Level Up – Tips for Improving Your Game This Season
Hello PokeBeach readers. I am so glad to be back here writing for you today! This weekend I had a blast at the World Championships. Look out for my upcoming article all about that! I’ll be talking about my performance at Worlds as well as some of my top deck choices for next season. But first let’s go into what every player wants to do, become a better player. Have you ever thought about how to do that? Have you ever been curious about what the greatest players in the game do to become legends? Have you ever wondered what the necessary steps are to take the next step in your development? Then this article is tailor-made for you. I’ll walk you through the ins and outs of playing the Pokemon Trading Card Game at the highest level and give you insight as to what separates the good from the great. We’ll talk a little bit about playtesting partners, determining Prizes, using Prize knowledge to your advantage, the current card pool, and much more. So, read on, won’t you?
Teams and Playtesting Partners
This is a pretty sad time for me as I’m in the midst of leaving the group of people that got me started in the game. I’ll be moving to Cleveland for graduate school this year and will be forced to leave some of my closest friends in the game. I met my current team while playing at the Michigan State University league. Myself and fellow Team Poliswag members have traveled all over the U.S. together, had some crazy adventures, and have spent late nights playtesting, theorymoning, and hanging out. I’m going to miss these fellas and all that we’ve done together.
One of the best ways to get better at the game is to surround yourself with people who are just as passionate as you and who push you to succeed. As a musician, I am always in an environment where there are diverse talent levels. Some players are better than you, some worse, and some equal, yet all are working toward a similar goal. From my experience in music, I’ve learned it is tantamount to your individual growth to surround yourself with people better than you. I was constantly trying to get into the higher ensembles and play with other graduate students. Similarly, surrounding yourself with better Pokemon players not only makes you step your game up to compete with them, but gives you an ideal to work toward. Try to find players with different ideas and ways of looking at the game. Their insights can be extremely valuable.
So, you may be thinking, how can I get involved with people better than me? One of the easiest ways to form a team is geography. If you live close enough to another player, it would be a natural step to meet up in person to share ideas and test decks. This is exactly how I got started with my team at Michigan State University. I went to my first tournament, a Battle Road, and played against someone who attended Michigan State. We got to talking about the league he ran there and invited me to join. Simply put, this interaction got me involved in the club and the competitive scene.
Let’s say you’re a new player and either have no idea how to connect to nearby players, or have no players in the immediate area. Start by going to local tournaments. Ask your opponents where they’re from. If they live close by, fantastic! You’ve found a potential testing partner. Many players are on the look out for testing partners. Additionally, a lot of colleges and universities have a list of active clubs on their websites. If you currently go to college or live near a college town, this can be an easy way to find out if there’s a Pokemon scene near you. If you’re not a college or university student, attending local league can be a great way to build a regular testing group.
Let’s say there are no players in the immediate area. This is a problem that I originally faced. Growing up, my city on the east side of Michigan didn’t have a competitive Pokemon scene, and it still doesn’t. One of the first things I did was join forums and connect with players on social media. I’ve met some great players by simply posting on forums like PokeBeach’s. I am always talking to players that I have met through forums. It’s one of the best ways to metagame for larger tournaments like Regionals and Nationals. They let me know what people are playing in their area, as well as any secret decks from their region, while I give them insight on what’s played where I’m at.
Facebook is another great resource for finding players in your area. Doing a simple search of “Pokemon in [insert current city]” should yield useful results.
To be completely fair, finding a regular group of testing partners can be one of the most difficult or one of the easiest tasks. While I was lucky enough to find people who played Pokemon and also attended the same university as I did, I also cultivated more friends from all around the country using the methods outlined above. I feel that it is good to have a mix of players both from your area and from outside your area. We often we focus our attention to the shifts that occur in our own, isolated metagame while failing to consider what people around the country or world are thinking. Go out on a limb and join the forums or introduce yourself to someone online. You never know how much better it will make you!
Determining what your Prizes can make an immediate impact on the way you play the game. It is a skill that the best players in the game employ. Maybe two of your four Double Colorless Energy are Prized. With this information, I would be a little more cautious with Energy drops to ensure I have enough energy for the rest of the game.
Have you ever thought about determining what your Prizes are after your first deck search? Truly figuring out what’s Prized (and remembering those Prizes) can change the way you play. If you’ve never tried figuring out your Prizes, it can seem daunting at first, but I guarantee you that it gets easier with practice. Here are a couple different strategies that I’ve used to get better at determining Prizes.
Strategy #1 – Solitaire
With this strategy, choose a deck list that you can recite in your sleep. Use a list that you could write upside down, underwater, and with your non-dominant hand. It is helpful to know the list inside and out, just as though you would take that list into a tournament. Set up a game just as though you would to start a tournament. Draw a hand with a Basic Pokemon and place it in the Active position. I find it is best to practice with a proper, tournament-like set up instead of just taking the top six cards from your deck and searching through the rest because it better simulates an in game scenario. If you practice like this, you will be more prepared to determine your Prizes in an actual match.
Before searching your deck, figure out the order you will remember Prizes by. Depending on the deck, I generally search out Pokemon, then important non-draw Supporters (like Lysandre or Pokémon Center Lady) and other tech Items, then Energy, then draw Supporters, then remaining Trainers. I make a mental “tic” in my head until I have counted the total number of that card that I play. For instance, if I play three Bronzor, two Bronzong, and a Keldeo-EX I will make a tic as I see each. If I see one of each, I’ll count 1-1-1. If at the end of my search I am at the count of 2-2-1, I’ll know I have one Bronzor Prized.
Strategy #2 – Deck of Fours
Create a sample deck list. I’ve provided a sample just for our purposes. It is actually more difficult to determine what’s Prized when your entire deck is four-ofs because you can’t dismiss counting a card that’s played in lesser amounts if you see it early.
4x Professor Juniper (PLF #116)
4x N (NVI #101)
I highly recommend that you don’t take the above list to a tournament, and if you do please don’t say you got it from me! While it lacks competitiveness, the list does give us an approximate breakdown of Pokemon to Trainers to Supporters in a standard deck list.
Draw a sample hand and place a Basic Pokemon in the Active position. Then, search through your deck counting the cards in any order that makes the most sense. Take your time early on, but as you do this more, practice timing yourself for an added challenge. However, what makes this strategy different from the one above is that it is actually harder. Remembering what’s Prized in a deck comprised entirely of four-ofs means having to employ greater concentration throughout the entire deck search instead of checking a tech card off the mental list as soon as you see it. If you’ve conquered strategy #1 and want to challenge yourself, this is the way to do it.
When practicing how to determine Prizes, come up with a system or strategy that best suits you. When first starting, it can be helpful to write down what you think is Prized and then compare after you’ve searched. Take as long as you need to in order to get it right, but try not to rearrange your deck. If you rearrange your deck in an actual tournament, you may be accused of “declumping” which could be the subject of an entirely different article.
Winning and losing games comes down to resource management. Many people think that Prizes are not a resource to be actively used and instead prefer to think of Prizes after they draw them. This is a thoughtless, and frankly lazy habit of playing that I myself occasionally find myself falling into. Knowing what is Prized can be essential to conserving resources and knowing what you can expect to draw as the game goes on. Knowing what’s Prized does take practice. Don’t give up if it feels difficult at first – it is!
How to Utilize Prize Knowledge
Now it’s time to put that Prize information to better use. Who cares if you know what your Prizes are if you aren’t sure quite how to utilize that information? It is so strong to know what you have Prized as well as the probability of drawing specific Prizes because it can allow you to make better in game decisions. In this section, I will discuss a couple of in game decisions that one must reconsider after understanding the Prize math behind them. I will also give you a chart to help you understand probability and incorporate that knowledge into your game.
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