Oh boy, it has been a while. Right after the first chapter I sat down and wrote part two of this tutorial series. However, after approximately 5 pages, consisting of an overview of different deck archetypes, strategies and applying this knowledge in your game, I figured that it'd be way to much input for new players. Thus, after weeks and weeks of delay, I finally present the slimmed down, beginner friendly version.
This is why you lose – chapter 2.
Part 1 – a relaxing game of solitaire
Winning in Pokemon TCGO is quite "easy". You simply need to take your last prize card before the opponent does the same. Compared to other popular card games, interactions in Pokemon are rather on sided, as the majority of cards will affect your side of the board alone. That's why we start with a cute concept: the goldfish (or solitaire). In the first chapter we already talked about deck building and identifying good cards. Now it is time that we learn how to properly play our deck. Start by testing your deck against the AI. They shouldn't pose any thread to you and can thus be neglected as a blank sheet. Try to focus solely on your own side of the board ( heck, you could even take a sheet of paper and cover the top half of your screen).
Here is a little check list that you want to keep track of:
did you attach an energy every turn ? If the answer is no, than you might re-evaluate your draw supporter and energy acceleration cards
where you able to have a meaningful attack from the 2nd/3rd turn onwards ? Remember that it's okay to pass the first turn, or use it as a tool to support your board state (Alola Vulpix, Lapras GX, Mimykri, etc.)
where you able to get your stage 1-2 Pokemon out in time ?
how many of your key cards are left in your deck ? Do you have trouble finding cards (i.e. special energy, evolutions, supporter, tools, etc.)?
Playing against the goldfish can be a bit boring, yet it helps you to refine your deck and also helps you in developing the ability to process the data on the field faster. Remember that you have to keep track of both sides in a real match, as well as managing the game clock.
And I know what you are thinking right now:
I have a bitter pill to swallow for you: You aren't good at the game. It's not easy and despite having “better” cards than you, chances are that your opponents might furthermore posses a better understanding of the game. Anyway, back on track.
“How can beating up the AI make me a better player ? The game is super easy, I just down have the OP cards.”
Part 2 – let's draw some eyes on that blank sheet
Time for the second exercise – playing against real people. Once again, we'll start by focusing solely on ourself ( remember the checklist). You'll probably find out rather quickly that real people can't be compared to cute little goldfish, instead you are facing sharks, who smell blood in the water. At this stage of your career you'll lose a lot of games. We've all been there and it's only natural. The most important thing is to realize why you lost the game. Are your opponent's GX / EX Pokemon just OP, or did you fail to find your energy in time ? Can those 250HP never be beaten, or did you fail to set up your next attacker in time, losing valuable turns in the process ? Did plying 30 cards in a single turn really propelled your opponent out of your reach, or did you in turn simply failed to get your own engine running ?
There is only two things you can improve and that is yourself and your deck.
Part 3 – The Struggle to reach the top
We've already discussed deck building and how to improve the consistency of your deck, so let's talk about ways how you can improve as a player.
Know your enemy
Unlike the real game, the Pokemon TCGO client reveals certain information about our opponent before the match, namely which type of Pokemon they are using. Combined with knowledge of the current meta game (aka the most popular decks in the format), you can predict their choice of cards with a surprisingly high hit ratio. I'd waste to much time to talk in great detail about potential combinations of cards and their respective deck archetypes, but that would take too long. Since the meta game is shifting with each expansion anyway, this would be a lost cause, anyway.
You can learn a lot about the game by watching streams and reading articles, or by simply observing your opponents actions. At the beginning this can be a bit overwhelming, especially if there is so much going on in a single round, yet I highly encourage you to read every new card you encounter in great detail. Furthermore, you also need to make a connection between different cards, as independent cards become much stronger, if you pair them if other cards.
A neat example: Volcanion's “Power Heater” can attach 2 Fire Energy cards from your discard pile to your benched Pokemon. Volcanion EX's Ability “Steam Up” lets you discard a Fire Energy to boost the attack of your basic fire Pokemon by 30. The stadium card Scorched Earth and the trainer card Fiery Torch allow you to discard Fire Energy to draw extra cards. Blacksmith lets you attach Fire Energy from your discard pile to your Pokemon. Starmie's ability “Space Beacon” allows you to return 2 basic energy cards from your discard pile to your hand.
That leaves us with the following (potential) play for turn one (on the draw).
Play Scorched Earth, discard a Fire energy and draw to cards. Bench Volcanion EX, discard a Fire Energy for “Steam Up”. Bench another Volcanion EX and do the same. Attach an energy to your active Volcanion. Use Fiery Torch to discard another energy and draw more cards. Use Black Smith to attach 2 energy cards to your benched Volcanion EX. Use Shaymin EX's ability “Set Up” to draw more cards. Attach a Muscle Band or Choice Band to your active Volcanion. Attack with Power Heater and attach your energy to your benched Volcanion EXs.
On the first turn we now hit for 100-110 damage (20+30+30+ 20/30), attached 5 energy cards, drew a bunch of cards, prepared out bench and are set up for the next round. There are obviously a lot of additional cards you could play, as well as swapping out cards for their respective counterparts. Neither is that sequence ideal against every deck and every situation, yet it should serve as an example how different cards can interact with each other, in order to form something bigger.
A Pokemon has more to offer than raw stats
In the first chapter we already talked about identifying good Pokemon, based on their damage to energy cost ratio. However, sometimes a Pokemon can be good, due to a certain interaction.
Let's take a closer look at Tapu Koko. The card sees play in the majority of Standard decks, yet not necessarily for the reasons you might expect. While “Flying Flip” is a decent attack, especially in a format where your main attacker can't usually go for a one hit KO
(OHKO for short), spreading your damage to fin isn't beneficial for a lot of decks. Looking back at the first chapter, ******************** to the active Pokemon doesn't remotely achieve the numbers we are looking for and while you can pair Tapu Koko with additional support cards, those would be limited to one or two distinct decks. So, with that in mind, why is the card still played in so many different archetypes ?
To give you a little hint, in Expanded you don't see nearly as many Kokos running around, even though the format has arguably more little critters (i.e. Night March) compared to Standard.
Take a look at your collection, select “Standard”, “Retreat Cost 0” and “Basic Pokemon”
(and don't forget to turn on “show not owned”, to see every available card).
Notice something ? Except for Jolteon EX, every available card has terrible stats (hp be low 60, a bad attack, etc.). The only useful cards are Tapu Koko, Mew and Shining Mew (although the later is only beneficial on the first turn and requires a Psychic Energy to boot). Mew is decent, yet 50 HP can be a bit awkward, as this threshold is easily reached on the first turn by almost every deck. So, after careful consideration, Tapu Koko is definitely the best option here.
But why do we want a card with zero retreat cost, anyway ? Remember what I said about Expanded ? One crucial supporter that the Standard format lost during the latest rotation was Lysandre and although Guzma serves as a decent substitution (and in some instances even as a superior choice), being forces to switch your active Pokemon can be a bit of a hazzle. Unless of course, you have a Pokemon with zero retreat that is eager to step on the stage, only to retreat immediately afterwards.
The moral of the story: Sometimes a decent card can become a star, due to lack of competition, or due to the environment.
If it bleeds, we can kill it
Lets talk about the elephant in the room, a topic that every new player will sooner or later encounter: Pokemon GX and EX. To make one thing perfectly clear from the beginning: Whether you like them or not, they are an important part of the game and they won't leave any time soon. Neither will the developers release a “non EX- GX format” and said format wouldn't be too hot either, trust me on this one. Thus, you need to learn how to deal with those cards.
Lets start by taking about the strengths of GX and EX Pokemon. One the one hand we got 170-240 HP, which are quite a lot, especially on a basic, or a stage 1 Pokemon. Additionally, they also have quite decent attacks, sometimes paired with useful abilities and a unique GX attack on top of that.
So, in a nutshell, they are pretty strong. However, they also posses a couple of weaknesses. Like most Pokemon, the majority of them are weak to a certain type, which means that a 240 HP monster can be killed with a mere 120 attack. They also offer two prize cards, which means that you only need to kill 3 of them, compared to the regular 6. In terms of GX Pokemon, they are also apt to be a Stage 1 – 2 Pokemon, requiring more space in their respective decks, as well as additional support cards (i.e. Rare Candy). Unlike their GX evolution, the basic /stage 1 Pokemon are usually fairly weak, and can thus be targeted, before they get the chance to evolve.
Last but not least, due to their overwhelming HP, the game offers you a choice of cards designed to fight them. From Choice Band, over cards like Alolan Ninetales, Golisopode, Mimikyu and Hoopa, all the way to cards such as Counter Energy, Po Town and Espeon EX.
Besides dealing damage, you can also attack them by denying Energy, try to control them with status effects (sleep, confusion, etc.), add additional damage (poison, burn, etc.), or by forcing out cards that have high retreat cost. Always keep your last lesson in mind though: Don't litter your deck with a bunch of situational cards. If energy denial fits into your game plan, add a bunch of hammers to your deck. If it doesn't than don't try to fit a square into a hole, they simply weren't made for each other.
Last but not least lets talk about trading damage. Depending on the format you will have to use more than one attack, in order to get rid of a 240 HP monster. The good news is that you are still winning in the prize race, even if they kill your initial attacker. The bad new is that you can't really build up 6 individual attackers in a single game. Thus, we either need a way to survive their attack, or try to grab extra prize cards along the way. Both are valid options to win the game and it depends on the deck which one suits you better. Sometimes its your best option to ignore their Pokemon GX and knock out their basic Pokemon. Sometimes you need to use your advantage in tempo to deal the first blow, even if that means that your Pokemon is going to die in their turn. As long as it sets you up for a KO in the next round, it will be worth it. Against certain decks you need to be mindful of cards like Max Potion and Acerola, that can turn your efforts into shambles, while other times you need to be wary of their attacks ( i.e. leaving Ninetales GX with 170 damage counters isn't in your best interest). Eventually you'll learn the ins and outs of your opponents decks and will be able to make adjustments accordingly.
The best tip I can give is is simply to never lose heart. You are the underdog and sometimes you will get crushed beneath GX and EX cards. As long as you don't resign, just because you dislike those “op” Pokemon, you'll get better, take more prize cards and eventually increase your win rate.
4. 2 plus 2 that's 4, minus 1 that's 3, quick maths
Remember our last lesson called “the principle of four” ? For the last lesson in this chapter we'll also take a look at the magic number 4. However, this time we'll be focusing on the opponents side of the board. One of the most useful tools to gain information on the board is the discard pile. When you watch live games on stream, you'll notice that the top players check out their opponents discard pile ( as well as their own) nearly each round. I'd strongly advice you to do the same, especially since the whole thing is neatly sorted in the online client. We are mainly looking to get intel about the remaining cards of our opponents deck, as well as potential hidden blades they have yet to reveal. Especially when you reach the late game and battle for the last remaining prize card(s), knowing whether your opponent has access to cards like Guzma, Max Potion, etc. can make a huge difference. Likewise, you should check the discard pile after your opponent has discarded his hand via Sycamore, in order to get a better grasp what you are up against. This concept goes hand in hand with the before mentioned “know your enemy”, as knowledge about the meta game will help you figuring out what you are playing against. Furthermore, observing the outcome of a Sycamore can give you a good indicator of your opponents current mood.
i.e. if you ever see the other player discarding 5+ cards, the majority of them being useful for his deck (DCE; important stage 1-2 evolutions, important supporters, etc.), he'll be likely in a bad mood. One more hit from your side and he might just quit the game.
Likewise, if you watch your opponent sitting on 5-6 cards on his first turn, without playing a single supporter ( yet benching a bunch of basic Pokemon for a stage 2 evolution line), there is a chance that he's sitting on Rare Candy and the corresponding stage 2. Thus, a well timed N can lead to a good amount of frustration on the opponents side.
Obviously this gamble can work against you, as your opponent might simply lack a supporter card and your N can propel him right back into the game. Even if you N your opponent down to 1 card with a 1/20 chance to hit the card he needs, you can still lose. At the end of the day, a certain amount of randomness can never be removed from the game.
As long as you play every situation correctly, you'll increase your win percentage by a huge margin, regardless of RNG.
Alright, I hope you enjoyed the second chapter. In the last episode we'll take a look at different archetypes, the three stages of the game, take a sneak peak at the term tempo and conclude this series. Hopefully this time it won't take 2 months to write it, though you never know.
The shadows of the abyss are like the petals of a monstrous flower that shall blossom within the skull and expand the mind beyond what any man can bear, but whether it decays under the earth or above on green fields, or out to sea or in the very air, all shall come to revelation, and to revel, in the knowledge of the strangling fruit - and the hand of the sinner shall rejoice, for there is no sin in shadow or in light that the seeds of the dead cannot forgive...