Hello, Some1sPC readers! My name is Carl Barone and this is my first published article here on Some1sPC. I’m really excited to have an opportunity to write for you all, as I think I can offer some slightly less covered, yet equally competitive content to the followers and subscribers of Some1sPC. My writing is going to center on the psychological aspects and preparation to playing Pokemon along with the occasional metagame overview, a look at some lists and ideas I’ve been working on, and other general information you can carry with you to you next event and hopefully even further through life itself. I’ll start with some brief background info about myself!
I’ve been playing Pokemon since December 2017, though I have spent a lifetime enamored with the franchise overall. I have a pretty rich trading card game history but Pokemon was always pretty foreign to me, even up to the weeks before my first League Cup. Through some great local friends and the benefit of coaching from various professional players, I was able to come within a few points of my Worlds invitation in half of a season last year. The early success I tasted really took my interest in the game to a whole new level, and my passion has continued into this year.
Competing this year had to take a step back in the second half of the season due to graduate school obligations and intern work, but here I am again, ready to contribute to a community I love in so many ways. My graduate and intern work centers around psychology, a field I have been dedicated to for essentially my entire academic career. Psychology is constantly at work in Pokemon, and I think it’s a topic that needs to be explored further in pieces like this. It’s one thing to give you a list or a tech or two for an upcoming event, but in my mind it’s something entirely different to help you master your mindset regarding your approach to testing, tweaking, and traveling to the events we all work so hard to prepare for.
This article will kick off a series on how to properly prepare for success and enjoyment in the Pokemon Trading Card Game. Simply put, an overarching theme to my articles will center around the following (true) proverb: “if you can change your thinking, you can change your life.”
Now let’s use this little corner of the internet to show you how this works in Pokemon.
Approaches to Testing
I usually get a lot of article ideas and writing prompts from topics of discussion posted on various Facebook groups like HeyFonte and Virbank City. There was a question I read recently that asked about what some obstacles were in the way of advancing skill and getting better at the trading card game. Getting better is something we all obviously seek to do, but in a zero-sum game (a game where one must win and another must lose) such as Pokemon, it’s a lot more complicated to advance when there are often many players standing in your way. You have variance, bad luck, match-up dependence and skill as relevant aspects of what determines the winner and the loser in a game of Pokemon. Despite all of this, there are certainly some things you can do to influence the results of future games before you even sit down at the table.
A frequently overlooked aspect of what makes a great Pokemon player is their testing sessions. Obviously, it goes without saying that when we play the game outside of events we are competing to try new ideas, relax with friends, practice for upcoming events, or a combination of all three. No matter what your goal is to produce from those testing sessions, testing often lays the groundwork for how we will think about a certain event, and with which strategies we will approach the event. Testing is an important part of what makes us successful; it’s very hard (and rare) for a player to go into a tournament “cold” with a list they found that morning or the night before, and the players capable of doing that are already likely very good in their own right. Testing is not simply just grinding out games with a deck back-to-back-to-back; that comes toward the end of the time in which you’ve familiarized yourself with an archetype and all of its matchups. Testing is, most often, meticulous and a space in the game where you are studying your own deck much more closely than what’s going down on your opponent’s side of the board. I strongly believe that most players approach testing in a way that is mostly a waste of time.
Testing is the process of using a deck list to collect data. This data collected will help you understand an archetype’s place in the metagame, the match-ups and card interactions it does well and struggles against, and the intricacies around certain cards you will see on the other side of the table. Testing should have a purpose; it is not simply grinding games on the online ladder all night and seeing where your win/loss ratio ends up at the end. Effective testing centers around careful play, gameplan development, and learning to understand what works and what doesn’t for the deck you are testing.
Testing, in my view, happens in many stages. The first stage of testing is just simply learning a deck. Stage one of testing should just be about understanding a deck’s core strategy and trying to execute that as often as you can. Once you understand what a deck can most often set up and accomplish, then you can open up some space for developing new game plans and strategies, especially when you learn to identify what gives a deck trouble. This stage of testing often doesn’t take very long, and at times, a good coach or peer can explain to you what a deck does, what its bad and good match-ups are, and how to approach them. At this point, you’re going to want to play plenty of games against decks that represent even (50/50) match-ups and poor (65/35 and worse) match-ups to understand what it’s going to take to make a run through the next tournament you’re in.
The main goal of testing should be to check out a deck’s match-up spread amongst the Tier 1 and 2 decks in the metagame, and to also develop a game plan for all even and worse match-ups. Good match-ups will make themselves apparent when testing, and as a result, they obviously require less work to hammer down. A good example of this scenario at work was my experience last year at NAIC. I chose to run Zoroark/Lycanroc, as I did all season, into a field of Malamar and Buzzwole. The metagame was largely viewed as a “triangle meta” at the time (three popular decks that play out like a Rock-Paper-Scissors format) and certain builds of Malamar could also have a decent time against Zoroark/Lycanroc. In addition to that, there was some late buzz surrounding Zoroark/Golisopod (which I always regarded as a good match-up for Zoroark/Lycanroc, which was always cause for debate.) As a result, I had my hands full for testing heading into the event. I identified Buzzwole/Lycanroc and Zoroark/Golisopod as the decks I needed to really dedicate testing time to, as one misplay in either of these games would certainly lead to a loss. As for Malamar, I dedicated less time to the match-up because I believed I was inherently at an advantage, and that a lot would have to go wrong for me to lose to Malamar, even if I went second. A first turn Energy attachment was really all I needed to do, and when this was done I always had a way to win the match-up.
Testing against Buzzwole/Lycanroc was brutal at first. It was highly touted as a fast, powerful and consistent deck heading into the event, and early testing sessions against the deck had me feeling discouraged in my choice. It was leading me to a point where I was losing confidence in a deck I was super comfortable with and knew everything about; one of the most important aspects to picking a deck for a big event is level of comfort and familiarity with a deck, and having my confidence shaken with my top choice had me feeling down. However, I decided that if I just kept facing discomfort in the match-up, then maybe I could find a way. After testing a lot with players who are far better than me, I developed a game plan for the match-up that actually worked well every time Mew-EX was not prized. It involved knocking out a Diancie Prism Star or Rockruff, going into Mew, recycling it with Puzzle of Time or Rescue Stretcher, and then taking my last prize with any attacker on a one-prize Pokemon. My first four rounds were against Buzzwole/Lycanroc in the event, and I started a cool 4-0 thanks to my game plan. It was only after a lot of discomfort (read as: brutal losses to that singular archetype over and over again) that I was able to hammer down a plan that could at least give me a fighting chance in a negative match-up. This led me to developing a testing method I swear by, and have described to you so far, in this article. The lesson here is that sometimes you can overcome difficult situations with a deck that is comfortable for you if you are willing to think about match-ups in a different way and take new approaches. It boils down to three basic principles:
- Play against players better than you in even or sub-optimal matchups.
- Talk about your plays openly, take notes after the fact, and understand why you are losing the games. Ask for help and input from your peers who have credentials in the game.
- Use the data you collect and adjust accordingly. You get valuable data from every testing game you play. Understand why you lost and also understand that luck often has less to do with losses than we think. There is always a turning point in a game or a decision that lowered our percentage to win. Identify that, fix it, and make a better play next time.
For Seniors and Juniors, I think that this method is even more important. For transparency, I have no children and find it extremely hard to teach them and help them grow. As the parent of a youngster looking to get better at Pokemon, I think it’s important to help them understand the difference between a game in testing and a game in the tournament. For starters, it’s important to help them to remember to keep the pressure off; pressure affects children in a much different way than adults. Emphasizing the importance of having fun, making friends, and doing the best you can is an effective foundation to the growth of a young player.
The learning that can be had in testing is invaluable and it is what sets your child up for success down the line. I think asking them questions about what they know about their deck and their match-ups is just as important as actually playing the game. I know that it isn’t often that Junior and Senior parents get direct advice from articles like these, but if I had to recommend anything, I’d take a more introspective approach to testing games. Ask them what their plan is each turn, what they’d like to do with their turn, and what cards would help get them there.
This got a little bit more long-winded than I was hoping it would, though I hope it has left you with a different mental approach to testing. Next article, I will delve a little more into some other aspects of preparing to play and getting yourself in the right mental state to reach the success you want. Overall, I hope these methods I’ve described are some strategies you try in your testing sessions next time you are preparing for an event, and I hope you think critically about your testing sessions next time out. Trust what the data gives you, and adjust accordingly. You are capable of leveraging data from testing into success at an event if you are willing to adjust with what you find, as long as you are willing to experience the discomfort required to improve.
If you want to connect with me further, I can be found on Facebook at Carl PB, and on Twitter at @peezyptcg. Thanks for your time, and if you want to play some games and talk about future events, feel free to hit me up! Next time we will talk about tilting. Until the next one, thanks for stopping by Some1sPC.
Carl “Peezy” Barone