07/01/2019 by Sarah Dougherty
Some of you may know me as “Sarah from Twitter”, and some of you may know me from other places, but I guess the vast majority of people who read this won’t know who I am. And that’s okay! In my own words, I’m “alright” (though far from great) at the TCG, and I haven’t been playing for very long. I also don’t have many significant achievements to my name yet. What I do have is two worlds qualifications and plenty of room for improvement in the game. I’m here today to talk to you about that.
So, me. I started playing in August 2017, went to my first Internationals in London later that year, and then things just sort of escalated. I was hooked. The scale and scope of EUIC - the buzz of playing against an international crowd, the enormous attendance, and the quality of the competition all drew me in. My attendance was merely for fun; I didn't even know what the tournament structure was or how Internationals fell into the overall circuit of Pokemon events. I just went for the experience. I had a dismal 2/6/1 record on the day after playing a weak Drampa/Garb deck, but if anything that just fuelled a fire which was already starting to burn inside me. Rather than put me off the game altogether, it made me want more.
It’s no coincidence I’m telling you this just after NAIC. This is now a fresh season, with any events from July onwards counting towards our 2020 qualifications. This gives us the opportunity for a clean break and allows us to learn from the events we’ve attended in the past year. So... what happened for me in 2018/2019, and what am I learning from it?
First of all, I decided I wanted to go to Worlds. It sounds stupid, but that’s a pretty fundamental piece of your thinking. It’s totally possible to play the game regularly, compete in local and regional events, and still not be pushing for the Worlds qualification. But for me, I had such a great time chasing points in the first half of 2018 that I decided to keep doing so in the New Year. While we didn’t know what the thresholds were going to be (it was a very long July), it was a reasonable assumption that we would need points from challenges or cups. With that in mind, I had my Challenge finishes before Worlds 2018 and a top 4 the weekend before Nashville. When the barrier was announced as 350 CP for Europe, I already had about a quarter of my invite locked down. The next thing I did was work out what I needed for the rest of it.
I’m fairly fortunate to live in an area with a lot of League Cups and Challenges available. This is good because it showed the game is fairly well supported and meant a Worlds invite was in reach if I “only” could get 88CP per quarter. With the split in both tiers of event counting, along with the sheer number of events happening, on paper, this makes it a case of just turning up and keeping the faith. I’m not sure that aligns with the experience I had throughout the year (plenty of dreadful records, getting repeatedly knocked out of top cuts, not actually winning any cups this year at all) but this is partly because I live in an area with a huge number of very good peers, and partly because I’m not sure I committed enough effort into practicing the right way this year. We’ll get on to that.
I was boosted by a top 256 at EUIC, which gave me 80CP after an incredible day that included winning my second round on stream and losing a win and in for day 2 during round 8 on the back of a despicable Let Loose (isn’t that the story of the season?), which left me in a draw/pass board situation going second in game 3. We’ll get ‘em next time. But even this relative success obscures a bigger problem: I went to two regionals and dropped from two regionals.
Being honest, I think the fact my invite was possible through domestic events alone made me a little negligent about regionals. At both of these, I went in with a relatively “safe” option, despite having reservations about the list I was playing. I ignored these thoughts. For example, by May, I knew Elm was a worse call than Nest Ball Lillie for my faithful ZoroRoc deck. I stuck with Elm anyway because it was what I’d been playing for most of the year and just “felt better” than the last minute change. I was confident after getting a string of finishes with it throughout the previous quarters and ended up dropping after three losses and three ties. It wasn’t a day to remember, and it definitely wasn’t the way I wanted to send off my favourite deck of my playing time to date.
This brings me on to my other goals for the season: while I wanted to qualify for Worlds, I also had some other things I wanted to achieve in the season. These two goals were to day two a regional (which, obviously, failed) and to start writing articles on a more frequent basis. Obviously, I am now writing an article, but through the season the lack of anything notable to talk about deterred me from publishing anything. Frankly, despite my unhealthy addiction to Twitter, it didn’t feel like I had anything worth saying. A secondary goal was to appear on a streamed match, but since I have no real influence over that and streams at the UK regionals were non-existent this wasn’t something I really thought about until the “hello you’re being streamed” conversation happened at EUIC. So, while that came to fruition, it wasn’t exactly what I was working for in the season.
So where did it go wrong?
My single biggest failure was not practicing enough. If I’m being honest, I pushed myself a lot harder to learn decks and practice the game during my first season, when I felt like I had more to prove (in fact, at many points I simply didn’t think I would actually reach Worlds in 2018). This gave me more drive towards sticking with TCGO for testing and playing out matchups that I struggled with. In 2019, I wouldn’t say it felt inevitable that I’d hit my target of 88 CP per quarter, but at the same time, it didn’t feel like I needed to push as hard to get CP. With so many league cups available (I can conceivably attend at least one and often two every single weekend of every single quarter), it felt like there was very little pressure until these started getting more sparse towards the end. This meant I was more likely to pick up decks for the first time on the day such as Lost March or ZapBeasts and proceed to do terribly with them.
I also had a bad habit of sticking with ‘pet decks’ which had been unsuccessful on multiple occasions and expecting something different to happen on the fifth or sixth outing, without looking at the reasons for these going wrong. While I absolutely loved Shining Lugia/Malamar spread, the results were not there. I took it to 5 cups and earned 0CP. It’s no coincidence that ZoroRoc ended up being over 60% of my cup points: while I joked about just thinking they’re neat, it was also a deck I was incredibly well versed in and therefore knew how to navigate most of the matchups.
With archetypes I was unfamiliar with or had maybe only played against once or twice when I wasn’t really sure of how they navigate the matchup from their side of the board, I cut corners and talked myself out of thinking very hard about them. This meant I was setting myself up for failure. Consider Granbull: at Harrogate regionals, I was playing DeciZoroTales and didn’t even consider testing against it, because I considered Granbull likely too unappealing as a deck (which hadn’t been performing noticeably at League Cups on Heyfonte) to be very well represented in the field. My first round opponent opened with a Snubbull. I didn’t know how I was meant to win against it, lost the first game due to misplays, and eventually tied the round because we couldn’t complete game three. Lesson learned: know your matchups better.
Another thing to consider is the relatively low number of regional / SPE events that I attended. Ultimately, it’s difficult to make day 2 if you don’t practice enough in the first place and then only attend 3 majors in the full entire competitive year. Part of this is external factors (cost), part of this is due to organization factors (having them in weird locations far away from transport hubs in Europe), and part of it comes back to that lack of pressure. Fundamentally, I didn’t *need* points from these events, so I wasn’t really incentivized to do it. Compare that to 2017/18, where I *needed* 105 CP from the final quarter, which mandated Regional points due to cups and challenges sharing a best finish limit. I practiced a lot for Sheffield regionals in Q4, and came up with a solid decklist which saw me into top 128 and had a teammate bubble out of day 2. That didn’t happen this year, beyond EUIC, where I was mostly trying to return on the expenses of traveling to Germany and make the trip feel justified by returning the cost.
So what can we take from that? We can reframe it and think about what this article talks about, without the anecdotes about my own performance. And that breaks down into a handful of relatively simple points:
- Set goals. Make these at a variety of different levels, so that achieving one won’t necessarily achieve the other. Make sure you always have something to work towards, and if possible make each them manageable by breaking them down into steps.
- Don’t be afraid to assess your own performance. Ask yourself difficult questions, and give yourself difficult answers. You won’t improve if you aren’t challenged, and the person who knows the reasons for your performance best is you.
- When you’re thinking about where you go for next season, use these two things to guide your thinking. “I didn’t day 2 a regional” leads you to “because I didn’t practice enough, and because I didn’t attend enough” which leads you to “when the schedule for the next year of events comes up, how many of these will be realistic for me to attend?” and “how much practice is enough?” Ultimately, what you should be looking for is an improvement on whatever happened in the previous year.
I don’t want to set the same goals for my third year in the game as my second year in the game, because that feels like I’d be stagnating. It feels like a lack of progress, and that’s frustrating. This means I’ll be pushing for a better personal showing at Worlds than a 1/3 drop in the short term, because while I know last year I was simply happy to be there and wanted to soak it all in, I'd like to make at least some effort to play out the tournament this time around. Longer term, with the regionals and SPEs which will (hopefully) be announced at some point in the next year, I think I should up the ante a little. Maybe I'll consider Top 32 a successful regional instead of settling for day 2 (which could be t64 or t128, in some scenarios) as my main goal for the season. Is this unrealistic? Possibly. Will it be a challenge? Most certainly. But do I think I can do it? Absolutely.
You can follow Sarah on Twitter @voluntaryreboot
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