Experts' corner

Jay Lesage

"Simon Says" - A Deep Look Into the Coaching Process

Want to be the best? Time to find yourself a coach!

01/09/2018 by Jay Lesage

Hey there 60Cards readers! It’s been a while since my last article where I detailed Raichu/Heatmor, my personal favorite deck to emerge out of the European International Championships. I've been enjoying leisure time these holidays with my family, but now it's time to crack down on League Cups and Regional Championships. From testing out concepts on PTCGO, I’ve found the format to be rather stale within Standard for one reason mainly – decks live and die by Zoroark-GX. A card that was once seen as “average” has now become the best card there currently is to offer in Standard, but not for its sheer power! Zoroark-GX is instead known primarily for its vast ability to draw cards using its Trade ability. You’re not just drawing two cards, but you’re also discarding one card – this alone changes the cards dynamic thoroughly. Today, I'd like to talk about two things: a brief statement as to why I think most Standard articles have been based around Zoroark-GX, and why I think coaching is becoming more popular within the game! 

Zoroark-GX at a Glance

I know it seems pretty darn simple on paper, but humor me for a second with this thesis: any deck within the Standard format that doesn’t play Zoroark-GX is inherently at a disadvantage. Too bold? Humor me some more.

When I’m making a bold statement like this, I’m drawing it from logical mentality. I’m going to jot a series of statements that prove my statement is correct below:

• Zoroark-GX makes decks more consistent
• Consistent decks are stronger than inconsistent decks
• Therefore, Zoroark-GX is stronger than other decks

Playing Zoroark-GX not only allows you to draw cards, but also discard a card from your hand, which means that while you’re drawing, you’re also throwing away useless fodder. Simultaneously, this two-fold ability will give you better odds than your opponent who does not play Zoroark to win a game of Pokémon. But this article isn’t about Zoroark, mostly because I don’t want to discuss the Standard format too much. Today’s article is all going to be about a much lesser discussed topic – coaching.

So, what is coaching in Pokémon, you may ask? Pokémon coaching is the same as any other form of coaching, whether it is sports, chess, or any other mental game. It involves a teacher, and a student who strives to become stronger in the game. Coaching hasn’t been a “thing” for very long though, so why is that? The main reason is due to people wanting to get better at the game, of course! Ever since the introduction of technology into the world, players have made lengths to socialize online and share deck lists as well as playing strategy. This spawned online forums, such as those on Facebook (e.g. Virbank City, HeyFonte). Ever since then, with such information being posted online, there has been tons of free information.

The Evolution of “Free information”

Free information has been a blessing and a curse for as long as I can remember. People argue that free information online has ruined the game due to secrecy, whereas others boast that it’s needed in order for the growth of the game. As for my stance, I personally am impartial to either side, because I understand the pros and cons of both! Let’s dwell into why people view that free information has ruined the game – these people are very concerned about their own secretive concepts, and don’t want to share them with the masses. These people tend to get upset when their decks are posted, but also work the hardest on their deck lists. This same group of people tends to be the top performers. Then, there are those that aren’t at the top of the game – the new joiners. The new joiners are those that are highly appreciative of free information, mainly because it will allow them to jumpstart into a new card game without investing too much time. They can just pick up an International winning deck list and pilot it to moderate success at their next tournament, no sweat! While I never had this privilege, I can only assume being able to stumble onto Pokémon and perform at a high level would be exhilarating. Most seasoned players I know didn’t have deck lists handed to them, but rather they made them themselves. Because of free information being shared so rapidly, things have gotten more difficult.

The Skill Ceiling

Ah, yes! A subsidiary effect of free information, the average player has gotten stronger since they have access to the same resources as the best players (in most cases). Typically, this is something that is happening because Pokémon is striving to promote it. They know that if a newer player picks up a top-tier deck, and proceeds to do well with it (and potentially even win), that player has a much higher retention rate within the game. Pokémon uses this information to their advantage, and publishes valuable information in order to string a consistent stream of upcoming players along. Once they’ve created their own legacy, these new players will eventually become the veterans, and the cycle will continue. All the while, the players who are struggling to now beat the new players are wondering “how can I get better?”

Well trainer, that my friend is called a competitive advantage. You need something that can give you an edge over the opponents, so you can beat them to the punch and ultimately obtain a trophy. The biggest thing in question is that with free information circulating everywhere, how can one get information quicker than the pillagers? Primary information, my dear Watson! If all you ever conduct is secondary research, you’ll never hit any fresh ideas, and you’ll consistently be predictable. As players, we want to be the next “it” factor – in order to get there, sometimes players need a little push. That’s where coaching comes in as the next evolution of the game.

Simon Says

Coaching is something that’s been discussed in small corners of the world, but now it’s become a full-fledged phenomenon this year. It’s helped people of all ages reach new heights, all the while giving people confidence in both their playing abilities as well as deck construction skills. I think it’s important to note that coaching has become more popular because of the aforementioned heightened skill ceiling – if the ceiling didn’t rise, the need for coaching wouldn’t be present, and the demand would decline. In this case, the skill ceiling is showing no sign of slowing down with more and more free information being released daily, whether it’s by third parties or by Pokemon themselves; I’d go as far as to say coaching is becoming essential in younger divisions. I’ll go into that a little later on in the article, but for now I’ll go over how most coaching processes are completed.

The Process of Coaching

As somebody who’s done private coaching for three seasons consecutively, I’ve had a ton of success placed upon me from my students. Alongside my brother Zachary Lesage and our flight of elite coaches, we’ve been able to melt coaching down to a science. We start off by using Skype to communicate, and playing on PTCGO. The main reason we use PTCGO over using real copies of cards is for a few reasons:

• the game state is clear for both players
• the speed of games is much more efficient due to easier “shuffling” phases
• PTCGO allows for quick deck edits
• you can test decks online and not have to purchase/proxy cards

However, there are a few occasions where we prefer to use real cards…

• when a new expansion is coming out and it isn’t released online yet
• when you need to test how quickly a deck can conclude a real-time 50-minute series

You can either play a 1-on-1 with your student, or play against randoms online on the PTCGO ladder; I personally prefer to play against randoms, and use Skype to watch how my pupil is playing (as well as what decisions they are making). Rather than play against a lesser experienced player than myself in the form of a student, I’d rather work with them to beat down an opponent on PTCGO. This way, they’ll have a much higher win-percentage than they would have against me, their teacher, all the while learning more information. Using Skype, I can actually share my screen with the student in order to ensure that they don’t click things and make a hurdling mistake – it gives me control over the situation, all the while allowing myself to guide the pace of play. The student will just instruct me on what to do each given turn.

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