Pokéfficiency

On Succeeding as a Time-Crunched Competitor and the Challenges of PokéParenting
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There is no instruction manual — but I can try to help!

Now you might be thinking a few things. Either you don’t want kids or you want kids but it’s something you don’t see happening anytime soon. Maybe you want to adopt. Perhaps you consider your loyal pet your child. Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “I didn’t realize Erik was so old.” In any case you probably don’t see what the topic of this article has to do with you.

Or you’re a parent! If so, you probably let out a quiet sigh and thought to yourself, “Finally, somebody gets it!” You’re trying to be quiet because the beautiful child in your arms is close to sleep and the last thing you want is to “release the Kraken,” as my wife and I always say.

Whether you plan to adopt, have a kid of your own, have many kids of your own, or have no kids of your own, it’s still a fact that you are someone’s child. And perhaps I’m just continuing my streak of being obvious, but people are still having more people. Children are born pretty much every minute, and it’s bound to affect you in some way.

More than this, though, is the fact that being a parent and trying to be involved with the Pokémon TCG is really, really tough. Most of the people I know that played Pokémon and had children disappeared abruptly. They would allude to returning one day, but that never happened. It’s not like they quit or don’t care, it’s just … well, parenting is intense.

However, let’s use that pressure and turn it into something good. As a parent of two that has played Pokémon off and on for over 10 years, I have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to staying competitive and still being a responsible parent.

. . .

Today I’ll give you a real look at what it’s like to both parent and be involved with the Pokémon TCG by first covering essential skills needed to manage everything. I’ll then get into what I call “Pokéfficiency,” a fancy term for increasing competitiveness with as little effort as possible. We’ll get into this concept with the current Standard format as I cover what it’s like to stay on top of your game when time seems to be a thing of the past.

These are skills and concepts that anyone can use, not just parents. I consider them equally important for people managing multiple things at once. Maybe you’re new to college and have a part-time job, or perhaps you’re trying to get back into the game but haven’t been present for the last few years of competitive play. Whatever the case, keep reading to find out the expressway to become competitive.

Real Talk on Parenting & Pokémon

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Expect some mess …

The first time I handed my daughter a Pokémon trading card I had a clear picture of what would happen: she would hold it gently, examine the character depicted on the card, then look up at me with eyes of adoration and simply ask, “Daddy, what is this?” I would then motion for her to sit on my lap while I recalled memories of the game. The stories of tournaments won and prizes earned would intrigue her and she would yearn to read and do the math required to play the game. She would do this with lightning speed, proving to me how much she wanted to play alongside her real-life hero (me, not Pikachu).

The truth, however, is that she tried desperately to chew every card I gave her. After about three minutes of this she grew bored, grabbed my dice box, and chucked it across the room. It shattered, spilling both dice and my pride all over the floor. I took a deep breath and looked at my daughter, gnawing voraciously on a Nidoran. She smiled at me, teeth clenched, and I laughed back. Not today, I thought as I started picking up dice.

The Time It Takes …

rare candy sugimoriBulbapedia
No Rare Candy in real life!

Here’s a truth that often goes unnoticed to the expectant parent: it takes a long time for a child to learn to walk, talk, and calculate the total damage needed to successfully Knock Out an opponent’s M Mewtwo-EX and win a game. I’m not talking days or weeks or months, I’m talking years. Does this seem too obvious? If so, let me explain something for you.

Even if you expect to lose all your personal time the moment your child is born, your defenses will be substantially lowered within just a few weeks. A newborn baby cannot walk or talk and generally requires a whole bunch of sleep. This (plus any time off you get) creates the odd feeling that parenting is an easy feat. Your confidence will be sky-high. “Of course I can go to the tournament this weekend,” you’ll find yourself saying without hesitation. Perhaps you’re on the phone with a friend as you say this. You stare out a window at a stunning blue sky dotted lightly with clouds. Your gaze can’t quite catch the dark storm that sits just past the horizon.

As soon as the child begins to walk (or crawl furiously), it’s basically all over. It’s at this moment that new parents realize the true nature of being a parent. They also get a lot of exercise from constantly keeping the baby safe. With a daughter that’s almost four and a son that’s soon to be one, the comfort of a couch is a rare feeling indeed.

Still, it’s a wonderful thing to be responsible for a child’s upbringing. It’s a tough, , challenging, goofy, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, spectacular thing to do. And just a couple of weeks ago my daughter found medals I won from Pokémon tournaments, tossed them around her neck, and told me about how she wanted to learn to play.

naomi-medals
At long last … ☺

For those that are counting, it took close to four years to sit down with my daughter and play Pokémon. This is not a complaint from me, just a realization that these things take time. Heck, I’m lucky enough that she wants to learn to play in the first place!

Executive Functioning

giovanni-gym-challenge-18
Decisions, decisions.

First up on the list of things that apply to all Pokémon players but are especially important for parents is executive functioning. This fancy term encompasses a set of skills housed in the prefrontal cortex — that’s the “decision-making” part of the brain — and is essential for carrying out day-to-day activities. There are variations on which skills are considered executive functioning, but for the most part I’ll be talking about time management, planning, organization, strategizing, and working memory.

These skills can be considered in two separate contexts. The first is executive functioning in the moment while the second is executive functioning in advance. We relay many of these skills to various technologies when we can (using GPS, for instance, to plan a route), but a lot of this still falls on our shoulders. And unsurprisingly, many people struggle with these skills well into their mid to late 20s. Since the prefrontal cortex is still developing until age 30, this can be a hard thing to grasp without knowledge and practice.

This first context — that of functioning executively in the moment — is important on, say, the day of a tournament. Managing time properly to get there before the event starts, looking at details on a deck list, keeping cards sorted … that sort of thing. Now, while executive functioning in the short term is important, it feels silly to remind players to write out the full names of Trainer cards on a deck list or wake up on time for a tournament. Instead, for this section I’ll be talking about executive functioning over the long course. This second context involves many of the same skills, but there’s one that seems tailored for time and that’s working memory.

Working Memory

I like to refer to working memory as “follow through.” Rather than long-term or short-term memory, working memory enables a person to keep a task or goal in mind. It’s the ability to seamlessly recall an aspiration over and over again until that goal is met. Sometime ago I made a determination to beef up my card collection on PTCGO. Having maintained an unfavorable view of the program for years, my collection was paltry, so I set out over time to gradually make my PTCGO experience competitive.

The first thing I did was think up a number of ways to get code cards. I initially thought about winning code cards through tournaments and challenges, but with the small collection I had I couldn’t really compete anyway. I then entertained the idea of just purchasing code cards, and even though they were cheap I just didn’t have the money at the time. I did, however, have actual trading cards, so I started auctioning those off for codes. This worked really well and provided me with a fairly easy way to start building my collection.

While I was auctioning cards off for codes I kept an eye out for any trades with older cards to secure some Expanded classics like Archeops NVI and Accelgor DEX. Nearly every night I would take at least 30 minutes or so to do this. At some point I was able to compete in tournaments, which was both fun and rewarding.

The point here is that by keeping my project in mind from time to time — effectively exercising my working memory — I was able to put together an impressive collection in a relatively short amount of time. Working memory became the glue that kept all the pieces together. The brainstorming in the beginning, the new strategy of auctioning cards for codes, the persistent decision each night to be on the lookout for hard-to-get staples … had I faltered at any moment I might have never met my goal.

As a parent, the concept of working memory pretty much goes out the door. There’s less emphasis on what you want to do and more on what you can do. On more than one occasion I’ve found myself up at 10 p.m. or so after finally getting both kids to sleep only to realize that I’m much too exhausted to do anything productive. So even if my brain is telling me to work on the budget, catch up on something for my job, do some chores, or playtest for an upcoming tournament, it doesn’t matter. Sleep comes first.

Whether you’re a parent or someone that struggles with this concept of working memory, here’s a list of tips that may help keep the glue together for those goals of yours:

  • Use notes, stickies, reminders, and lists whenever possible. This might seem dry and boring, but having visual cues to keep track of things can go a long way in maintaining healthy routines.
  • Have an accountability partner. The beautiful thing about having a playtesting partner is that it keeps one accountable.

Time Management

As a parent, time has become this surreal thing that speeds up and slows down at all the wrong times. If I have a break to myself I glance at the clock and it’s always 10:49 p.m. somehow. If my daughter misses her nap the day stretches on forever. When it comes to time it’s important to establish boundaries (and in doing so set a schedule) whenever possible. It doesn’t mean you’ll be able to stick to them, but even just knowing they’re there can bring comfort.

Regarding the Pokémon TCG, I’ve had to cut out the late nights I would spend playing on PTCGO. These were doing me more harm than good overall. At the same time I’ve stepped quietly away from keeping up with the game on a day-to-day basis. Where I would normally check for Pokémon on a daily basis I now check once a week or so. Believe it or not, this has had a healthy impact on my understanding of the game. When Steam Siege was released I was familiar with maybe three or four of the cards, making it the first set I’ve opened packs for that actually surprised me.

Planning

Being able to plan is, for the parent, a necessity. I’ve had many friends in the Pokémon TCG drop out of the game the moment they had a child, a fact that always perplexed me (until now, of course).

The best thing I can say about planning is that you should get into the practice of developing routines/traditions as soon as you can. Monday nights for my family is pizza night, Wednesday nights are for church, and Thursday nights are movie nights. Even at a more granular level, I normally try to give myself an hour or so of “down time” before I sleep each night. This is when I do most of my deckbuilding and playtesting. It might not be the best time for it, but just getting that schedule down keeps me up to date.

Routines are good for children, but they’re good for parents too. Expecting something on a weekly or daily basis goes a long way in keeping time from feeling like such a fleeting thing.

It would be a mistake not to mention planning as it’s needed for tournaments. Going to a tournament with children can be an exhausting measure for everyone involved, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that I haven’t been able to go out to tournaments as much as I used to. In my own experience though, here are a few things to consider:

  • Where You Stay: Anytime we’ve gone to a tournament as a family we carefully consider the hotel we’re going to stay in. It has to be close so that my wife can go back with the children when needed and it has to be nice and clean since it’s being used for more than just a place for me to sleep at night.
  • Make It A Play Date! Bringing other people that have children along for the ride can make things much smoother. The kids will be able to play together and there will be other people there that will understand any frustrations that occur along the way.
  • Expect To Play All Day: The most challenging part of taking my family with me to a tournament is that I have no time at all to give them any attention. After each round I like to recoup for a few minutes and talk to a couple of friends. Then the next round starts. And the next one. And the next. Going into the tournament with this expectation will save everyone a headache. Of course, that means you must …
  • Plan For Those That Aren’t Playing: Remember that while you’re playing all day, your family has to have something to do (unless they’re old enough to play themselves). This is where additional plans need to be made to ensure the trip is enjoyable for everyone.

Strategizing

To me, strategizing seems like it would be the most exciting executive functioning skill. After all, the Pokémon TCG is a game of strategy, right? As a skill, strategizing works similarly to when someone decides on which deck to use for a tournament. The deck has to match the person, and so one’s strategy has to match where they are in life. In case there’s any confusion, a strategy is a determined set of actions put in place for the achievement of a goal.

I know that not everyone reading this has children, but I’d venture to say that most readers probably feel that time is hard to come by in a world so busy and fast. Because of that, your strategy might line up closely to my own when it comes to managing a family and staying involved with the Pokémon TCG.

My own set of actions for staying involved with the Pokémon TCG can be summed up in the following sections on “Pokéfficiency.” I expect this to change one day, but for now it’s what I’ve decided on to help me achieve my goals for both my family and Pokémon.

Pokéfficiency

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A leap of faith into the shallow end.

To aid in the PokéParent’s struggle to remain somewhat competitive while still being around for their kid(s), I want to talk about efficiency. Time is of the essence for parents, and so there’s an undeniable need to be competitive with as little effort as possible. Yes, you heard that right, for once I’m advocating “laziness” instead of hard, grueling work. It’s for good reason too, as being a parent is one of the absolute toughest things a person can do.

Here’s the thing though. I’ve played against parents before I myself had kids, and 9 times out of 10 it seemed they were equipped with a ruthlessly effective, easy-to-play archetype. It used to agitate me, especially if their deck had a natural advantage against mine, but as a parent I now understand. Whether it was intentional or not, those parents were doing a smart thing by going with an easy choice. Better to do that than spend what precious little time they had on a rogue deck that would probably have little chance of succeeding.

There are general rules to this idea of being competitive at as low a cost as possible. I’m going to go over those while providing some case studies to show what works and what doesn’t. I’ll also dig into the current Standard format with this perspective in mind.

Buy, Beg, Borrow, and Steal

The first rule to being “Pokéfficient” carries with it the negative connotations that often get affixed to “netdecking” (copying and using deck lists found online). And guess what? That’s okay. “Buy, beg, borrow, and steal” at its core means a player is willing to cut ties with their pride and take an opportunity when they see it. It might show up in the form of rampant netdecking (I personally take screenshots of decks I find interesting to be built in PTCGO at a later time). It might be a simple message to a friend who seems on top of the competitive scene.

Unless you’re in a position where other players are coming to you for the best advice, don’t try to be above this rule. Also, just to be safe, understand that I’m not condoning actually stealing from other players or misbehaving in any way. This rule is essentially a call to let go of your pride. This applies heavily to PokéParents who just don’t have the time to construct a format-defying rogue deck. For a mighty long time I tried feverishly to do this, yet I felt one step behind and couldn’t grasp why my ideas were not successful. Even when I did come up with something unique and powerful (such as Trevenant BREAK with Bursting Balloon), I was unable to play it at a tournament and watched from the sidelines as other players took my idea a baby step or two further to win a big event.

Put simply, there’s nothing that says you can’t gather deck lists from whatever corner of the internet you choose or that you’re a bad person for reaching out to a friend or two for advice. Just remember to be kind in your approach and grateful whatever the response.

Metagame “Wildcards” Are Your Friends

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A game-winner on its own.

Way back in 2007 I attended the Southeast Regional Championship and made off with a top 8 finish using Flygon e LM/Delcatty PK. The end of my journey came in the form of an annoying Stage 1 with a Safeguard Poké-Power — Banette CG — being played by Denise Barlock, an involved PokéMom who described for me her tournament experience. According to her she had used Banette in almost every game she played, winning time and time again with little opposition. I was no different.

Being unable to touch Banette with Flygon-EX meant I had to attack with Delcatty, an incredibly weak attacker. Even though I was able to Knock Out Banette at one point, Denise simply brought it back with a Pokémon Retriever and repeated the process all over again. I was baffled and admittedly frustrated. Banette CG was played alongside Banette e and Houndoom UF in a deck that had fallen way off the radar at the time of that tournament. The thought of anyone playing that deck for that tournament was so absurd it bordered on being an insult.

I grumbled internally at the time and now, almost 10 years later, understand perfectly why Denise chose that card and that deck. Looking back, I recognize it as a brilliant play.

Cards like Banette CG, Mewtwo LV.X, Wailord-EX, Sigilyph LTR, Garbodor BKP, etc. all have one thing in common: their effectiveness depends largely on perception. These cards have a presence that swings furiously between expected and forgotten, and it normally depends on what people are saying about them in the days leading up to an event. From one tournament to the next you can expect these cards to either define the format or be absent from it entirely. The reason is simple: these cards aren’t main attackers, and so they play a supporting role that requires constant justification. The moment a player can toss these cards out, they will.

For those without much time to dedicate to the game, these cards can be a godsend, stopping even the best of players in their tracks. Also, consider the number of times a seemingly “dead” card reappeared at a tournament and stole the spotlight (Jason Klaczynski did this with Garbodor LTR at US Nationals last season and it’s basically the whole plot to how Virizion-EX/Genesect-EX was played). While other players may ruminate for weeks on such a tech, in this case it’s a simple decision that requires little to no testing.

In my opinion, these are some of the cards I feel fit into this category for Standard:

Consider the Metagame as You May Relay It to a Child

If you had to describe the metagame in a single sentence, what would you say? If it were me I would say, “M Mewtwo-EX BKP 64 and M Rayquaza-EX ROS 76 are the cards to play … or beat.” If you’re like me you may take this summary and start “theorymon’ing” about how to counter those two cards. Upon testing your counter you find that it loses to basically every other deck out there, so you start reworking said counter to compensate for those challenges. Then you spend weeks letting all of this sit around in your mind …

It’s easy to get lost in the details when it comes to the metagame. At one point in my life I had ample time to digest all of this information and make a smart, clear decision about what to play at a tournament. Now, however, it’s difficult to keep up with the intricacies of a format. As a result I’ve had to take a step back and be okay with not knowing the details.

Make some general observations on the format you’re preparing to play in and stick to that. If you have a gut feeling about a lower tier deck or a rogue by all means give it some attention, but try not to go too far down the rabbit hole. Keep it simple.

Create Win-Wins For Yourself

As a general rule for all of life, attempt to give yourself a “win-win” whenever possible. For Pokémon this might be having a secondary plan in case you do poorly at a tournament. As a parent these win-wins are obvious: spend some time with your kids. When I failed to make Day Two at the VA Regional Championship I was happy to spend time with my family at a nearby children’s museum.

This is important for parents that have had success in the Pokémon TCG because, quite honestly, there’s less a guarantee that they’ll do well at a tournament. Trying to chase down that taste of victory can cloud the opportunity they have to spend time with family and create memories.

The Danger of Simplicity

I need to an offer a warning now about how Pokéfficieny — if not handled properly — can lead to some epic blunders. Efficiency can be a good thing, but it can also get a player dangerously off track. Consider my “preparation” for the VA Regional Championship at the beginning of this year as an example of what not to do.

With the recent addition of our second child to the family, the idea of playtesting against people I knew was laughable. I mostly found myself “perfecting” my Durant NVI deck at odd hours (usually in the morning), and on more than one occasion I fell asleep in the middle of a game. So while I was keeping things simple by honing in on a single deck, I was in no shape to properly playtest. During this time I kept up with the game but never reached out to close friends about what a smart play would be. And while Durant kind of fits into the the category of a metagame “wildcard” in the sense that players would be surprised to see its presence at a tournament, it’s an entire deck rather than a single tech. If a tech fails to work the game is salvageable; if the deck fails, you lose.

These factors were easily avoidable, yet I felt I had given myself the best chance possible to win the tournament. Being efficient doesn’t mean being sloppy or lazy, and that’s exactly what I had done.

Pokéfficiency for the Standard Format

emerald break rayquaza
Let’s work around a proven concept.

Let me demonstrate for you what Pokéfficiency looks like given the current format. This shouldn’t take me longer than 15 minutes (I’ll even time myself).

… Alright, so it took me less than five minutes to go to Facebook and find what appears to be a competitive M -EX deck. I’m not claiming any ownership at all of the deck list found here (courtesy of Pablo Meza aka tablemon), but I’ll share my own list after some minor changes:

Pokémon – 17

4 Rayquaza-EX ROS 75

3 M Rayquaza-EX ROS 76

4 Shaymin-EX ROS

2 Zorua BKT 89

2 Zoroark BKT

1 Magearna-EX

1 Hoopa-EX AOR

Trainers – 35

4 Professor Sycamore

2 Lysandre

1 N

1 Hex Maniac

1 Winona

 

4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

3 Rayquaza Spirit Link

3 Trainers’ Mail

3 Float Stone

2 Super Rod

2 Mega Turbo

1 Special Charge

 

4 Sky Field

Energy – 8

4 Double Colorless

4 Metal

This gives me a start. I’m not looking to solve all the puzzles contained in the metagame or build a crazy counter, I’m just looking for a starting point. I might test this list, tweak it some, and come back to it from time to time, but it serves as a gauge for whether or not I’m on the right track with whatever I do from here on.

In looking at this deck and comparing it to my list of metagame “wildcards” from before, I instantly see a potential counter in the form of Barbaracle FCO (or possibly the other Energy denial cards). Rather than dive into that possibility myself though, I’ll send a message to a friend and ask for his opinion. My strategy as a parent with limited time is to reduce whenever possible the effort I have to put into testing out ideas, especially if those ideas are problematic to begin with.

By the way, in building the above deck in PTCGO, I recognized a couple of older decks that might be competitive after blowing the dust off them a bit. One of those is M Rayquaza-EX again, but with Vileplume instead of , while the other is the Dragontype M Rayquaza-EX. Here’s the first one updated for Standard:

Pokémon – 18

3 Rayquaza-EX ROS 75

2 M Rayquaza-EX ROS 76

3 Shaymin-EX ROS

2 Oddish AOR

2 Gloom AOR

2 Vileplume AOR

2 Regice AOR

1 Glaceon-EX

1 Hoopa-EX AOR

Trainers – 32

4 Professor Sycamore

3 N

2 Lysandre

 

4 Trainers’ Mail

4 Ultra Ball

4 Level Ball

4 Float Stone

 

4 Forest of Giant Plants

3 Sky Field

Energy – 10

4 Double Colorless

6 Water

This is a concept I toyed around with a long time ago, and even though the deck is fun to play its results are all over the place. The Standard format does this deck no favors either with the absence of cards like AZ, but I still feel there’s something to be said for the raw power of M Rayquaza-EX paired with the blocking capabilities of Regice and Glaceon-EX.

From a Pokéfficiency standpoint I don’t want to overthink this deck. I’ll try it out for fun sometime; if it works it works and if it doesn’t I’ll try one small change (switching the Regice/Glaceon-EX for a Carbink FCO line). I may also send the list to a friend to test.

Anyway, here’s the Dragon M Rayquaza-EX deck:

Pokémon – 14

3 Rayquaza-EX ROS 60

3 M Rayquaza-EX ROS 61

3 Shaymin-EX ROS

3 Reshiram ROS

1 Giratina-EX AOR

1 Hydreigon-EX

Trainers – 32

4 Professor Sycamore

2 N

1 Lysandre

 

4 VS Seeker

4 Ultra Ball

3 Trainers’ Mail

3 Rayquaza Spirit Link

2 Switch

2 Escape Rope

2 Energy Retrieval

1 Professor’s Letter

1 Repeat Ball

1 Super Rod

 

2 Shrine of Memories/Parallel City

Energy – 14

4 Double Dragon

7 Fire

3 Lightning

I like this deck for many reasons. First, it can pull off a 300-damage attack and obliterate anything in its path. In a format where damage output is huge, this is a plus. Second, it can be surprisingly fast — maybe not as fast as its Colorless counterpart, but with the Energy acceleration offered by Reshiram it can still set up an impressive offense within a few turns. Lastly, this list has answers for a few things. The Giratina-EX (I almost want to fit in two) is a direct counter to both M Mewtwo-EX and M Rayquaza-EX, and though Hex Maniac gives it some grief, Giratina-EX’s attack is still plenty disruptive.

Conclusion

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The ideas in here may be relevant for you now — or at some point later!

I recognize the risk in talking about this topic. For many players this is something that will never be discussed. If you made it all the way to this point in the article, I have nothing but respect for you. Seriously, leave a comment or something to let me know that you made it this far!

As someone who’s gone through the ups and downs of parenting and Pokémon, I honestly wish there was some kind of guide for managing both parenthood and my hobbies. Because there isn’t, I’ve spent too much time preparing for tournaments I would never even make it to. I’ve had expectations that were nowhere near the scope of reality. Hopefully this gives some readers an idea of what this whole process entails.

I expect that some of you will come back to this one day in the future, at which time you may have a different perspective than you do now. Nonetheless, thanks for taking the time to read, and hey — let’s continue the discussion in the forums! If there are any parents out there, speak up about how you’ve managed to be a parent and stay involved with the Pokémon TCG. Or let us know about the challenges you’ve faced along the way.

If you found this article insightful, remember to give me a “like.” Thanks as always!


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