What’s good, Spirit Squad! Today we’re going to talk about an experience I haven’t had in a pretty long time: being the “new guy” at your first large event!

My dude, you’re literally turning 40 this year. How are YOU the new guy at anything?

This past weekend I got to go to my first major Pokémon tournament, a Regional Championship event in Indianapolis. I’ve been to plenty of events for plenty of games, but this is (somehow) my first Pokémon event with more than 100 people!

To start our story from the beginning, I absolutely LOVE Pokémon and the franchise has consumed more hours of my life than I care to admit (Pokémon Emerald alone has consumed over 1,000 hours of it). I even got this specific tattoo as the representative for my love of both Pokémon and Magic: the Gathering:

…so imagine my delight when I learn that my longtime homie and former roommate Allen is solidly into Pokémon gaming with his kids. His 6-year-old especially loves playing Pokémon cards, and he doesn’t exactly have to twist my arm to get me back into Pokémon card gaming with them. I used to play a ton in the game’s first couple of years, but haven’t really taken the game seriously since the original Team Rocket set. I do, however, keep up with coverage *just* enough to know the rules and what the current game mechanics are, so he at least doesn’t have to explain most of the basics or even the power-crept mechanics to me. I even had the ability to pick up cards at www.FusionGamingOnline.com since they sell Pokémon cards and accessories as well as Magic: the Gathering product!

So he… taught an old dog old tricks?

Kind of. Allen happens to fall under the “whale” archetype of players who collect basically everything the game has available, so this puts me in a place to be able to physically see what all of the meta decks at the time are. Not only is this the case, but this is where I learn that Pokémon as a game is ludicrously accessible when compared to Magic. This is something I’ve written about in the past (To Unfinity… and Beyond!), but seeing it firsthand is something else. Coming from Magic, it’s a card-game culture-shock moment to see just how much even I underrated this aspect of Pokémon:

  • The average tournament deck costs about $80 USD/$110 CDN. Allen literally has the entire Pokémon Standard format built, and the whole project cost about the same as one Modern deck.
  • The game’s online client, Pokémon TCG Live (I’ll just be calling it “Live” for the rest of today), is completely free to play. There is no such thing as being able to put money into the game’s client directly, so a child doesn’t have the ability to take Mommy or Daddy’s credit card and spend $500. If you want more cards online, you have to scan a QR code that you’d get from an IRL booster pack, pre-constructed deck, or other sealed product.
  • The Standard format is pretty well balanced right now. There is an upper set of Tier-1 decks, but there are also about 15 Tier-2 options you can reasonably play and expect to do well with, provided you put the time into learning the deck.

Knowing all of these things made me not only willing, but actively excited to relearn the game and entertain the idea of going to a big convention to play. This begins the process of information gathering and learning about the very key differences between competitive Magic and Pokemon.

Practice What You Preach(™)

Now comes the part where I pretend to be able to figure out what deck to actually bring to the event.

Just like I would if I were new to Magic, I use the steps I’ve described over the course of a few articles here to ascertain some things about the game. First, and most importantly in the competitive sense: I have to figure out even where to find information. This means I’ll be looking for the same information spelled out in the MTG Information Superhighway article:

  • What decks are relevant, and what cards go in those decks?
  • What happened over the last few competitive events?
  • What quality-of-life upgrades should I be looking for or at?

The first thing I noticed is that there is a LOT less information publicly available in Pokemon than there is in Magic. For example, there is no equivalent to a place like MTG Goldfish or even MTGmeta.io to compile tournament information. What does exist is a website called https://www.limitlesstcg.com and I’ve been basically staring at that for the last month or so. The folks at Limitless have gone so far as to list the major archetypes, the percentage of the winner’s meta each deck takes up, and features a deck list for each of them.

While each feature of this is roughly the same as what you’d find on MTG Goldfish, what’s missing is access to literally any information from the online ladder on Live. This means that we have zero access to any truly day-to-day information and have to wait for major events to be over before even being able to sniff at updated deck list information. This guy would make BANK in the Pokemon community:

As for quality-of-life upgrades, there was surprisingly little to be found. If you want to be competitive in tournament Magic, you have access to sites like spicerack.gg to find IRL events near you, moxfield.com to keep and share deck lists, and even places like mythicspoiler.com to see organized spoilers for the next set.

With that said, I gotta give credit where it’s due. There’s not *much* of a need to have separate prices listed since the game is so cheap as a whole, but https://www.pricecharting.com is a good catch-all since it has prices for both base cards and graded cards. This way, people who do want “pimped” cards have resources available. Just like us, they also tend to take TCGplayer’s median pricing as the officially-recognized source of card prices. So if you want a Ghold(engo)-gold chain, you can find out just how much that is!

So what’d you end up playing?

Using the bits of data we found online, Allen and I were able to come up with an aggregate list of the top decks and an aggregate deck list for each archetype. Using this information, we determined that Charizard EX was the best win condition available to the format but was also the most popular archetype in the game. We both decided to play with Charizard in some capacity rather than trying to dodge the biggest gun in the land.

A wise man once said “if you think a card should be banned, you should be playing with that card”, and I fully subscribe to that line of thought. I always think that if a card breaks the fundamental rules of the game, you should consider it.

Translated to Magic, Charizard’s ability essentially reads “You cannot cast this card, but you may Mutate this card onto a Charmander on Charmander’s second turn if you draw a Rare Candy card. When Charizard EX enters, you may search for up to 3 basic Mountain cards from your library and put them onto the battlefield.” Breaking the “one mana per turn” rule is incredibly powerful, and gets cards banned in Magic: the Gathering formats on a regular basis. The attack is also respectable in the early game and downright broken in the end game.

Or, as Cedric Phillips and Patrick Sullivan put it, “Good early. Good late!”

Allen decided to play the Tier 1 version of this deck, which plays a lot like an Azorius Control list with a giant Charizard of a gun as the win condition. I played a more mid-range version of the deck that has a sub-theme of caring about how many exiled cards you have, probably to the surprise of absolutely no one. The tradeoff between the two lists is that mine draws more cards early and can potentially win on Turn 1, vs. his more controlling version that trades early power for consistency.

So you can have different win conditions even with the same Pokemon? How’d that go?

Yup! Just like Magic: the Gathering there’s never just one way to skin a Delcatty. In Pioneer, for example, you can play a Vampire kindred deck, a midrange deck with seemingly-infinite removal spells, or a combo deck centered around Transmogrify.

Taking our decks to the event hall, we immediately see one of those giant 26” x 36” cards at the side event stage on Friday. The main tournament didn’t start until Saturday, so we decided to use our time to try getting one of those. In a Magic venue, you’d normally have to grind events for like a day-and-a-half of the three days to get enough prize tickets for one, but we managed to have it in hand in less than three hours!

Allen made Day 2 of the main event, using the tech he included for the mirror match to beat the mirror all three times he faced it! The main tournament went relatively poorly for me, but I wasn’t even mad about it. I made one egregious mistake and overextended my board into a Pokemon that my opponent didn’t have but was able to topdeck a way to search for, and I knew that was an option. Other than that, I was satisfied with my play and used the experience to not lose a single match in Sunday’s side events, winning all 3 of the 3 tournaments I played!

So your first big Pokemon tournament is over. Thoughts?

I was incredibly impressed by the entire experience. The game itself is incredibly fun to play, the amount of merch and collectible items was wild, and everyone from the players to the event staff was super-friendly. Even the people who were losing were having a great time all weekend! The tournament itself also ran smoothly, with us having enough time after 9 Swiss rounds of the main event to still catch the Timberwolves vs. Nuggets basketball game that was playing that night!

I think the most impressive part of the weekend is that Pokemon specifically splits players into three age-based divisions: Juniors are 12 and under, Seniors are aged 13 to 16, and Masters players are aged 17 and up. The Junior division had hundreds of children in each of the Pokemon card game, video game, and Pokemon Go tournaments, and parents felt completely safe leaving their kids alone in this environment for hours at a time.

All in all, the Pokemon event was an experience I will absolutely be repeating and I very much recommend the experience to anyone who is even *kinda* interested. But now that it’s over, it’s time to buckle down and get back into the swing of Magic things. Either way, I’ll see some of y’all at the next competitive Magic or Pokemon event I attend, and until then I’ll see y’all in the next one!

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