Experts' corner

Zach Lesage

Strategies to Improve

Zach opens up his knowledge vault to pass on some information to grow as a player.

04/30/2020 by Zach Lesage

Thinking a Bunch

What’s up 60 Cards readers? Do you ever just sit around at your desk and say dream about becoming better? Do you want to know a little known secret that often doesn’t get shared in the Pokémon community? Uhhh, YES PLEASE!!! Well, I have written a quick piece that should allow you to understand exactly where I am coming from and get more on the same wave length that other top players are on. The article today is all about improving your lines of play and thinking about micro misplays differently. Maybe you will read this article and agree with me, maybe you will already know everything, but it is my hope that you will learn something that you can apply to your game. With the tournament structure having major tournaments all around the world almost weekly, now is the time to step up your game.

Neural Evolution 

So I recently stumbled across a video on YouTube the other day, yeah, I know boooorrrring, but it gets better. The video is about a computer program learning how to play Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo and how it grew to learn. At the beginning of the video, the program would have Mario sit there and do absolutely nothing, but that didn’t complete the level did it? Obviously not! After going from knowing nothing to wading through the level, the computer program was able to pick up tricks along the way to beat the level. About a minute into the video, the program creator explains how the program was able to showcase its brain, or neural network, which showed a series of lines connected to possible actions. The program, which is likely a bunch of complicated formulas, looks simple because it is a bunch of possible commands and black and white imagery. The program has the opportunity to make decisions, sees its available options, and to learn. Eventually the program grew to play through the level, understand its flow, and play it like an expert. You can check out the video here for reference:

So how does this apply to playing the Pokémon TCG? Well, I think it is a fairly exaggerated way to look at the many options that you have in the game. When I first started playing Pokemon, I was not sure how the game mechanics worked, I sat there staring at my cards for long periods of time, and then I decided I would make a move. Was hat move always the right one? No chance! Have I made quite a few moves in my life time of playing? 100% yes! Similar to how a computerized brain will learn things by looking at every available scenario, the best players look at a game the same way. I have always called this process the “lines of play” that are available to me as a player. There are many ways to look at this, but the only tru way to get it is to look at all possibility.

Opening a Locked Door

I will walk you through a scenario that should explain where I am headed with this.

You have just finished work and you have driven all the way home where you find yourself standing at the door. You quickly turn the doorknob... It is locked! What should you do? Well, you remember that it is locked because you locked it this morning! What a silly person you are. You grab your keychain, look at your seven keys, and start to unlock your door. Wait! You picked the wrong key. You decide that it isn’t worth the hassle to unlock your door anymore and stand in front of your house forever. The end.

What? If that’s the word that flies across your mind when you are reading this, it’s fine, that’s the point. When it comes to something that is so “simple” the scenario seems absolutely ridiculous right? It’s so obvious! You have seven keys, if you don’t know what key works, you should just use all of them until you find the key that opens the door! Who doesn’t know which key opens the door to their house? The issue is, you likely do this in Pokémon all of the time. How many times do you look at your board state, think about every possible option, and pick the absolute best one? Be honest! I am sure you have found yourself blindly attaching an Energy, playing an Acro Bike, and then wishing that you would have played your cards in a better order. What about the odds of getting a specific card off of a Cynthia or thinning your deck, or looking through your opponents Discard Pile? Huh? Yeah! This are all real things that I do during my games to determine how I should play a game! I don’t want to be locked out of my house forever and in the same way, I won’t freely hand over a win to my opponent. 

If every micro mistake you make adds up on teetering scale, how many times do you think you can get away with not making the ideal move until you are actually playing poorly? When you think about it like that, you likely misplay almost every action of the game and you just don’t see it. But how can I improve...?!?! Uh, pull up a chair and get ready for me to drop some heat really quick. The biggest thing that I do to find out my lines of play is speaking out loud when I am play-testing Pokémon. This can consist of you sitting across from your friend, playing a real game, and identifying the best play. The best question that you can ask is, “why?” Be that annoying kid who repeats it until they are finally satisfied, it will actually work. When you ask yourself “why”, you can reflect on the reasons and back up your answer? Why shouldn’t I attach a Grass Energy to my Skiploom? “When I use Floral Patch to the Sky to search out a Jumpluff, my Grass Energy will be put in the Lost Zone!” Almost every action in a game can be looked at like that computer program, in black and white, so it can easily be understood that there are only correct plays in the game or not. 

Now, this is not a piece that should make you feel bad about how you play the game, make you realize that you always misplay, or anything of the sorts. This is more of a gigantic reminder that you can always step your game up, learn more from play-testing, and improve yourself as a player overall. Oh, and here is another idea, write it out! Try it for a single turn of playing Pokémon and try to identify all of the possible plays that you have? If there are eight plays, there is likely a correct order, but what is it? Look at it like this.

Your Active Pokémon is a Blacephalon-GX, you have a Naganadel on your Bench, and you have an Ultra Space in your hand. You also have a Lillie, and a Fire Energy in your hand too. What should you do? 

Well, if you use Charging Up on Naganadel first, you have absolutely no reason to at all, what if you don’t need an Energy on Naganadel. What Stadium Card does your opponent have in play? Did you look through your Prize Cards yet? Why don’t you play Lillie first to draw less cards? Honestly, the best thing to do is to learn as much as you can about the board state and then proceed. It is always advisable to search your deck out with cards like Ultra Space or Brooklet Hill to find out what is hiding in your Prize Cards and to thin out your deck. Once you know this information, you can attach the Fire Energy to Blacephalon-GX, and play Lillie. Depending on what you draw off the Lillie, properly think out all of those cards, and then use Charging Up on Naganadel. Once you have nothing left to do in your turn, double check your hand, and then you can attack. 

There are layers to playing well, just make sure you are acknowledging when you are, and make it clear when you aren’t. 

Until Next Time

Well, thats a wrap for today! I hope you enjoyed reading this article and maybe you even learned a thing or two. I already have a few articles in the creation process and I will be using this pandemic as a way to help our community grow as players. I appreciate all of the support I have received from messages so far and I will use it as motivation going forward! If you are looking for coaching or if you wanna follow me on Social Media, check out these links!

Social Media

Facebook: Zach Lesage 

Twitter: zlesagepokemon 

Twitch: zlesagepokemon 

Youtube: Rare Candy 



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