A Great Competitor — Practices of Highly Effective Players

Gametime at the North American International Championships! Photos by Doug Morisoli

What’s up everyone! Welcome to PokeBeach. I hope you all are doing well and are as excited about the direction of the new format as I am.

I’ve been hard at work since returning from the North American International Championships, where I was able to finish seventh place in a field of 1,356 players with my Zoroark BREAK / Drampa-GX deck. It was pretty surreal to finish in the Top 8 of the largest Pokemon Trading Card tournament ever held.

Honestly though, despite posting one of the best accomplishments of my career and winning a couple grand, I’m not entirely satisfied with my performance either. I made a couple of suboptimal decisions in my Top 8 match that cost me my tournament run. Sam Chen is a very good player and was an extremely formidable opponent in Top 8, but it burns inside knowing that I was so close to the finish line and stumbled. Because of the line of play I chose in game three, I got myself into a situation in the final turn where I had to Professor Kukui for two cards in a 10 card deck, and if I draw either of my two Double Colorless Energy, I win the series. Those weren’t great odds, but I had boxed myself into the play because of my previous turn and naturally, the DCE was the third card down.

For weeks after Internationals, all I could think about was the things I could have done better. Those were potential thousand dollar misplays! Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to see my hard work produce tangible results, but my ultimate goal for any given tournament is to win, no matter how many players are in attendance. Like Ricky Bobby’s said, if you’re not first, you’re last!

Rather than dwell on the past though, I have fueled my energy into testing relentlessly for the World Championships in Anaheim, CA. If my Pokemon career is anything, it’s proof that hard work produces results, no matter what your aspirations are. In this article, I will talk about the process required to go deep at a large scale Pokemon tournament and point out the things that separate good players from outstanding tournament players. As always, I hope that my experiences can help you achieve your goals going forward. Enjoy!

Scoring Big at Internationals

Anyone who has ever done well at a large tournament will tell you that in order to score big, you need to play well, build a good deck and get lucky. Depending on who you talk to, some players attribute success more towards luck while others attribute success more to gameplay and deck choice. While I acknowledge the fact that some luck is involved in a hot tournament run, I think many players tend to underestimate the amount of skill required to pilot a deck optimally for the duration of a large scale tournament. The way I see it, there is almost no point of acknowledging luck or giving it any credence when it comes to tournament performance. Crediting tournament results or losses on luck will never make you a better player and will not help you improve your game whatsoever. Rather, there are a number of constructive things that the best players all focus on. Below are a list of things that make a great tournament player.

Focus on Time

My win and in to Top 8 versus fellow ‘Beach writer Caleb!

I’ve written thousands of words on time management in the tournament setting, but it still needs addressed. Time management is the great tournament player’s best kept secret. Think about it. When players play test, they rarely practice in timed situations. When players play at League Cups and League Challenges, the most attended tournaments in any competitive season, players have a leisurely 30 minutes to complete a single game of Pokemon. If players are accustomed to these time constraints, and it takes the average player 20-30 minutes to complete a game of Pokemon, then we could deduce that the average player will not be able to complete three full games in 50 minutes best-of-three. Which is true. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. In my opinion, the 50 minute best-of-three Swiss rounds utilized at large scale tournaments vastly increase the skill ceiling in the Pokemon Trading Card Game. In essence, 50 minutes best-of-three is a blockade that separates those who are tournament ready and those who are not.

Practice Makes Perfect

In order to consistently complete a best-of-three series in 50 minutes, a multitude of skills are necessary. First of all, you have to be able to make decisions quickly. This means that you have to be able to foresee the best route of play, and play your cards accordingly in a timely fashion. This might seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning that routes are easier to see if you know your deck and know your matchups. It is possible for a skilled player to play a deck well the first time picking it up, but it is doubtful that they would be able to pilot the deck with near perfection when also trying to complete a game three in 15 minutes. So the first tip for managing time is to practice your selection of decks leading up to the tournament. Make sure that you are comfortable enough with your deck and your matchups so that when you are in a crunch time situation, you can play for a 10-15 minute game three instead of chalking things up as a tie.

Shuffling

Dude this photo is a lie, I bend my cards in half when I shuffle.

Another area to keep in mind when preparing for a tournament is your ability to quickly and effortlessly perform game actions like shuffling and deck searches. With as much search as there is in Pokemon, these skills are essential to completing matches on time. I have seen some players take so much care to not bend their cards that they take far too long to shuffle. Everything in Pokemon adds up. Four extra seconds per shuffle with 15 shuffles per game adds up to an extra minute of game time wasted. I have also seen some players take a whole minute or more just to complete their opening deck search! How many series have you finished where you might have had game if you just had one more turn in plus-three?


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