Pokémon TCG – Competitive Basics

pokemon cardsWelcome to my Pokémon TCG Competitive Play Basics Guide!

This article is here to help you understand the basics of participating in sanctioned Pokémon TCG Events, and what every player should understand before you decide to invest in playing for titles. For the casual player, this is a good read, and will give you some insight, but casuals aren’t subject to spending much money on cards, and are therefore less impacted by the overall picture. This post is aimed at the Masters Division – Juniors and Seniors need not take this post to heart as much, but can still read it and walk away slightly more enlightened!

The three things that competitive players need to be aware of – the Event Structure, the Rotation, and Card Rulings!

First off, the goal of every competitive player is to make it to the World Championships in August, and compete for the top title in the world. You might be content with winning a small event like a Battle Roads, but if you’re serious, the top is your goal. There are many events you need to participate in before you’re even eligible for an invite. These events are tied to a point system which determines your ranking in the zone (Asia Pacific, North America, Europe, and South America). Australia is a part of the Asia Pacific Zone.
Harrison Levin (USA) competes against Igor Costa (Portugal) in the Worlds 2012 TCG Master Division Finals.


Harrison Levin (USA) competes against Igor Costa (Portugal) in the Worlds 2012 TCG Master Division Finals.

Normally, the top 10 ranked players in Asia Pacific (more for the other zones due to having a much larger player base), and a Top X (X is determined by tPCI) of each ranked player at a Country’s Nationals is invited to the World Championships. These are normally decided in June/July and players are notified shortly thereafter. In addition to the points needed to get an invite into Worlds, the finalists at each event are also awarded booster prizes.

It should be noted, no matter how competitive you are, you are always welcome to play in an event. Casuals and the less experienced need to know that as these events step up to a new tier, the likelihood of victory becomes more slim. Remember, however, practice makes perfect, and no one becomes good overnight. Some people develop slower than others. The key point is: The more tournament play you participate in, the better you’ll become though learning.

Masters Division Note: At each new tier, these events become bigger, and subsequently, go for longer if you make top cut. Victoria is a prime example, where Melbourne cities went until 11pm, and States is expected to go until 1am! If your journey ends at the Swiss Rounds, then you’ll be out at a normal time.

  • Battle Roads – This is an entry level event which awards minimal competitive points. Normally used to test the waters with a new strategy or what have you. Also used to pad the gap between larger events. Great for new players looking to jump into things as the scene is less competitive.
  • City Championships – A larger event, which awards more points. The competition here steps up.
  • State/Regional Championships – An even greater set of events, which attracts players from all over the country to play off for some serious points.
  • National Championships – The big one. Players come from all around the country to play here. For Australia, typically the National Champion is awarded a Worlds Invite and a Paid Trip to go and participate in said event, and the Runner Up is awarded an Worlds Invite. Nationals is typically a 2 day event, with Swiss rounds being played on the Saturday, and Top Cut Finals being played on the Sunday (Along with side events for the unfortunate souls who didn’t make it!). Always a great experience, even if you don’t intend to win! I’d encourage EVERY player to attend Nationals, competitive or otherwise.

So, how does this affect you?

There can be a lot of money involved, especially with travel. As a player, you need to assess how competitive you are and decide the scene for you. You need to gauge how realistic it is for you to even afford the trip to Worlds before attempting to earn an invite – and if you decide you want it, then be prepared to travel around Australia to keep in the top 10 ranked APAC players.

You might decide to go casual competitive, and decide to just do your best at the events in your area; I’d advise starting at this level before becoming too serious. You’ll still need access to most of the competitive cards, but there is no focus on travel unless you’re keen on Nationals for the experience.

So this brings us to the Rotation: What is the Rotation? Every year, normally on September 1st (warmly or infamously, however you look at it, is dubbed the Pokémon New Year), the new season of Pokémon begins. In order to keep the competitive environment healthy, tPCI will rotate the earliest 4 – 5 legal sets. That said, most players need to be aware that their competitive cards will have a 2-3 year life span before becoming unplayable.

So, how else does this affect you?

If you are purchasing cards to get into the scene, you need to be prepared to lose some of those cards. It’s also good to keep tabs on what cards are specifically released, as this can be a good indication of a rotation or not. tPCI aim to have approximately 12-15 legal sets every season. Depending on the amount of legal sets, and factoring in about 4 sets are released each year, this can be a very good indication of potential card loss come September 1st. tPCI normally announce this well in advance, so there is no need to stress.

Card Rulings are another thing players should be aware of. This is basically how cards interact with one another. For example, many players often get confused with a card like Junk Arm – no, you cannot get a supporter with it. The difference between knowing and not knowing rulings is that your entire strategy can change depending on how the cards are meant to interact. It’s a good idea to always do research on things you’re not sure of before building a deck. If you frequent a TCG forum, chances are they’ll have a rulings section, or someone knowledgeable. For more information, also check out: http://compendium.pokegym.net/. The compendium is endorsed by tPCI as the official advanced rulings document. It can prove insightful when in doubt, and if you’re still not sure, ask a reliable source!

tcgo cards


The last point to note, aside from all the above information, is that practice makes perfect, and play-testing is the best way to do that. Attend your local league or get together with friends and practice. Build the popular decks and learn how they work. Knowledge is a big factor and a lot can be gained from play-testing. A great option will be PokémonTCGO – the online trading card game, available at: www.pokemontcg.com! It’s free to sign up and start playing! To earn cards you need booster codes which can be found in real life booster packs.

This concludes my post on competitive play. I hope everyone gained something from reading this as they move forward in their Pokémon TCG career. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed writing it!



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