A Busy Person’s Guide to the Pokemon TCG

Hello again! Welcome back. I’ve just returned from the Fort Wayne Pokemon TCG Regional Championships where I was able to finish second in a field of 635 with Yveltal-EX / Garbodor! For those of you that have been following my Pokemon career thus far, you might be surprised that I was able to place so well with a Yveltal deck, and for good reason. Fort Wayne marked the second time I ever piloted a deck featuring Yveltal-EX in the nearly three years it has been legal. Additionally, it was only my third time ever piloting a deck featuring Garbodor in the four years that Garbotoxin has been legal. As I alluded to in my last article, I have been working very hard this past month to get myself up to speed with the Standard format. I had been making an exceptional effort to get my hands on all of the top decks so that I could give myself the best opportunity possible to succeed at Fort Wayne. I am a living testament to the fact that hard work really pays off! Fort Wayne was an incredible accomplishment for me, not only because it was nearly twice the size of the Regional Championship I won in 2015, but because my life is busier and more stressful now than it has ever been! I am a teacher, I am attending graduate school full time, I am a writer, I am a boyfriend, I am an athlete, I am a coach, and I happen to be vying for a World Invitation in the Pokemon Trading Card Game. On top of all that, I just picked up a sponsorship with Alter Reality Gaming! My life is crazy! I’m sure most of you can relate on some level. The Pokemon community is filled with students, parents, scientists, entertainers, business owners, you name it! We are all busy people. But Pokemon isn’t about who has the most time to dedicate to the game. What matters most is how you spend your time with the game. In this article I will discuss the life of a  competitor, focusing specifically on stress management, testing techniques, and deck selection. At the end of the article I will give a brief synopsis of my Fort Wayne experience and talk about what I would play for London if I was attending.

The face of someone fighting off a round one loss. Awesome photos by Doug Morisoli.

A Busy Person’s Guide to the Pokemon TCG

As Pokemon players, we deprive ourselves of good testing all the time. All of us are busy. All of us have lives outside of Pokemon. None of us can live off of this hobby alone and consequently, our quality and volume of testing gives way to other priorities on a regular basis. This is the nature of our game.

The Pokemon TCG reminds me a lot of Division III athletics. Some of you may know that I am an NCAA Division III indoor track and field champion. If not, now you do! Prior to joining the Pokemon community, I spent a decade of my life balancing school, social activities, jobs, homework, and competitive running. For years I spent hours a day running and working out. Despite the countless hours and sacrifices I put forth to become a successful runner, I never made any money off of my athletic ability. Pokemon is similar in that very few of us will make life changing amounts of money off of Pokemon. If that’s the case, then why play? Many of us have careers to worry about, kids to raise, families to take care of, bills to pay, books to read, and essays to write. How can we justify a card game when life is happening all around us? How can I justify playing Pokemon Cards when I have papers to grade, papers to write, a bathroom to clean, and laundry to do?

What’s the Point?

I wrote an article about motivation in the Pokemon Trading Card Game a year ago, here. If there’s anyone struggling with motivation, that article remains a favorite of mine to check back up on from time to time. That article is uplifting, challenging and directly reflective of the place I was in my life when I wrote it. I was fresh off a ninth place Worlds finish and had nothing but time on my hands. Back then it was easy to justify playing the game. Now, I am stressed beyond belief. Money is tight, I got bills to pay and I rarely have a moment to relax. I look at my life and I think of all the things I could get done if I didn’t have Pokemon to worry about.

In order for busy people like you and me to invest time, money and effort into this game despite all the things we have going on in our lives, Pokemon must be, like, really important. Right? Some competitive players look at their lives and decide, “Well, Pokemon was fun but I just can’t justify prioritizing it like I used to.” Some players quit when they go away to college. Some quit when they get a job. Some quit when they find a girlfriend or a boyfriend (I’m looking at you Justin Boughter).

And then some players, like myself, continue to put ourselves out there despite having way too much stuff to do. Some busy people stay in the game for friendships. Others do it for a love of the franchise. While these are both things that I love about the Pokemon TCG, they aren’t what keeps me up and testing late at night. I’m driven to pursue my goals in Pokemon because of my personal conviction that competition is essential to a life well lived.

The Benefit of Competition

Competition is not just for Olympic athletes. Somewhere along the line in my ten years of competitive running I learned this. My teammates used to hate me. We’d be a mile into a ten mile run and I would start having an existential crises, asking aloud, “What’s the point of running!?” or, “Why do we do this to ourselves?” There was never a tangible answer that satisfied me. “Glory?” There is no glory in Division III athletics. “Personal pride?” Is it worth running 60 miles a week on top of my other responsibilities just for a fuzzy feeling of pride in my heart? I’d prefer the feeling of a nap!

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Sometimes competing feels bad man.

But now that I’ve made it through college and a decade long running career, I can point to that experience with confidence and know that it made me a better person. Though I had trouble seeing the benefits of running while I was in the trenches of competition, I now see that consistently pushing myself to my mental and physical limits over an extended period of time has given me the skills to accomplish whatever I set my mind to. Running has made me a more capable person in all areas of life. Pokemon has the ability to do the same.

Competition is enriching. It teaches teamwork, determination, goal setting, sportsmanship, and perseverance. Though it doesn’t always feel that way, competition is good for us. It makes us better people. It teaches us things about ourselves and each other that we might not learn anywhere else. Most importantly, competition teaches us how to fail with grace and accept positive criticism. This, in my opinion, is the key to success. We don’t always win, and that’s okay. Competition teaches us how to learn from our mistakes and persevere through failures in hopes of doing better in the future. With this kind of refined attitude and spirit, we can make it through all of life’s challenges, no matter how arduous.

I have been competing in some way shape or form since I can remember. When I was just a child, my dad used to race me to the car in the parking lot. As soon as I could kick a soccer ball, I started playing on a team and pursued that sport until my teenage years. In ninth grade I shattered my collar bone and had to have reconstructive surgery to fix it. From there, I was coerced into running cross country instead of playing soccer and began running full time. I went on to run in college and as soon as my collegiate running career ended, I picked up the Pokemon TCG and have been playing since. These competitive experiences have kept my drive, desire and lust for life high despite the challenges that I have faced in my life. I have never been complacent. I have never been lazy. I have always worked tirelessly towards my goals and I know that at the end of the day I will be happier for it. Competition has shaped me into the person I am today, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The 10,000 Hour Rule

Maybe one day I’ll log 10,000 hours into something.

It takes an obsessive amount of hard work, determination and practice to get good at anything, Pokemon included. In his book, Outliers, Malcom Gladwell argues that it requires 10,000 hours of practicing something the correct way to achieve world-class expertise in any skill. That’s approximately 20 hours a week across a 10 year period. Let’s face it, most of us do not have that kind of time to sink into the Pokemon Trading Card Game. To give you some perspective, three time World Champion, Jason Klaczynski, is probably one of the few players in Pokemon that could even claim such a feat, and he has been playing since the game’s inception.

Something worth noting about Gladwell’s statement is that he claims practice is only valuable if it is done the right way. Grafted into a Pokemon TCG context, I could say that testing is only valuable if it is done the right way, which is true. You can spend a lot of hours at league or on Pokemon Trading Card Game online without growing as a player or learning anything about the metagame whatsoever! Practice has to be intentional. Later in my article, I will discuss the ways in which I pin pointed my testing to make the most of the little time I had leading up to Fort Wayne.

Avoiding Distractions

As a competitor with no free time, avoiding distractions is essential to accomplishing what I set out to do on a daily basis. If I regularly wasted time, there’s no way I would ever get close to my 10,000 hours of practice! Many will disagree with me, but I think millennials have it tough. We have been raised in a digital environment that is constantly tugging for our attention every second of the day. Its insane. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that most of us waste an insane amount of time on our phones. When you think about it, it’s actually kind of sickening. These little screens are the last thing we look at before we go to bed and the first thing we look at when we wake up in the morning. This kind of dates me, but I’m actually old enough to remember what life was like before screens invaded every ounce of our existence. I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was 17! Now don’t get me wrong, phones, Facebook and text messaging all play a huge role in successful Pokemon networking, however, if we aren’t careful, we can waste the precious free time we have in a day just scrolling pointlessly through posts. When formed into a habit and multiplied over a lifetime, that’s a ton of wasted time. Way over 10,000 hours! In an effort to get their time back, some people delete their Facebook all together. I won’t ever do that. Facebook is too valuable of a tool for me to get rid of. What I have done is I have turned off the notification settings for all of my social media applications. It has been a huge relief. There are no more red numbers on my iPhone that I feel like I need to clear. My phone does not vibrate or show me a banner unless someone texts me or calls me directly. I’ve been doing this for months and honestly I feel like my quality of life has improved drastically. Instead of my phone beckoning me to look at it constantly throughout the day, I chose specific and convenient times to check up on things, only when it is appropriate. If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, I suggest you give this a try. Connection is a beautiful thing, but fielding constant notifications can feel like a second, third, or fourth job. Think of all the things you could do if you quit checking your phone so often! Spend an hour a day on your phone? That’s an hour a day that you could be testing.

This concludes the public portion of this article.

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