League Cups are ongoing, and Regionals are bigger than ever. With that said, the opportunities to earn a Worlds invite are not endless due one small problem – only one person can win a tournament, and winning can’t be done until you first make the Top Cut! Unfortunately, the whole idea behind competition is that not everyone can win, and thus by the end of the regular rounds, the maximum number of people left in contention to win are eight individuals. When it finally boils down to eight competitors out of possibly hundreds, there is usually something that separates these players. These players have obviously acquired the proper mentality, one that is goal-oriented and free of distractions.
For good reason, we spend a lot of time talking about solid play strategy and good lists. This is why a large majority of the PokeBeach premium articles include deck lists, choice cards and matchups; that is extremely valuable information. The truth is, a winning list and knowledge of how to beat the most popular matchups is not the answer to winning a tournament. Sure, it is necessary, but there is much more to it.
In the Pokemon TCG, the players that consistently Top 8 in major events, have preparation talents which separate them from their hundreds of opponents. In this article, I’ll discuss eight lethal mistakes in approach that Pokemon players often make that doom them before the tournament even begins. I will also explain how to avoid these mistakes so there will be less holding you back from making the Top 8 yourself. These mistakes can apply to different card games, but they were chosen because they represent what I see as the things that keep long-lived Pokemon players down at the bottom tables, and not at the Top 8 where I’m sure they would much rather be. My goal is to provide you with the proper mental preparation tools you can utilize in unison with your great deck list to make the Top 8 a reality.
The Eight Mistakes
1) Not Knowing Yourself
I’ve played more card games than only Pokemon, but it’s in Pokemon specifically where I see players making disastrous decisions that don’t at all meet their best interests. I don’t mean poor preparation, such as not getting all the cards you need before registration ends, or not having all the supplies you need before the first round starts. What I do mean is that Pokemon players, specifically those whom are stuck year after year at the bottom tables, overextend themselves. They choose inappropriate decks and don’t do proper planning on the individual level.
Example A: A father of a Pokemon player goes to casual tournaments with his kids. The son plays in the Junior division, while the daughter is wandering around the venue. Any outside observer can tell that the Dad is pretty overwhelmed, but if that wasn’t enough, the Dad feels compelled not only to play complex decks that require tons of focus, but also to borrow half the cards he needs for the deck! It’s not my place to make any assumptions about what should be done for childcare, but I can say that this Dad is the exception. He knew himself well enough to know that he was making some bad choices that affected his tournament performance. He soon went on to find a simpler deck, and made sure, in advance, that he owned everything for that simple deck. That way he has less to worry about, in terms of preparing his son, and his performance is less impacted by outside distractions and worries.
Knowing yourself means knowing your capabilities and comfort level. Going outside of this will never end well, that’s just how the cookie crumbles. Challenging yourself and going outside your comfort level is great when you are not in a tournament because that is one of the many ways to self-improve. Going immediately off the deep end and running an extremely complex deck that you are not comfortable with is a perfect example of not knowing yourself.
Example B: This is a person entering a new stage in their life that requires a big schedule shift: school, a new job, relocation or some sort of big family change. A lot of Pokemon players trick themselves into thinking that such a change requires them to quit. “How can I travel to all those tournaments now?”, they ask. Fortunately, the road to big wins and a Worlds invite is not extinct in these situations, nor is it a reason to give up on Pokemon. Change is temporary; you need to find a way to allow Pokemon into your life.
The combination of a travel-heavy rewards structure and a general lack of confidence is what places Pokemon players on a defeatist track when some big change is coming up. However, your situation is no different than the Pokemon-playing Dad in Example A; adapt to your situation! Your first step in adapting to the new situation is planning your season, no matter how short it may be. Count for as much tournaments as possible. Do you only have one Regional Championship? Then compete as if it were your last! Don’t think you can attend enough Regionals, League Cups and League Challenges to earn 500 Championship Points? Then go to a International Championship and put it all on the line there. The truth is that no matter how much your life changes, the only thing truly forbidding you from winning an International or World Championship is a direct schedule conflict – if you know yourself and what you are capable of. The season is yours!
2) Being Ill-Informed of an Area’s Metagame
There are only so many solutions to this problem, but it’s important you’re at least aware of them. The first is to simply figure out what you will be against! A lot of the more common assumptions about determining a metagame involves asking people what they’re using or scouting, but the truth is that such behavior can get obnoxious, and quickly. It has the potential to do more harm to your reputation as a player than whatever minor benefits you’d presumably get from it. After all, who wants to give away all of their secrets before a tournament even begins? The best way of determining the meta is a lot more personal and honest – actually get to know people! That way you can understand their play styles, preferences, and their ability (or inability) to stay ahead of the curve.
Of course, from time-to-time you simply won’t know people at a tournament all that well and can’t come to many solid conclusions about what to expect. At that point, you should redirect yourself to the second solution, play something as stable as possible. Good players often ask themselves hypotheticals about whether they would want to run a deck with only auto wins and auto losses, or a deck with only stable and even matchups across the board. There are rarely guaranteed right answers to these questions, but a major factor that would deter you away from decks with unstable, risky matchups is having no knowledge about what to expect. It’s in these blind metagames where you’ll benefit most from playing only the “faithful fifty-fifties.”
I know, you were looking for a cut-and-dry answer to determining the metagame. There is none, and there never will be. It is necessary to do your best at determining the meta in these ways because going in blind will always keep you at the bottom. By being informed, you will have the tools needed to accomplish whatever needs to be done.
3) Not Up-To-Date on Recent Trends
Thanks to premium sites, social media and commitment from Pokemon.com, you now have a lot of excellent resources at your fingertips. Unfortunately, the Pokemon TCG season is a year-round affair, so staying on top of the latest changes can often be difficult. Unless you’re playing every week, there is at least some period of downtime where you will be less active and will need to pay especially close attention to what’s going on. This could easily put the entire rest of your season at risk, only because you fell behind on your homework! By not being aware of the most recent trends, you will never be fully prepared. Preparation requires up-to-date information so you know how you should plan and practice.
In 2015, I was studying for the Texas Bar Exam: a test law students need to take in order to become lawyers. It was absolutely in my best interest to prioritize this exam before anything Pokemon related. Therefore, I took a break from cards until after finishing the exam. My mistake was that I only somewhat followed the developments of Spring Regionals and Nationals without actually engaging myself with the information, even in the two weeks of preparation I had before Worlds in mid-August! I didn’t do poorly at Worlds that year, but I also did far worse than I had expected of myself. In other words, I fell “behind the curve.” If I would have followed the developments of all the preceding tournaments to Worlds, I would have had a better sense of judgement both prior to and during the event.
When it comes to analyzing trends, technology adoption and even major Pokemon metagame developments, there are five general areas we may end up at. The below picture gives you an idea of size of each area.
Innovators are those who make the change. They are the people who test and build great decks for the first time, or people that make radical changes to decks. Often times, these people cause a change in the metagame.
Early adopters are the earliest people to follow the change. In the context of Pokemon, these are usually people who find out about a hot deck in time for its debut at a major tournament, and end up placing well because of it. This is a big reason why people invest in premium articles here on PokeBeach.
Early majority are the people that see a hot deck after it makes its first big splash. This may or may not be too late. In the case of Yveltal-EX, being part of the early majority would be acceptable; the deck is still consistently one of the top contenders. Some decks succeed solely because they catch players off guard. The deck may include a new mechanic, wild techs, or maybe it’s just a rogue deck designed to beat the strongest deck in the format. These decks will not perform well if you are part of the early majority.
Late majority are the people that catch on to a hot deck well past its initial splash. In a season where one deck remains dominant throughout, these are the people that start playing or hard-countering the deck well past the point in which they should have.
Laggards are the absolute last people to a deck. They should probably not even be using it, but for some sort of personal preference or stubbornness, they choose to anyways. By this time, everyone knows how to counter or play against the deck. You are at a huge disadvantage.
When I was studying for my big exam but neglected to catch up with my competition, I was somewhere in between the late majority and laggards – a place where you never want to be. This issue could’ve been resolved by being informed, exercising my connections to help catch me up with everything I missed, and taking the event as seriously as a $25,000 first prize tournament deserves.
So, where do you want to be on the curve? While logic suggests that we always want to be the innovators and therefore, have the information before anybody else, what matters most is being ahead of the majority. If you’re creating, helping to create, or even receiving ideas before most people, then you’re doing great. The Pokemon TCG is definitely knowledge-sensitive though, so you’ll want to avoid finding out about developments after they’ve already happened.
This concludes the public portion of this article.
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