Hello ‘Beach goers! I hope you all are doing well. I’m very excited to be joining you here on PokeBeach for another article. It’s the dawn of a new season and I have much to share with you! The 2015 Pokemon World Championships have come and gone and now is the perfect time to set the tone for what our 2016 season will shape up to be. For those of you who may not know, I was able to conclude the 2015 Pokemon TCG season with a 9th place finish at the World Championships this year piloting Night March through both days of the competition. Though I was definitely bitter about bubbling out of Top 8 by one half a percentage point, I was also proud to have such a strong showing during my debut at the World Championships! I can only spend so much time thinking what would have happened if one of my opponents had won just one more match, however, that will do me no good moving forward. It’s time to take what happened, learn from it, and allow this experience to fuel my competitive desire even further during the upcoming year.
And how crazy is that? We just finished the World Championships weeks ago and now we are just weeks from the first major Regional Championships of the 2016 season! Staying motivated throughout such a long year of competition, especially when we have other personal endeavors such as school, work, and relationships, can be completely exhausting. But to some, like myself, maintaining a competitive attitude throughout the year comes quite naturally. Whether it be sports, cards, video games, or academics, I have been actively competing in something at any given point in my life as long as I can remember. But even those of us with competition pumping through our veins can struggle with motivation and stagnation from time to time. I’ve had slumps where I didn’t see improvement in whatever I was doing for years at a time! That’s hard to deal with when you invest almost all of your effort and energy into something. Sometimes all we need is the right push from a friend or mentor to break through and achieve our next big goal. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of time and experience. Sometimes all we need to do is read the right article or watch the right video. Maybe we need a new approach all together. Staying motivated and inspired throughout a competitive season is no easy task, and it’s important to identify what is going to keep us battling throughout the year ahead, through success and adversity, especially here at the onset of the season.
Today, I want you to think about why you play Pokemon competitively. What drives you? Do you play for friendships? Do you want to be the very best, like no one ever was? Are you satisfied with your performance in the past year? Or, are you looking to do something more? In this article I will be discussing the life of a competitor and some advice I have collected over the years for those looking to compete at the top of their game this year. Afterwards, I will take a detailed look at the unique Night March list I played at Worlds and a few options to update it for the upcoming Expanded Regional Championships. My hope is that this article will have some insight for everyone, no matter your experience or playing level. Everyone has the opportunity to improve their game this year. So why not start right here, right now?
Setting Goals and Dreaming Big
With the new season upon us, the playing field has been leveled and we are all back to square one. Each of us has a new chance to climb the rungs of the Championship Point ladder and prove that we are the best around. Each of us has an opportunity to create or maintain a name for ourselves in the upcoming year. This fresh slate we’ve been granted is very exciting and players across the world are gaining points with various League Challenges happening all over the place.
I still remember the first time I ever top cutted an event. It was the summer of 2012, back before League Challenges existed. It was a four round Battle Road tournament which couldn’t have had more than 20 Masters in attendance. I finished 3-1, enough to net me a spot in the Top 4 of the tournament. I remember being extremely nervous as I shuffled up for top cut and listened eagerly to the judge as he explained the rules for top cut play. I had only started playing in December of 2011 and was very new to the game. I remember glowing inside when our Judge, AJ Schumacer, recognized that it was my first time in top cut and congratulated me personally for making it that far. Even though I was brutally annihilated in my Top 4 match, I remember driving home, grinning from ear to ear. I had no intention of attending the National Championships that year. I couldn’t afford to make the trip and had a very weak grasp on the metagame at large during that time. All I had wanted to do that first year playing was be one of those people at the end of a tournament who got to contend for first place in top cut. It was such an elusive thing. I used to watch the standings get posted, tournament after tournament and just wish I could be one of those people near the top. Even though I had only won three out of the five matches I played that day, I was still filled with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.
Success is relative and personal success is measured entirely in the eye of the competitor. For some, finishing in the Top 4 of a League Challenge is a just another walk in the park. For others, the Top 4 of a League Challenge and the stamped promotional card prize is the physical manifestation of a lot of hard work and effort that has finally paid off! No matter what our experience or level of play is, if we wish to be serious competitors in the year ahead, each of us should have clear goals in mind for the upcoming year. Goals are a constant reminder of what we are working towards and why we spend our time doing what we are doing. If we don’t believe in our goals, then how can we believe in what we do? If you consistently doubt that whatever goal you have is worth the effort required to achieve it, then I am going to bet that your effort towards that goal will waiver as well. Believing in our goals is an important part of achieving them, so it’s equally important that we craft our goals to be achievable.
Now I’m not going to knock anyone for setting lofty goals. In fact, dreaming and believing that you can do things far outside your current ability level is an essential quality for a competitor to have. Isn’t our very own Ash Ketchum the one who boldly claimed he wanted to “be the very best, like no one ever was” when he was just a 10 year old boy from Pallet Town with no experience? I too have some very lofty goals in the Pokemon Trading Card Game. But these are goals that can’t be accomplished during a single year of competitive play. These are things that I keep as a driving force in the back of my mind, much like Ash does. Ash always wants to be the best there ever was, but his adventure is made up of many smaller adventures and mini goals that carry him from town to town, and advance him along his greater quest to be the best. Smaller goals are what keep us on track towards our ultimate dream. Otherwise, it’s easy to lose focus and give up on whatever it is we set out to do in the first place. My dream might be to eventually be a rocket scientist, but my first step as a kid in high school needs to be getting good marks and applying to an appropriate college. Dreams are what fuel our desire to do things. If you don’t have any dreams in the Pokemon Trading Card game, then I sincerely doubt that you’re going to accomplish very much. I have met very few people in my life who are capable of just seeing success on a whim.
So then I challenge you. What is your dream in the Pokemon Trading Card game? Do you want to win your first City Championship? Do you want to win a Regionals? Do you want to eventually run your own popular stream or write articles? Do you want to be the greatest Pokemon Card player of all time? Why are you doing this? Why are you reading this? Is this all fun and games to you? Do you just love winning? Are you trying to prove something deeper to yourself and those around you? The Pokemon Trading card game is kind of a funny thing to do competitively when you think about it. You really can’t make a living off it and the prize payout is not nearly that of other competitive games. So I know you’re not here for the money! But no worries. You’re talking to someone who ran Division III Cross Country and Track for four years in college, so I know a thing or two about competitive endeavors that many consider fruitless.
Let’s start with the basics. Many of us are here because we like Pokemon (sometimes a whole lot). If you don’t love Pokemon then you probably at least have friends that do and enjoy the friendly yet competitive atmosphere of the game. So what got you into competing? If you’re anything like me, I get bored doing anything that isn’t competitive. In fact, I have only completed one Legend of Zelda game in my entire life despite owning nearly all the titles. I love the idea and aesthetics of the Zelda series, however, it just isn’t directly competitive enough to hold my attention! Mario Kart on the other hand, is a different story entirely. Get me behind the wheel and I’m totally fixated on trying to whoop my opponents! So when it comes to Pokemon Cards, I was hooked almost as soon as I realized that there was an organized community of people who played competitively. The prospect of competition combined with a game and series I love was enough to drive me deep into the competitive scene. To me, Pokemon isn’t just a hobby. It’s a game where I make friends, socialize, and grow as a person. But perhaps most of all, Pokemon is where I feed the burning desire within myself to be the best that I can be at something.
It doesn’t matter to me if I become rich doing what I do. If it did, I wouldn’t be working in the field of Education. What matters to me most is that I love doing what I do. I love both Pokemon and being competitive, so to me, it doesn’t matter that I’m not making any money doing this. At the end of the day I would rather be traveling eight hours in a car full of sweaty nerds to compete in a Regional Championship than sitting in the house playing a video game or watching sports or whatever. I have decided that in my life, I want to take something as far as I can take it, just to see what I am capable of accomplishing. And for me, that thing is Pokemon. I have never been attracted to serious things. Some people feel compelled to take science or math or technology as far as they can take it. And thank goodness for those people! Where would we be without our Thomas Edisons or our Benjamin Franklins? But that simply isn’t me. I earnestly want to be a Pokemon master. I want to take this game as far as I can take it and see if I have what it takes to be the best in the world at something. Unfortunately, people like Jason Klaczynski and Igor Costa have made this quite a challenging goal to accomplish. But that is not going to deter me from giving it everything I got.
So what is your dream? Why do you play? Did you take any steps towards accomplishing your Pokemon dream in the past year? Once you’ve established your dream, then we can start to identify some goals that will carry you towards it. No matter how big your dream is in the Pokemon TCG, there is a path towards obtaining it. You may have to carve out a path for yourself. You may have to make sacrifices. You may be starting from the bottom, but that just makes the rise that much sweeter. Four years ago I attended my first ever pre-release. Since then I have set goal after goal, vying intentionally and aggressively for a spot in the Pokemon limelight. Henry David Thoreau once said, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” I couldn’t agree more. Deciding where we want to go in life is the first and biggest step towards getting there.
Climbing to the Top
In the beginning, all I wanted to do was top cut an event. After my first taste of top cut, I wanted nothing more than to win something. I practiced and tested feverently and, funny enough, I was able to win my first two Battle Roads during the fall of 2012, one of which had over 70 masters in attendance! After my quick success with Battle Roads, I desperately wanted to carry my success over to City Championships. I only had a few testing partners at the time, but Nicholena Moon and I used to drive hours from our apartment in Erie, PA to meet up with our only friend in the Pokemon community at the time, Nicholas Bailey, to spend entire days testing and refining decks at a McDonalds that was halfway between our respective homes. I was nothing short of obsessed. I spent hours a day reading any Pokemon content I could get my eyes on. I spent my idle thoughts theorymoning matchups and my free time constantly playing. Our hard work paid off and I was able to earn two City Championship victories during that time while both Nicholas and Nicholena were able to earn top placings of their own despite also being newer players.
Later on that year I was also able to land in the Top 8 of Madison, Wisconsin’s Regional Championship. This lit an inextinguishable fire underneath me. From that moment forward all I wanted to do was win a Regional Championship. I did not care about qualifying for Worlds. I did not care about State Championships or Cities or anything else. All I wanted was a Regional title. People remember Regional winners. Don’t you? I do. Israel Sosa is that guy from the west coast who won like two Regionals with Yveltal last year! And didn’t Jacob Van Wagner, like, win back to back Regionals in Orgeon before winning Worlds? And who could forget Ryan Sablehaus’ win in Flordia with that crazy Dragonite / Victini-EX deck! How many Regional winner’s names do you know just off the top of your head? I can name over a dozen easily. I desperately wanted to be one of those people. Nothing short of a first place would be good enough for me. At this point, all I wanted was to be a name in the Pokemon community. I would read articles online and dream of one day writing articles of my own. I’d watch people play on stream and imagine being on the big screen one day myself. Once I got a taste of success, there was no convincing me it wasn’t worth fighting for.
Breaking the Plateau
From 2013-2014 I saw very little improvement. Both 2013 and 2014 seasons concluded with me earning right around 350 Championship points. Solid, but not enough to qualify for Worlds at the time and not enough to garner much attention. Though I was still performing well at Cities, I had not managed to top cut at any States. The lone standout performance of my 2014 season was finishing in the Top 4 of the St. Louis Regional Championships (that one that Aaron Tarbell won with his Blastoise deck). 2014 was a frustrating year for me. Many of my friends had qualified for Worlds that year and finished in the Top 8 of multiple Regionals while I seemed to have stagnated. Why were my friends doing so well while I remained the same? What was happening to me?
Fortunately, I had been in this exact scenario before and could draw from those experiences to help overcome my stagnant position in Pokemon. As I have mentioned in a few of my articles, I ran competitively for a decade between the seventh grade and my senior year of college. I saw consistent and stark improvements in my running throughout high school but failed to improve significantly during my first two years away at college. I ran for hours a day, dedicating every weekend to traveling and racing. My collegiate running career only included four weeks off throughout the entire year. That’s 28 days without running in a 365 day year. I did the same workouts as all of my peers, yet I watched as my slower teammates continuously outperformed me, climbing past me in the team’s rankings. This was an extremely frustrating time to wade through as a serious runner. On one hand, I was proud of my peers for their accomplishments and solid performances, but on the other, I was filled with frustration. Why couldn’t I be the one competing at the National level? What was wrong with me? What’s the point of running and running if I’m not getting any better?
By my junior year of college, I was tired of the monotony and ready to mix things up. Until this point in time I was focusing solely on running the mile and the five thousand meter. Since I was clearly outclassed by my peers at these longer events, I confronted my coach and asked if I could switch to 800 meter training for the season. Almost no competitive runners switch to shorter events as they get older. Our bodies naturally get slower as we age. However, my coach was willing to try something new and allowed me to make the switch. Within months I was not only hitting new personal bests in the 800, I was hitting personal best times in all of my events. All it took was patience, faith and a new approach and I had surpassed many of my teammates, asserting myself as the top 800 meter runner on my team. By my senior year I was able to set the school record for the indoor 800 meter and earn a division III national championship title with my teammates in the distance medley relay.
After my 9th place finish at Worlds this year, my high school track coach commented on my Facebook saying, “I believe your successful running career has a lot to do with your success in Pokemon.” And I agree wholeheartedly. Even though the two are unrelated physically, the mental strength and drive required to compete consistently and succeed is nearly the same in both activities. If there’s anything I think people underestimate in the Pokemon TCG, it’s the mental strength and clarity required during tournament play to be a top competitor. During the 2015 season I challenged myself to grow by switching the types of decks I played. Up until that point in my career I had piloted singular archetypes for months at a time. I knew that I would have to broaden my deck choices if I wanted to have any chance at accomplishing my dream of winning a Regional. The beginning of the season was tough for me as I was playing different decks and having a difficult time adapting. But towards the end of City Championships, I finally began to hit my stride with Landorus-EX / Crobat, the deck I was able to perfect and capture my first Regional title with at St. Louis this past year.
Winning a regionals was absolutely insane. I was expecting this goal to take years longer to accomplish than it did. I was absolutely stunned when it happened so early that I was nearly brought to tears on stream while I was shuffling my cards up after the series. All it took was determination, practice hard work, and a change of tactics to make everything pay off. Even though this was my worst year at City Championships so far, it ended up being the defining breakout season I was longing for. I accomplished all of my dreams. I won a Regional, placed second at States, 9th at Worlds and became a writer for PokeBeach and it all happened way faster than I anticipated.
This concludes the public portion of this article.
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