Not Your Daddy's Game
Going to Seattle Regionals after a 15-year break.
06/01/2015 by Matthew Townend
When I was 13, I had a defining life experience. I got 5th at the Pokemon TCG Super Trainer Showdown in Long Beach. What a rush it was – me, on top of the world, deck in hand! I bragged about it and always had it in the back of my mind for years afterward whenever life would get me down or people in high school would make fun of me for being nerdy or weird. Who cares what they said, I thought, I'm an accomplished, important person.
But that was 15 years ago. Now, for some reason, I find it difficult to tell people I play Pokemon. I've always prided myself in my seemingly socially deviant behavior, but it's all fake.
The truth is: I'm 28. I spend hours a night playing against an imaginary opponent, trying to get the feel for my decks through play testing. I'd fallen back into some habits I didn't even realize I still had. I immediately understood the metagame like a puzzle to be solved, and it all came back to me as if I'd never quit. It was exhilarating.
That rush, something I've been craving for years, is what I felt the second I stepped into the expo hall at the Seattle Center. I found myself swept back up into the competitive adrenaline tornado. I wanted to win. I was there to take it home and get the CP to go to Worlds.
Of course, my experience was much different than my expectations. As I started playing my rounds, I realized something fairly quickly: the game is not what it used to be.
If you readers can remember back far enough, the format during my time was Base Set to Team Rocket. This was the time of Hitmonchan, Lass, Wigglytuff, and Professor Oak. The most HP any Pokemon had was 120, and the most damage (most Pokemon) could dish out was about 80 after a few PlusPowers. Today, some EX Pokemon have upwards of 200 HP and can dish out equivalent amounts of damage very quickly. I had to adjust. As a full-grown adult that probably should be a bit smarter, the hardest part for me was getting used to counting that high for damage. How much damage does Yveltal EX do with two double colorless, a darkness energy, a muscle band, and an opponent with 3 energy attached? My point exactly. The game has changed a lot. And I was about to enter the big stage of that change and see what the new world of Pokemon was really like.
The deck I decided to play was the result of some play testing with my friends. The format was BCR-PRC. After looking at the Washington state tournament results, I noticed a lot of Virizion/Genesect decks in the top 8, likely played to beat out Seismitoad EX. So I took a gamble and played a deck that struggles against Toad itself, hoping that the threat of going against VirGen would scare it off. I played Flareon. Here was my list:
- 4x Flareon
- 4x Eevee
- 3x Leafeon
- 4x Audino
- 2x Ditto
- 2x Exeggcute
- 2x Jirachi EX
- 2x Empoleon
- 1x Mr. Mime
- 4x Professor Juniper
- 1x N-supporter
- 1x Lysandre's Trump Card
- 1x Lysandre
- 1x Archie's Ace in the Hole
- 1x Teammates
- 4x Acro Bike
- 4x Battle Compressor
- 4x Ultra Ball
- 4x VS Seeker
- 2x Silver Bangle
- 1x Float Stone
- 1x Computer Search
- 4x Double Colorless Energy
- 3x Water Energy
I was debating between the water energy and grass energy, Energy Evolution Eevees, and possibly replacing an Audino with a Virizion, all because of Toad. My friend convinced me that being able to use Empoleon's Attack Command would be better (and I also wanted the 60 HP Eevee against LandoBats), so I gambled and went without grass energy.
Being out of practice and only back into the game for a few months, I had to think outside the box in how I was going to win. I relied on my retail expertise and put together a simple strategy for the tournament: make friends with my opponent, and hope I don't misplay.
Round one pairings went up, and I rushed to the board like a bee to a picnic table.
Round 1 vs. Cory Cox w/Night March – WW
This gentleman was really fun and positive. He was playing Night March, and though I hadn't tested this matchup, I figured it would be a positive prize trade for me. He got the first prize, but made the mistake of attacking with Mew instead of Joltik. This gave me a positive prize trade because of its EX-iness. The second game was similar.
Round 2 vs. Erik House w/Metal – WW
Weakness and EX's made this an easy matchup. The only thing I was worried about – Aegislash – was mysteriously absent. I asked him about it after the match and he said he wanted to be “more agro”. He tried to use Cobalion EX to knock the energy off Flareon, but I just attached more and won in three knock outs. It was just a bad matchup for him, unfortunately. Hoped him the best.
Round 3 vs. Richard Reynolds w/Virizion/Genesect WW
This match was funny because the guy sat down and looked across at me with these big eyes and said “oh man, I want to scoop right now”. I was thinking, do I really look that intimidating? Then I put the pieces together.
“Did your friend have the metal deck?” I asked.
“Yep,” he said, dumbstruck.
“Are you playing the same deck?”
He grinned. “Maybe.”
He said he had a choice to play in the tournament or go snowboarding. “I wish I'd gone snowboarding,” he said. I laughed, but he was right. I was able to KO his Virizion before he could pull off an Emerald Slash. He scooped game two.
Round 4 vs. Oscar Morales w/Mirror Match at Table 1! LWL
Wow. This was a fantastic match. This match alone was worth the drive, money, and time. Oscar was legit. He played a similar Flareon deck, with one difference that I noticed in the form of Ninetales DEX (which he didn't use). The match came down to who could get Empoleon out first and draw prizes faster.
First round, he got Empoleon out and I didn't, so he won by KO'ing a couple Flareons. Round 2 I got going and he didn't. Round 3 he got going and I didn't. That's basically what happened.
What I should have done was slow-rolled him and went for the tie, but I felt bad doing that (plus I wasn't sure how much time I had left). I think I did the right thing, but my record shows otherwise.
Cool guy, though. I had some fun banter with him afterward and got to meet Pooka (formerly) from The Top Cut. Fantastic time.
Round 5 vs. Trevore Read w/M Manetric/Rough Seas LL
I basically scooped this round. Trevore was an energetic, passionate, cool dude who just absolutely decimated me. Flareon couldn't easily scrape together 210 damage to take out M Manetric, while he one-shot my Flareons and powered another Manetric in the process. After three Flareons were KOed, I scooped. “Not a good matchup for you,” he said. No kidding.
Round 6 vs. Kevin Krupnick w/Seismitoad/Manetric/Bats LWL
It was about this time that my endurance was starting to wane. He sits down, a good looking, mid-20s guy. “Are you playing Manetric?” I ask bluntly. “Maybe,” he says. I thought he was kidding. He goes first. Flips a Manetric EX. I felt like scooping again.
This man was from Portland and I enjoyed talking to him. One thing I noticed is that I found myself caring more about my opponent - where they came from, who they are, and what brought them into the Pokemon community - then the actual match. That's definitely different than before.
After the mental exhaustion had kicked in, we played back and forth and I, all of a sudden, became the king of misplays. This was what I was trying to avoid, but obviously to no avail.
Misplay #1: I used Diving Draw twice in a turn. I used it early and had forgotten. I drew the cards and then he pointed out that I'd already Diving Drew. He called the judge over and I had to endure a prize loss and two cards from my hand shuffled back into the deck. He won the game by that one prize.
Misplay #2: I announced my Vengeance attack without attaching an energy first. Back in the day, you couldn't use an attack if you didn't have the energy. I didn't realize that I had entered the “attack phase” and thus I couldn't attach an energy after calling out the attack. He was nice though and allowed me to attach the energy anyway. He was really nice the whole round, actually. I'm glad he ended up winning this matchup, to be honest, because otherwise he would have regretted his own kindness and I would have felt awful.
Misplay #3: I used Battle Compressor and discarded a Professor Juniper instead of Archie's Ace in the Hole. This meant I couldn't get Empoleon out, and his end-game Ns that I couldn't recover from ended up winning him Game 3.
Major fail. I should have playtested more and drank more caffiene.
At this point I realized that my dream was gone. The game really was different. Everything is ramped up, not just the damage. The competition is high. The metagame is diverse and enjoyable, but difficult. The rule changes are more harsh.
To be fair, some things were the same – the Pokemon, the prizes, the over-reliance on trainers. But everything else has stepped up a notch. I was severely underprepared.
Game 7 – No show. W
I'm not going to list his name, but he didn't show. I sat there for 15 minutes and made jokes with the people around me and then got up and left with a victory.
Game 8 vs. my friend Confesor w/Seismitoad/Slurpuff L
He need the CP, so I scooped.
End score: 4-4-0. 71st place.
It's hard to describe how I felt after the tournament. My biggest emotion was disappointment. My friends joked with me the rest of the night about using Diving Draw twice (hey that guy cut me off in traffic; well at least he didn't Diving Draw twice...etc). I regret that mistake, as I could have possibly won if I hadn't misplayed there. But the regret wasn't just about the tournament – it was about something else. It was about what I'd been doing the last fifteen years of my life that landed me back here, doing the same thing I'd done when I was a teenager. I regret not making more of my life, not getting married, not putting myself out there more. Instead I've returned to my comfortable cocoon of Pokemon cards that used to give me a sense of purpose.
I don't want anyone reading this to get the wrong idea. I love the Pokemon TCG. If I didn't, I wouldn't be writing this. I want to keep playing. But what I want to convey is that just as the game has changed, evolved, grown up – so have I. I'm not the young boy I was before. I'm a man now. My desires are different. My life's direction is different. Who I am is different. This has been an interesting crossing of my life's generations, and it's made me reflect on who I really am.
To be honest, I think what I really feel now is hope. Hope that I don't have to be the person I was 15 years ago, because guess what – I'm not! I feel hopeful and happy that my life is more than just an endless chain of hobbies. I plan on doing something spectacular, and this recent nostalgia trip into the world of Pokemon has helped me realize that.
I'm writing my way to worlds, in a hope that I can win the trip and experience a fun cross-cultural competitive environment. But more than that, I want people to hear my voice and see a genuine person for who he is: behind the hobbies, beyond the obsessions, beyond the 4-4 score. That score would have defined me before, but now it's just a number, sitting there, glaring at me, while I ignore it, get on the plane, and go to Boston to try to find myself again. I wonder what adventures await me in this next stage of life.
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