The Fro Knows: Starting Your Pokémon Journey

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Do you want to be a master of Pokémon? Do you have the skills to be number one? Catchy theme songs aside, Pokémon has been one of the most dominant gaming franchises in history, and the card game is no exception. With hundreds of characters and a wide variety of strategies and game play, it’s no wonder why the game rivals even Magic: the Gathering in popularity. But just how do you get started playing Pokémon: the Card Game (TCG)? On the surface it looks like a pretty daunting task. There’s so many cards to chose from! What Pokémon should I choose to build around? What Supporter and Item cards should I use? How much energy is enough? It was only a few months ago I found myself asking these very same questions, but since then I’ve jumped in the Pokémon world with both feet, and I’m here to help you, the reader, answer these questions for yourself.

hoopa-ex-1Pokémon decks in Standard right now typically fall into two categories: Hoopa-EX decks and non-Hoopa-EX decks. What this means is that they either run a heavier focus on the raw power of EX Pokémon or they focus more on synergy through traditional evolutions and combos. Hoopa-EX is a powerful Pokémon that can search out any three EX Pokémon, so even in decks not running any Psychic energy you can guarantee to see at least one Hoopa-EX just on the strength of its ability alone. These decks rely on the sheer might of their Pokémon’s stats and attacks rather than synergies, with the trade-off that the opponent only needs to knock out three of their Pokémon to win. It’s a very “all or nothing” strategy that tries to end the game well before the opponent is able to get those three KOs, and can often run into problems should their main attacker get wiped out.

On the other hand, Non-Hoopa-EX decks often revolve around evolution chains and ways to accelerate them into play via cards like Wally, Evosoda, and Forest of Giant Plants. Since these decks have a generally lower power level than their EX counterparts, they can typically get the ball rolling much faster due to lower energy investments and tricky combos.

The Pokémon you choose to build around are typically up to personal preference, and they can often lend themselves to incredibly different strategies. There are some Pokémon, such as Mega Rayquaza-EX, that are really all about the brute force, attacking for massive amounts of damage each turn, while others like Garbodor (Breakpoint version) try to create a “prison” environment where you stop the opponent from doing things. It’s important to understand this when building your deck because just trying to mash a bunch of Pokémon onto the same team won’t have the same results as a more streamlined team where they compliment each other’s abilities. That being said, there are ways to build around nearly any Pokémon, so having your favourite as the star of the deck is still easy to do.

xy9_en_88Let’s take Raticate for example. Everyone remembers Raticate. Since the Red/Blue/Green video games, Raticate has been a mainstay of early Pokémon teams since it evolved from one of the very first Pokémon you could catch. Players always got attached to their Raticates until it was time to move on to bigger and flashier Pokémon, but the card game has given Raticate a new lease on life. The Raticate from Breakpoint has an ability that makes it immune to poison. This gives it an unlikely ally in Ariados (Ancient Origins), who can poison each active Pokémon, which affects only the opponent when Raticate is in the ring. As well, thanks to Raticate Break, you can use Super Fang to drop the opponent to 10HP, which Ariados’ poison conveniently finishes off. This combination is capable of taking down even the fiercest of foes, which just goes to show that with a little ingenuity you can use your favourite Pokémon to run with the big dogs.

Next up we have Trainer cards. These are the backbone of any deck since they allow you to use a variety of effects to get your game plan underway. While there are potentially thousands of combinations of Trainer cards you can run in a deck, over the years a tried-and-true formula has come about for the staple Trainers that should be played in every deck:

Four VS Seekers: These allow you to get extra uses out of your Supporters, which means you can cut back on the number of each Supporter card you run. This is important because this means you don’t have to run redundant copies of certain “tech” supporters that have very specific uses. Instead of running four copies of Wally in your Greninja deck, you only have to run one since the VS Seeker lets you use Wally over and over to evolve your Pokémon.

Four Trainer’s Mail: Trainer’s Mail is a card that gives you the flexibility of picking and choosing which Trainer in your top four cards you want to use rather than blindly taking cards from the top of your deck. Having control over your draws and the cards you’re playing is often what makes or breaks a game, so having four copies of Trainer’s Mail to help ensure you get what you need is imperative.

Three-four Professor Sycamore: Professor Sycamore has the title of Most Powerful Draw Card in the game. Discarding your hand to draw seven new cards is an ideal way of getting rid of unneeded cards to dig for ones that will help you win. What’s even more powerful is that you don’t actually need cards in your hand to use it. If Professor Sycamore is the only card in your hand, you can play him to draw a new hand with zero drawback! The only thing to take into consideration is that using Sycamore too many times can quickly deplete your deck and cause you to lose from having no cards left, so you have to keep an eye on how many cards you have left to work with. That’s why some lists that have other avenues of drawing cards have cut down to three copies, but generally you should never go below that.

Two-Three N: The main antagonist from Black and White returns in one of the best cards for messing with the opponent’s hand. One of the keys to playing Pokémon TCG is being able to sculpt your hand one turn to better serve you the following turn. This is why Pokémon like Talonflame (Steam Siege) and Items like Ultra Ball are so strong. Tutoring up the cards you need make it much easier to win, so cards like N are necessary for throwing your opponent’s plans out the window. What’s also great about N is that should you find yourself on the losing end with your opponent taking prize cards left, right, and center, N can act as an equalizer by giving you more cards to work with than your opponent. However, the opposite effect is true when you’re ahead, so you have to be careful using N when the game is in your favour.
As well, N can help shuffle cards you return from the discard pile, such as with Puzzle of Time, back into your deck to draw later. It’s because of these reasons that N is typically a two-of, with a third copy added when you’re running three Professor Sycamore.

With this core in place, the rest of the Trainer cards really come down to which cards best support the Pokémon base you’re running. For example, if Volcanion-EX is your main attacker, you want a lot of ways to switch it in and out of battle in order to negate the drawback on its Volcanic Heat attack, such as Olympia, Pokémon Ranger, or Escape Rope. If you’re running Garbodor, you’ll want a lot of Tool cards like Float Stone so you can use its ability. If you’re playing Mega Audino-EX, you need a higher ratio of Supporters-to-Item cards to consistently get the bonus on its attack and pick off benched Pokémon.

More often than not you’ll need to run some kind of Pokeball cards to fetch up whatever Pokémon you need at the time. Ultra Ball is one of the best for this since the only restriction to using it is discarding two cards, which given how many cards you draw in an average game, is a paltry price to pay. Other options include Dive Ball, which should be an automatic four-of in Water decks, and even Supporters like Pokémon Fan Club and Brigette.

In addition, cards that can change the active Pokémon are critical for controlling the flow of battle, either by sneaking in a Pokémon you’ve built up on your bench or forcing one of your opponent’s weaker Pokémon in for an easy knock out. That’s why it’s recommended to run at least one or two copies of Escape Rope and Float Stone, and at least one Lysandre. These cards offer a lot of flexibility and can really throw a wrench into your opponent’s plans, so it’s no surprise that the majority of competitive decks run them.

These slots are all up to personal preference, and often include “tech” cards that may not be particularly good in every matchup, but are phenomenal for very specific ones. When you make a prediction on what a metagame looks like you can run these silver bullet cards to make certain matches much easier, and if you can accurately guess what the popular decks of a tournament will be, you can make adjustments so that your deck is optimized against those decks.

xy6_en_76Say you expect a lot of Mega Rayquaza-EX and Xerneas Rainbow Road in an event. By including copies of Delinquent to discard their Stadiums and Parallel City to shrink their bench it makes it incredibly difficult for them to win, and if such a deck is a large enough presence that you face it often, it drastically increases the chances of you doing well. These cards can be crucial, but should almost never be more than two to three copies since you aren’t guaranteed to face these decks every single round, and to draw too many of these cards in matches where they’re less than stellar can be backbreaking.

Finally, no Pokémon deck is complete without energy. Energy cards are necessary for attacking and retreating, and the number of energy you’ll run will often come after plenty of trial and error. Generally, the sweet spot for energy is around 10-13 since it ensures that you’ll draw them with your various Supporters without clogging up your hand with them. Of course, these numbers also vary with each deck. Certain combo decks like Gyarados and Vespiquen/Yanmega only run four Double Colorless Energy since that’s the only energy they need to use their main attacks, but for the most part you will probably stick to the ten-thirteen formula.

Using these points as a framework, building a competitive Pokémon deck boils down to filling in the blanks. Combine ten to sixteen of whatever Pokémon you want to build around, the Trainer core of VS Seeker/Trainer’s Mail/Professor Sycamore/N, ten-thirteen energy, and roughly twenty-four other Trainer cards, and you’re done. Getting your deck to where you want it takes time and practice, just like training a Pokémon, and it’s just as rewarding. Fine tuning the ratios of each category of cards is a process that not only improves your skills as you test what works and what doesn’t, but also helps you get a better understanding of how other decks function.

There’s potentially thousands of combinations of cards, and the only way to understand even a fraction of them is to play and familiarize yourself with them. You may have a pet card that you want to try out, but with practice may realize that it doesn’t quite fit. You may find that this pet card works as a tech option but not as a general deck staple. Through vigorous practice and testing you can learn and improve, and that’s what Pokémon is really all about.

The Pokémon TCG is nonstop fun and incredibly in-depth game play that requires plenty of time and practice in order to do well. The sheer variety of playable archetypes gives a little something for everyone, and the ability to build around your favourite monsters and still have a chance at winning is nothing short of amazing. While it can be intimidating to get into at first glance, I hope this guide to building your first deck helps you all experience the same joy I’ve had playing this great game.

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It’s J-Card Saturdays At Hairy T North

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Are you interested in Anime-based, collectable card games but have no idea where to start? Then the Hairy T North is where you want to be for J-Card Saturdays – our weekly collection of anime-based CCG tournaments. Meet new players and test your skills in a friendly tournament setting at the Hairy T North every Saturday. Check out our tournament schedule below:

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J-Card Saturdays Only At Hairy T North!

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Are you interested in Anime-based, collectable card games but have no idea where to start? Then the Hairy T North is where you want to be for J-Card Saturdays – our weekly collection of anime-based CCG tournaments. Meet new players and test your skills in a friendly tournament setting at the Hairy T North every Saturday. Check out our tournament schedule below:

 

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