking with it in the long run, but what if you whiff the M Energy? Your opponent can potentially KO Bronzong NXD, leaving you with little to fight with.

I want to be clear here: sending up Pawniard is the optimal play. There should be no disagreement here. There’s a great amount of risk with sending up any Pokémon other than Pawniard. With a Vulpix DRX on the Bench, the opponent may be able to use Bright Look with Ninetales DRX and KO Bronzong NXD, leaving you with nothing. Also, this scenario straddles between technical and strategic play, but I put it here because I want you to think of sending up Pokémon and retreating as a technical operation – it fits into the order of steps that must be done to pull off a successful turn.

Scenario 2

erik nance technical play 2

Continuing from scenario 1, you send up Pawniard like a smart player and draw a card: Aegislash-EX. You play a Cheren and draw Cheren, Cheren, and a Muscle Band (yeah, I’m not really sure about what you’re running either). How do you win this game?

The answer to this is pretty simple: play the Muscle Band to Pawniard as well as the Double Colorless Energy and use Metal Claw. 50 damage total will KO the Ninetales DRX and grant you the remaining Prize card. Many players will overlook this and instead risk losing because they aren’t used to attacking with Pawniard.

Scenario 3

erik nance technical play 3

Sorry for the potato phone quality on this picture. If you cannot tell, it’s a Gyarados SF deck facing a Steelix Prime/Blissey PL deck. This is early on in the game and I found myself with a Pachirisu GE capable of using Smash Short for loads of damage. I also had a unique hand I thought brought up some good questions. What would you do in this situation? (Note that Gyarados SF has +30 Weakness as opposed to x2.)

Order of operations here: I used my Life Herb and (thankfully) got a tails, then played my Moomoo Milk and got one heads, attached two PlusPower, and used Volkner’s Philosophy without the optional discard for five cards. Why did I choose to keep a PlusPower? Pachirisu hits for 90 damage total and discards the Expert Belt. If my opponent attaches another Expert Belt, I can play an Expert Belt to my own Steelix and do Energy Stream for 50… oh wait 60 with my PlusPower (for the Knock Out). If my opponent doesn’t play an Expert Belt, the PlusPower still comes in handy later on when I do Gaia Crush for 130 to KO a clean Gyarados SF (Gaia Crush for 100 + Expert Belt 20 + PlusPower 10).

I played the Life Herb first because I have a greater chance of it failing than Moomoo Milk. I desperately needed to draw cards, so this made sense to make for a more powerful Volkner’s Philosophy.


Strategic play works much differently than technical play. It’s much more fluidic, changing with every matchup – even every turn – you play. As I described before, this is where your choices will either make or break you as a competitor. And remember, strategy and in-game skill is built from a proper game plan. You can play technically and strategically correct, but if your strategy is flawed from the beginning you’ll have a tough time of it.

That might be confusing, so let me use a brief example. Back in the days when Darkrai-EX/Sableye DEX/”Hammers” was a strong play, many players would overlook a simple route to victory when facing decks that had no Energy acceleration (the ability to get more than one Energy card in play during a turn). Ideally, they could Junk Hunt to copy Crushing Hammer and Pokémon Catcher repeatedly, wearing the opponent down until they simply couldn’t do anything. Instead, players would set the deck up like usual, attacking with Darkrai-EX and using Junk Hunt mainly for Dark Patch.

That second strategy is inferior, but a player could still go with it and look good doing it. They may even win a lot of games with such a strategy, but it would not be optimal. It wouldn’t be a mythical playstyle either – it would just be a huge developmental misplay! Part of the mystery of proper strategic play is that it can get jumbled up in what looks like good strategizing.

Okay, let’s cut the chit-chat and get to some real world scenarios.

Scenario 1

erik nance strategic play 1b

This first scenario basically asks you: how do you approach the beginning of a game, specifically with regard to the Supporter you play? With a Professor Juniper, an N, a Skyla, and a Jirachi-EX, you have many different avenues of play at your disposal. Let’s think about each for a second…

Skyla can grab you something you desperately need in the Seismitoad-EX matchup, a Manectric Spirit Link. Otherwise, you might get a Head Ringer attached to you and have to wait until turn three to attack. However, you still need to do plenty of other things on this first turn if possible, such as get Energy in the discard pile, bench another Pokémon or two, and so on. We can always use Skyla for the Manectric Spirit Link and then follow up next turn with a Professor Juniper.

Professor Juniper can definitely help you access some of those much-needed cards for this critical first turn, but it comes at the cost of discarding some important cards. Two of those cards you want in the discard pile (W Energy), but should you attach one to Manectric-EX? You also lose a Lysandre, which might be critical mid to late game.

Should we play N to conserve those cards? We miss out on getting an Energy or two in the discard, but we can save some Supporter cards for later use. Since we’re shuffling cards back into the deck, though, there’s a higher chance we will draw into stuff we don’t want to see on the first turn.

Here’s an important thing to ask: do you think there’s an optimal play in this scenario? The myth of in-game playstyle would suggest playing Professor Juniper as “aggressive” and playing N or Skyla as “conservative.” These are choices, yes, but if we all sat around and did enough calculating, I’m confident we as a community of players could come to a consensus on what is optimal for this situation. At times it’s incredibly difficult to tell. Nobody would fault you if you made the wrong choice here (plus, you’re at the mercy of luck anyway), but so long as we’re in agreement that an optimal play does exist it means we can always look for it.

I would personally play the Professor Juniper. There’s a high likelihood the Seismitoad-EX player will be locking up our Item cards after that first turn, so there’s a need to do as much as possible within this one turn. Skyla won’t get us there and neither will N. I would also attach a W Energy to Manectric-EX before dumping my hand. There’s a good chance I’ll draw into an Energy card, but I’d rather not risk it and miss out on attaching an Energy.

Scenario 2

erik nance strategic play 2b

This scenario is much like the first in that it asks you to make a decision on conserving resources. It looks like your Manectric-EX will be safe for a turn, so you have the potential to draw into something that will help out. What, though, do you expect to draw into?

This is the blessing and curse that is Professor Juniper (or Sycamore). You are forced to axe off important resources in the name of draw power. There are times when the decision to play a Juniper or not rests on the face. In this situation there is no discussion – you have to play the Juniper.

Scenario 3

erik nance strategic play 3b

Hey look, another “conserve your resources?” scenario! You have to decide between N and Professor Juniper. And for reference, you’re going second on the first turn, so you have access to any Item cards you draw into. What do you do?

If we play a Professor Juniper, the remaining draw Supporters in our deck will be two Professor Juniper, a Colress, and an N. Worth noting, however, is that Colress will more than likely draw us very few cards and that we have two VS Seeker floating around in the deck (which we can use to bring a Supporter card back to us). Computer Search can also grab a VS Seeker for us, so let’s count that as well. That said, let’s do some math!

We have 46 cards remaining in the deck, six of which we desperately need to continue moving through the deck. Our Colress we can’t depend on completely, but if we’re able to bench a few Pokémon we might appreciate its appearance. The opponent may also play an N on their next turn, so we have to factor that in as well. Overall, I’ll ballpark and say we have seven cards in a stack of 46 that we want to see, so roughly 1 in 6.5. Statistically, given our card for the turn, we should run into another card that will help us get through our deck.

However! There’s a huge risk if we whiff on the Supporter and our opponent doesn’t play an N. If we miss the Supporter, we’re drawing slowly through our deck until we hit the card we need. Additionally, three of our cards become obsolete the moment our opponent locks up Item cards. Without access to the two VS Seeker and our Computer Search, we end up in a desperate place if we whiff, with only four-ish cards helping us out.

I’m not comfortable losing the game with a single play, and while the optimal play before was to dump our hand, this time we’re losing too much by playing Professor Juniper. I truly feel the best play here is to begrudgingly play N, showing your opponent your hand because it doesn’t give away too much information and it can intimidate them after they see the pro move you just made (note the sarcasm and read my article from last week that argues for how little “psychology” means in the Pokémon TCG at the moment).

Scenario 4

erik nance strategic play 4b
Don’t worry, I’m almost done with these Manectric-EX vs. Seismitoad-EX matchups.

Before, I stated that the simplification of the game tends to highlight our in-game decisions, putting more emphasis on when we make a developmental misplay. This scenario presents such a situation. We can simultaneously KO a Seismitoad-EX and power up a Black Kyurem-EX for a KO in our very next turn, but is that the right play?

Our opponent has played two Head Ringer and one Crushing Hammer at this point, meaning there’s a high likelihood our Black Kyurem-EX PLS will not be able to attack when we need it to the most. I like using Turbo Bolt here, but I think the safer (smarter) play is to KO the Seismitoad-EX with Assault Laser and keeping your M Manectric-EX safe on the Bench, all the while powering up another Manectric-EX.

I recorded the game state at this point to test both strategies out. As it turns out, charging up a Black Kyurem-EX PLS and giving my opponent a KO on the M Manectric-EX proved to be a dead end. Giving up the 2 Prize cards by sacrificing the M Manectric-EX just wasn’t worth it, since it left me so vulnerable. Playing more conservatively – the optimal play – kept my opponent far enough away from victory that I was able to power up a second Manectric-EX that never went down.

I also want to note – this is an great example of identifying an opponent’s weakness and taking advantage of it. Since the opponent hasn’t played a Supporter card for two turns, you can bet they might be desperate for resources. Now would be a bad time to play an N for obvious reasons. It also means you can slow down on taking risks. If the opponent doesn’t draw anything for two, maybe even one more turn the game could very well be yours.

Scenario 5

erik nance strategic play 5b

I include this scenario as a reminder for how important a game plan is. The only thing revealed here from the opponent is a single Pokémon, but that’s enough for you (the Donphan PLS player) to recall your strategy against Metal-type decks such as this. Aegislash-EX might even be a random tech in a deck that has nothing to do with Metal Pokémon – you might even be facing a mirror match – but you should still be formulating a path to victory.

Scenario 6

erik nance strategic play 6b

Answer this question: based off the scenario above and the decklist for this deck, what do you see as a glaring weakness?

If you answered with something about Retreat Cost or the lack of Switch-like cards, you got it. Playtesting is so valuable because not only does it help you accumulate experience with a given deck, it also reveals a deck’s greatest weaknesses. Looking at this single turn, decisions are tough since whatever Pokémon I send up will likely get KO’d. I need my Bronzor PHF so I can get the benefit of Bronzong PHF, so I’m left with sending a Cobalion-EX up to do minimal damage or a Aegislash-EX up to keep my opponent from using Strong Energy. All of these are bad situations for me, and without Max Potion or Switch I’m left deciding which Pokémon to sacrifice right away.

In the end, I sent Cobalion-EX up and started trying to power Dialga-EX up to do Chrono Wind. The real takeaway, though, is that you’ve identified a weakness with your deck. Whether you act upon that knowledge or not is up to you (and, I might note, allowing a deck to have a weakness might actually be the right play).

Scenario 7

erik nance strategic play 7b

Looking at this scenario (and pretending for a brief moment that Landorus-EX was a bigger threat than it is right now), what card might you wish this deck had in it?

If you answered Mr. Mime PLF, you’re right! I would have also accepted Max Potion (to clean up all that damage on Cobalion-EX). Since our game plan is integral to the strategy we employ against various matchups, it would be fair to consider adding Mr. Mime PLF into the deck as a tech. Max Potion might actually be the better play since it will help us acknowledge even more threats.

This is what it means to strategize from beginning to end.

Scenario 8

Question: You’re playing a Night March deck (Joltik PHF/Lampent PHF/Pumpkabo PHF) and have successfully gotten into your discard pile all the Pokémon you need to do impressive amounts of damage. You have one Battle Compressor in hand and one left in your deck. Should you play it? If so, what do you plan on discarding?

Answer: Yes! Play the heck out of that card, even when you’ve met your goal of discarding stuff. Battle Compressor is perhaps the most effective (and most overlooked) counter to the inevitable “late game N.” If you have all your Pokémon in play, discard Ultra Ball; if you have no need for certain techs, get rid of them; if you have any other cards that won’t help you in the later stages of the game, send them to their demise. “Thinning your deck” has taken on a whole new meaning with this card, and I’m really interested to see how well it holds up as new sets are released.

Scenario 9

erik nance strategic play 9

Yes, this is actually from a tournament I helped put together not long ago and those cards are not proxies. I took a picture of this scenario to show that sometimes your best bet at winning rests on a 50% or even 25% chance of something happening. None of my (Item) Trainers could be used because of the Vileplume UD, so I was left with flipping through confusion and the Special Condition (Burn) to discard two of my opponent’s cards and have him draw his last one.

At times, you will find yourself having the slimmest chance of winning. You need to try and become more aware of those moments; otherwise, they will evade you. Consider that in the above scenario I actually win one out of every four times. I have to be aware of all that’s going on in the game, though. If I forget about Chandelure’s Ability and send up my Durant NVI, I lose.


For the last part in my series on in-game skill, I’d like to do a couple of things. First, I’m looking for your own scenarios from games you’ve played in which the optimal play was difficult to figure out. We’ve all been there – moments when you just wanted time to freeze so you can spend about an hour figuring out the best way to approach the situation. My plan is to take those situations and send them out to various players in the community to see if we can collectively arrive at an optimal play. I’m also interested in seeing where players differ in what they would do and why.

Second, I want to set up “experimental gameplay” in which players duke it out under the exact same conditions (pre-arranged decks and opening hands, etc.). The aim is to determine where players deviate strategy-wise from each other. The benefit to this is that we can observe whether or not a certain play was optimal, since in the long run we can see what happens with each player’s in-game decisions. If you would like to help with this project or have a really good idea for how it can be implemented, shoot me a message! This is near-impossible to do with the PTCGO, so I might be stuck to using Skype or something similar.


I hope this article has shed some light on what in-game skill actually is and what it looks like from beginning to finish. I also hope it gives you an idea of what’s going on in the mind of someone who’s played this game for over 10 years. To me, it’s not enough to just provide a decklist without true insight. I truly want to get into the gritty details of what makes for solid play in this game.

Also, I recognize that some players might not find a great deal of use for an article like this. I wanted this article to appeal more to beginners than anyone, so my apologies if you didn’t find this article advanced enough. Fear not though, as the next part in this series will feature in-game situations that will stump even the best of the best.

As always, thanks for reading, and give me a like if you found this article useful. Find me in the Underground BBS, take care, and keep playing!

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