From December 9th-11th 2016, the ExCel Exhibition Centre in London played host to the first of four International Championships to be held across the globe during the 2016-2017 Pokémon TCG competitive season. The big cash prizes, Championship Points on offer and the desire to taste the salty tears of fallen enemies attracted 492 masters division competitors, including players who travelled from as far as…uh, Australia (which was polarised by players at the event as either cool or insane).
For those who don’t pay attention in real life, since 1882 England and Australia have been embroiled in a test cricket rivalry called the Ashes. Defeating the Poms to retain or regain the Ashes is almost as important as stopping at Bunnings when there’s a sausage sizzle on. It’s a matter of pride. And cricket is one of many sports fiercely contested by both nations. So it was only fitting that a team of eleven Australian Pokémon trading card game players (7 masters, 2 seniors, 1 judge and 1 stream team support) traded in their Opal cards for oyster cards, flip-flops and shorts for a nice winter overcoat (or not, if your name is Alex Crockford), and Dollarydoos for Sterling, as they made the short 22-hour trip to the motherland for London’s biggest Pokémon Trading Card Game event.
You can find European Championship tournament reports by players who are much more qualified than I am in terms of discussing the meta and analysing a tournament- for example, you can click here to read Jay Lesage’s 2nd place Yveltal/ Garbodor report. So instead, this article will focus on the atmosphere of an International Championship event, how to make the most out of the experience, and what you can expect as a player who narrowly misses out on a top 32 place (spoiler: I was a mere 263 places off, so I basically bubbled).
Look, no Taurus waste, this is basically a recap of how what could have simply been a disappointing tournament performance, actually turned into a stellar weekend. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of English breakfast, feel free to scarper after you read this one piece of advice:
There are only 3 months until the Asia-Pacific Championship in Melbourne, so start locating your Generations Wallys…
Thursday, December 8th
Ah, pre-registration. Tournament Organisers love it because it streamlines the match-day process. Players love it because they receive a heap of event-specific merchandise (pictured below). The process was super smooth. However, it seemed like a few players were irritated by the need to register at the venue on the evening before the event. One extra night of accommodation versus the risk of turning up late to the event and/or the event running way overtime. Yeah, I’ll take the extra night of accommodation.
We would find out the next day that 492 players registered for the event. It seemed like over 50% of the pool of masters competitors had travelled from outside of the United Kingdom.
Friday, December 9th
Round 1 – Nice guys finish 2nd
So, I played a Sylveon EX / Diancie EX deck in round 1. In the dramatic TV movie re-enactment that is sure to follow this article, moments before stepping on the plane I’d receive the deck from a mentor who would say something philosophical come inspirational. However, the reality is that my good friend Rob Geoffrey lent me the deck a couple of days before the tournament, following me whining about having nothing to play.
A creation of his, it had proved its worth by winning a couple of League Challenges and seemed alright in testing.
But I hadn’t been testing against Jay Lesage (Canada). And my first opponent was Jay Lesage. The TL;DR of it was that he swept me in game 1 and went on to win 2-0. But had I not drawn my last Diancie EX along with the Ninja boy off of his N, I would have taken game 2 and forced a tie due to time. The Sylveon lining of this cloud: he was such a gentleman while winning and fun to play against.
Jay would go on to place 2nd in the tournament. Following the victory that secured Jay’s place in the top 8, I was amused to hear him on the phone saying “I’d better reschedule my flights”. It seemed that for many of the North American players, the event was more parts business than pleasure. I also overheard a US player lamenting a tie, saying that their opponent clearly hadn’t realised that “it was a $500 game”.
In the months preceding the event, fellow Sydney player David Patane and I had been testing Primal Kyogre. You laugh, but the deck was amazing. Coupled with Clawitzer, Kyogre was consistently sweeping all of the top tier decks in real life and on the Pokémon Trading Card Game Online. Then we stumbled across the one guy on the Oceanic servers who was playing Typhlosion. And we paired against him a lot. Type advantage means nothing when he hits you for 400 damage. Every turn. And starts with his one Talonflame. Every game. Honestly, if this were a B-grade 90s movie I’d cue a montage of me having restless nights being plagued by nightmares about the Typhlosion deck and its mystery pilot. Then the fire nation attacked, has never been so fitting. We couldn’t go back to Kyogre after that…
So when I sat down across from Massimo (Italy) and he flipped over a Talonflame then a Cyndaquil, my heart dropped. It was a cruel twist of fate that what could be my win or out round was against the one deck that had put an end to the whale of a time I was having pre-event. In an ironic twist of fate, this match proved to be my first win of the day.
After my match had finished, I noticed that an interesting situation was taking place in the Mega Gardevoir vs Greninja match adjacent. With the clock about to hit single digits for minutes left, the Greninja player was up to his 10th consecutive mulligan going into game 3, much to the angst of the Mega Gardevoir player. Judge Vince Krekler was called over, and he decided to carry out his first ever Judge Ball after the 11th mulligan.
A judge ball is when a judge shuffles a player’s deck and turns over cards until a basic is revealed. That basic becomes the player’s basic Pokémon for that game. The deck is shuffled again, and the player draws six new cards as their starting hand. Judge balls occur at the discretion of the judge, after a player has mulligan’d at least once.
Amusingly, the first card that Vince flipped over was a Froakie.
For those conditioned to need an update on my results, at this point I’m 1-2-0.
Round 4- Charlie Company
Let me take you back to the 2015 Pokémon World Championships. Belly filled with Whalburgers and feet bearing Red Sox red socks, I found myself waiting in an absurdly long registration line. I’m talking the kind of line that snakes around every corner in the exhibition centre, and then outside and down the block. As I was waiting, I began to notice the group of UK players ahead of me. Why? Specifically because of the number of people who would walk up to them and say “Hi Charlie”. For a bit of sport, I decided to identify the specific player and continue to greet him by name whenever we crossed paths… all while remaining anonymous. For the rest of the event, on the exhibition floor and outside the venue, myself and other Australian players could frequently be heard uttering “Hi Charlie”. He caught on quickly and seemed confused but amused by the faceless voices offering greetings.
We never let Charlie know why it was happening. Logically, the 2017 European International Championship would be the ideal place to bring the joke full circle. Set in Charlie’s home country, I was sure that he would attend. But with only a vague memory of what he looked like and no surname to work with, the task would be difficult. Then the quest to find Charlie came to an abrupt end when the posted player roster listed only two Charlies in attendance- neither from the UK.
I thought I’d try my luck when I sat across from UK player Kyle Alexander in round 4 of the European championship, with “Hey, do you know Charlie?”
To my delight, he and the two players to the left of us responded with “Yes, of course, we know Charlie.” It turns out that Charlie was on holiday in another country. But the whole thing flipped on its head a bit when the UK players began to believe that Charlie was a meme in Australia, and Ross Gilbert chimed in with some information.
This saga definitely requires an episode 3.
Round 6- Just Act Natural
This was probably a contender for the most unusual match-up of the tournament: Sylveon EX / Diancie EX vs Mega Glalie. It would have helped my chance at success if I had known what my opponent’s (Solfrid from Norway) cards did. And vice versa. We spent the round figuring out how to play the match-up and trying not to look at the camera.
No, we weren’t on stream (that was reserved for the likes of Jordan Palmer and the rest of the X-0 legion). Instead, we were becoming a Morisoli moment™.
You may not have heard of Doug Morisoli, but you have definitely seen his work. The photo that adorns the top of the Play! Pokémon TCG Australia Facebook page is one of his many photographic contributions to the International Pokémon TCG community. He travels to the big US regionals and International events with his successful-TCG-competitor daughter and snaps candid photos of players and staff. The result is a wonderful visual record of the Pokémon Trading Card game community.
A gentleman and a brilliant photographer. Every player needs a little bit of Doug Morisoli in their life. His collection of photos from day 1 of the European International Championship can be found here.
Tournament update: 1-3-2
Round 9- Where’s Wally?
Before each match, I like to ask my opponent where they’re from and how they’re enjoying the tournament so far. I do this with all of my opponents. Mostly because I love chatting with people, but also because it would be incredibly awkward to sit there shuffling and setting up in silence. It also helps you to suss out how well you’ll be able to communicate during the match (a factor that needs to be considered when you’re playing against opponents from non-English speaking countries). Fortunately, my round 9 opponent (Simone Soldo from Italy) seemed to have the same strategy.
Upon learning I was from Sydney, Simone eagerly showed me a photo on his phone of him standing next to another gentleman.
Oh, that’s Alessandro Del Piero! #10 for Sydney FC until he left in 2014, previously played for Juventus, an Italian national representative. That’s so cool!
Paraphrased, that was the response I gave. From then onwards, it was all excited discussion and banter while we traded prizes on autopilot. Sitting at a record of 3-3-2, neither of us really cared about the outcome of the match.
Midway through the match, I commented on how interesting it was that his Italian copy of Wally was called “Lino”. So afterwards, he gave me the card as a memento (just like teams trade pennants at International soccer matches). My curiosity was peaked! Did Wally have a different name in every language? Cue the development of the ‘Where’s Wally?’ Pokémon edition. The rules were simple. Collect a Generations Wally in as many languages as possible. It was a fantastic way to make connections with players from a number of different countries, and something I would seriously recommend that players try to do at International events (whether it be collecting Wally or any other trainer card).
Saturday, December 10th and Sunday, December 11th
I finished the main tournament with a record of 3-4-2 at 295th place. Nonetheless, the event was far from over. Day 2 and 3 played host to an expanded league cup (with over 200 participants), a standard league challenge and a variety of side events to become involved with. These proved to be great opportunities to meet international players in a less competitive environment.
What’s more, the VGC and TCG matches were being streamed on two separate screens in the venue, with a sizeable viewing area for spectators. There is something about discussing the Mees dilemma live with great players (and Daniel Altavilla) that trumps any kind of Virbank poll or analysis after the fact. And the roar of the crowd in response to a clutch play creates an amazing atmosphere.
Being a three-day event means that there is extra scrutiny on organisational elements and the facilities. The hall in the ExCel exhibition centre was an ExCellent venue. Spacious, easy to access from public transport. Food was readily available (it didn’t even cross my mind that there was no lunch break). The free venue wi-fi meant players could use online pairings, rather than swarm around the notice boards. The tournament also ran smoothly because the judging and support staff were approachable, helpful, knowledgeable, and efficient.
This extends to the commentators, and the stream team, who delivered an excellent broadcast.
While there is a big emphasis on competitive play, my experience at the European International Championship demonstrates that it’s important not to lose sight of the peripherals and the fun that can be had by casual and/or unlucky players at international events. This is the kind of event where you meet one person, who introduces you to another person who somehow knows the head judge of Canada, then you meet Ross Gilbert in a hotel lobby and suddenly you’re friends with half of Illinois. So if you’re hesitant about going to the next International Championship for Asia Pacific in Melbourne because you’re familiar with every player who frequents the bottom tables at events, and you consistently vie for the wooden spoon… Don’t worry about it! Competitive play is just a small aspect of what makes an International Pokémon TCG event an unforgettable experience.
Shoutouts to all the Australians who made the trip over to London for the European International Championships. I had so much fun with you guys while exploring the city and at the event. Congratulations to Sameer Sangwan, Brent Tonisson, and Jordan Palmer (my son), for placing in the top 32!!