07/09/2020 by Kevin Clemente
If you’re like me, you’re missing playing the game in real life. Driving to a cup (Or regional if you live in a state where driving to regionals is possible), seeing your friends, meeting new people and the something different about holding the cards. Still, playing Pokemon is fun and I have been enjoying playing the game and improving despite no “real” events. (Note: Real in this case meaning giving Championship Points towards a World’s Invite) I am going to emerge from this break a better player and I believe most people should too. It goes beyond having time to grind the ladder on PTCGO, there is more to it than that. I am going to outline the steps I am taking to become better, but first let’s talk a little bit about the why.
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There was a recent announcement about qualification updates for World’s 2021 in London. I don’t have any inside information, but I still wanted to talk about the announcement and, my initial thoughts are very positive. First, all players will play in the same age division they did during the 2020 season, so no one is aging up. Second, normally World’s is played on Friday, a Day 1 invite which was a 500CP threshold in North America which is where I live so sorry if this is NA centric, but you can substitute these numbers for your respective region. Saturday, players with a certain number of wins from Day 1 and players in the top X number from their region who earned an auto invite, and then the finals on Sunday. It looks like World’s 2021 is going to be played with an extra day now, Thursday.
Day 1 will now be on Thursday will have the previous invite threshold, 500CP in North America. Day 2 will be on Friday and some players from Day 1 will move on to Day 2 and Day 2 also has some unknown auto-invite CP threshold that will probably be decided once Play Pokemon! decides it is safe to resume play. You might see people throw some numbers around but the truth is no one knows, including the people in charge of everything. It could end up being 600, 1000 or even a top X number of players. Then Day 3 will be on Saturday and a certain number of players from Day 2 and a question that is being asked is whether or not there will be a Day 3 auto-invite or not.
I am currently sitting at 580CP and, assuming the world is normal enough, I am going to push for that Day 2 invite where ever it is set. That is the motivation for writing this article. I have found myself improving significantly during the time without “real” events and want to give everyone else ideas of how they can improve too. We do not know how long we’ll be forced to play this way but there is no reason not to make the best of it!
Playing more Pokemon makes you better at playing Pokemon. It kind of is that simple. There are other things you can do to make the more playing more useful, but in the end if you want to get better you have to play the game. Now the problem is we all do not have unlimited time, so if you’re already playing what is realistically the most amount of Pokemon you can play then we have to spend that time being smart with our play. My first suggestion is to pay attention to the game you’re playing. This may sound obvious, but it is something a lot of people struggle with on PTCGO. At an IRL event you are paying full attention and playing your best, but sitting around at home? You may be playing and watching TV, eating, checking Twitter, etc and sure you can still win games and potentially play very well but you have to ask yourself what are you doing right in the game? What are you doing wrong? Are you mapping out your prizes and making moves to advance your board state towards your win condition or are you winning because you’re making the play in front of you and it happens to work out?
As you grind through games on the PTCGO really ask yourself if you are playing a game or if you are actually paying attention and making meaningful plays to the best of your ability. Another trap we all see a lot on social media is blaming PTCGO luck. Yes, the true randomness of PTCGO will occasionally give you some awkward hands but if you are playing a good, consistent list then your matches will equalize, and you should be fine. Even if your luck actually is “that bad” (it’s not) why not practice with these bad hands? If you learn to win being forced to make new lines of play that aren’t the perfect dream turn then imagine how much better, you are going to be when you shuffle yourself into the perfect hand.
Playing the ladder is fun and all, but another great way to truly test yourself is to play in some of the community run tournaments. We had Limitless running their very large qualifiers, PokeX running several medium sized tournaments, the Sunday Open run by Neil Pie, several small different format tournaments run by Pokestats and undoubtedly more than I am not aware of. All of these are highly competitive, often free, tournaments that really let you test yourself against high level competition who you know is giving it their all to win whatever may be the prize for first. I have personally taken part in the Limitless events, which are now over, and have played in a couple of Sunday Opens and plan to compete in a few more of them moving forward. They offer the added pressure of an event that the PTCGO cannot replicate in its current iteration.
The next way to improve is not by playing yourself but by watching other people play. YouTube and Twitch have really exploded with a variety of very skilled players trying their hands at content creation and this is a big benefit for all of us. When watching people play Pokemon you can use the time for testing by critically thinking about their moves and determining why they are making their plays and if there are better plays or not. Twitch is my preferred method for this because it is live, and you can ask the streamer in real-time why they made certain plays. This offers all the benefits of play testing with a partner when we are not able to play test in person.
The best streamers for this are also the ones who explain their plays and their thinking, such as AzulGG, Trickygym, FlexDaddyRighteous, TrainerChip or, shameless plug, myself Mellow_Magikarp. There are likely others that I have missed but getting to see and hear the plays of a good player that is not you can open your eyes up to new lines of play or seeing match-ups in a different light. If you have jumped into a Twitch chat because it seems like there is a Clique or out of intimidation of communicating with a streamer, please realize we want you to talk and we want your questions! I have described the basics of decks to a beginner wondering how Combo Zacian worked and I’ve spent 5 minutes explaining the pros and cons of my 60th card choice for a deck. No matter how big or small the question is we have resources at our disposable to ask others and learn from their experience and if you have the opportunity it is a good idea to take advantage of this.
One of my favorite hobbies, when the human population isn’t forced to stay away from each other, is weight lifting. It is a common and smart practice to take things called “De-load Weeks”. What this is is a week where you still go to the gym and lift, but you use lighter weights and do less repetitions. The week serves as a chance to physically recover but also mentally recover and ensure that you come back ready to go hard in the coming weeks as you attempt to push beyond where you were before. This is relevant because another way to improve in Pokemon is to take time like a de-load week. What this looks like is different for everyone. Some people need to just not play for a week, move to another format such as expanded or legacy or need to stop playing meta decks and work on building some memes.
This time off and mental break is good for you if you are following all of the above advice because going try-hard can get draining and make you forget why you enjoy the game so much when aspects such as travel and being social are taken out. For myself, I will go try-hard for several weeks and then switch it up to not worrying about results or deck choice and just playing. For a while this was working on Cinderace Vmax and not stressing about winning only 50-60% of my games. Now this is jumping into expanded and just playing different decks with what feels like a new game. The time off has also spawned some of my favorite creative decks I have built in this format including the Spiritomb deck I bubbled out of top cut at the Sunday Open before it saw success elsewhere, the LucMetal list I wrote about previously which I won a 135 person tournament with and the Meganium deck which is just plain fun. All of this time made me love to play and go back to try-hard mode which let me improve my play.
Overall, playing more games with intention, watching others play and asking them about their plays and taking well timed breaks are all great ways to improve as a player during this time. It might feel different for those of you used to meeting up every Thursday with a testing partner but having the opportunity to play against people from around the world in tournaments and discuss strategies with veteran players should offer all of us a chance to be improved moving forward and should make competition for 2021 World’s even better which is an exciting idea!
If you are someone who read this and is still a bit unsure, feel free to reach out to me either through my twitch chat at twitch.tv/mellow_magikarp or my Twitter at twitter.com/mellow_magikarp I am happy to help anyone who is trying to improve and may need help figuring out where to go next!
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