Recently there’s been a lot of shakeup in the Pokémon TCG scene. In the past few weeks we’ve heard about a new round structure, new rules for the Swiss best-of-three rounds, and some rule changes going into effect on November 8th. Since so much is happening at once, I figured it would be best to discuss everything that’s happening. Instead of simply giving my opinion, I want to take a broader look at each topic and weigh the positives and negatives – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let’s start with the ones that impact the upcoming Fall Regionals.
In the upcoming season, all Swiss rounds at States, Regionals, Nationals, and Worlds will be best-of-three, 50 minutes + 3 turns. In the past, they were single game, 30 minutes + 3 turns. Unlike top cut matches, ties are a possibility in the Swiss rounds. Here’s how the situations will be handled.
• If the last turn ends during game 1, the match results in a tie.
• If time is called after game 1 has been resolved but before the starting player for a Sudden Death game has been determined, the match results in a tie.
• If time is called after the game 1 winner has been determined but before the starting player for game 2 has been determined, the winner of game 1 wins the match.
• If the last turn ends during game 2, the winner of game 1 wins the match.
• If time is called after game 2 has been resolved but before the starting player for a Sudden Death game has been determined, the winner of game 1 wins the match.
• If time is called after the game 2 winner has been determined but before the starting player for game 3 has been determined, the match results in a tie.
• If the last turn ends during game 3, the match results in a tie.
• If time is called after game 3 has been resolved but before the starting player for a Sudden Death game has been determined, the match results in a tie.
To put it in simpler terms, the match will end in a tie unless all three games complete or only the first game completes. If the third extra turn (after time is called) finishes in the first or third game and a winner is not determined, the match ends in a tie. If the same scenario happens in the second game, the player who won the first game is the winner of the match. This is different from the rules in top cut matches where any game with 4 or more prizes taken by a player counts as a complete game. Either a game ends or it doesn’t; there is no winning on prizes in Swiss rounds.
The Good: The impact of first turn wins is lessened. Instead of losing the round completely, you have an opportunity to win the next two games or play for a draw. Nobody likes losing before drawing a card. At the very least, you should be able to play out one full game. In general, best-of-three reduces variance and luck by giving players the opportunity to play out more games.
The Bad: It’s very easy to tie. Any time a series goes to the third game, odds are the match ends in a tie because playing three games of Pokémon takes a long time. Players are used to winning and losing. Ties make things messy. In addition, intentional draws are a necessary byproduct of having draws at all, which is something that many people don’t like.
The Ugly: 50 minutes is not nearly enough time for a best-of-three. Therefore, playing the clock becomes just as important as playing the game itself. Because of the low time limit, there’s going to be a lot of rushed play, stalling, and unsatisfying results; that’s a lot of pressure to put on players in an already stressful environment. Lots of matches will end in ties, which punishes both players by giving one point instead of three points for a win. On top of it all, the system is confusing because it differs from the one for top cut matches, which counts any game as complete as long as one player has taken 4 or more prizes. The system seems to struggle with deciding a winner. Instead of 50 minute Bo3 rounds, perhaps keeping 30 minute Bo1 rounds and just using the extra time for additional rounds is a better option.
Overall Impact – Ugly: With an insufficient time limit, best-of-three is a disaster waiting to happen. If there’s not enough time for a series to play out, a single game is better. To reduce the impact of “cheap” wins, just add more Swiss rounds. At first glance, it seems like there will be lots of ties this season.
For this season, the maximum top cut size is 8 no matter how large the event is. To replace the extra single elimination rounds, more Swiss rounds will be played to find more accurate standings. Depending on attendance, up to 15 rounds can be played. At most, 9 rounds will be played on the first day of two-day events, and up to 6 rounds will be played on the next day. However, only the Top 32 players will advance to the second day. For full information on determining the number of rounds, look at this link.
The Good: More Swiss rounds equates to less impact of a single bad matchup or unlucky game. With only a Top 8, making the cut becomes more prestigious. Under the previous system, it’s almost as if two separate tournaments were being played at each major event. If you made it past the initial Swiss rounds, you then had to get through a bunch of single elimination rounds. Consider an event like US Nationals. If a player went undefeated through the Swiss rounds (9-0) and then lost immediately in Top 128, it resulted in a 65th place finish. Doesn’t sound very fair, does it? Now strong finishes in the Swiss rounds will result in at least a Top 8 finish, which means a lot more than a Top 128 result.
The Bad: It becomes much more difficult to make top cut. If you want to win the event, you’ll need to perform extremely well in the Swiss rounds. In the two day events, most players won’t get to participate in all of the Swiss rounds. Players who start off with too many losses don’t have an opportunity to play out the rest of the rounds (on day two) in order to get Championship Points.
The Ugly: Events like State Championships get hit hard. Imagine playing in a State Championship with 200+ players. According to the guidelines, the highest amount of rounds you can play is eight, and it still cuts to a Top 8. Compare that to last year, where the same number of rounds would happen – but with a Top 16. Effectively we are losing a round at these tournaments, meaning there is no room for error. Even players with just one loss may miss the Top 8 if attendance is high enough.
Overall Impact – Good: Of all the changes, this is one of the best. More Swiss rounds over a bigger cut certainly is the way to go at tournaments. Magic: The Gathering, the most successful competitive TCG in the world, has been using this system for years. Sure, some people will dislike how difficult it is to make the cut at events now, but it’s supposed to be that way! Perhaps the only problem with this change is the fact that the time limit is too low, which will cause illegitimate results in Swiss rounds.
Now that we’ve covered the changes to the tournament structure, let’s move on to the rule changes that are happening with Pokémon X & Y! The following rules go into effect on November 8th.
Since the release of Black & White, there was no restriction on the player going first. Previously we’ve seen limitations such as no Trainers, no Supporter, or no drawing a card on the first turn. For the first time ever, the player going first will not be able to attack, period. Even if the attack doesn’t do damage, it cannot be used. In addition, players will flip a coin to decide who goes first before hands are drawn. The winner of the flip can choose to go first or second.
The Good: No more first turn wins! Finally there’s no pressure of starting with a lone Pokémon and having it Knocked Out before you can draw a card. Hands down, this was one of the worst aspects of the Pokémon TCG, and it’s gone now. As long as you don’t start with a 30 HP Pokémon against a Hypnotoxic Laser + Virbank City Gym, you’re going to be able to take a turn at least. Finally going first has some drawback.
The Bad: Aggressive decks take a big hit by not being able to attack on the first turn. In particular, Team Plasma decks are no longer able to use Thundurus EX’s Raiden Knuckle or Kyurem’s Frost Spear while going first. Also, “support” attacks such as Emolga’s Call for Family or Sableye’s Junk Hunt become much weaker if they can’t be used on the first turn.
The Ugly: Since you can’t attack going first, the best (well, only) thing you can do is use Tropical Beach to fill your hand with more cards. Therefore, an already expensive card will rise in price even further. People complained about how difficult it was to obtain this card before, and it’s only getting worse. Most likely, those without access to it will be at a disadvantage.
Overall Impact – Good: Awesome change. First turn wins were a plague in the Pokémon TCG, and we finally have a cure. On top of that, the strength of going first is lessened a bit. In almost all cases, it’s still better to go first, but it’s not a complete advantage like it was before. Yes, the increased strength of Tropical Beach will lead to the card being more expensive, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay to eliminate first turn wins from the game.
In a surprising move, Pokémon Catcher has received an errata. Like Pokémon Reversal in the past, now you must flip a coin in order to use its effect. If Heads, the card plays as normal. If Tails, the card fails. All versions of Pokémon Catcher will be played as if they have this updated text. (You still must use Pokémon Catcher and not Pokémon Reversal, though.)
The Good: Pokémon Catcher (Gust of Wind) is one of the most broken cards in the history of the Pokémon TCG. No Benched Pokémon was safe while it was around. Aggressive decks could keep pressure on for the entirety of a game with no drawback. Perhaps setup decks will have an opportunity to thrive again. For the past two years, Pokémon Catcher has defined the game. Because of its existence, decks had to be changed accordingly. With its errata, there probably will be more diversity in decklists and deck concepts.
The Bad: It’s another hit for aggressive decks. When you combine no first turn attacks with this, they really do lose a lot of steam. Again, Team Plasma decks relied on being able to put on pressure. Without access to a reliable Catcher, decks will be able to withstand that pressure much easier. In the Pokémon TCG the healthy formats have had a balance between aggressive decks and setup decks. Now the scales seem to be tipped in favor of the setup decks.
The Ugly: Coin flips are back. Just because Catcher is on a coin flip doesn’t mean people won’t play it. If you played during the time of Pokémon Reversal + Junk Arm, you know how silly games can become. Nobody likes games being decided by coin flips. With this change, we may see just that. An added element of luck has been reinstated in the game.
Overall Impact – Neutral: In some ways, the change is pretty bad. Pokémon Reversal isn’t much healthier for the game than Pokémon Catcher. On the other hand, Catcher did stifle creativity quite a bit. At the very least, it was becoming a stale mechanic after two years of dominance. The change is neither good nor bad, but it will impact the way the game is played.
The new Supporter card, Professor Sycamore, has the exact same effect as Professor Juniper. Therefore, you can play one or the other in your deck, but not both. To clarify, even combining them to play a total of four of them is not allowed. You must pick one or the other.
The Good: Professor Juniper/Sycamore is one of the strongest draw cards we’ve ever seen. It would be pretty silly if you could play eight of them in a deck. For the foreseeable future, you get to pick which generation’s Professor you like better – five or six?
The Bad: This is confusing! I’d be willing to bet that at least one person shows up to a major event trying to play both. In particular, this is confusing for Junior and Senior players that may not be as connected to the online resources as older players are. Why introduce such confusion amid all the other changes?
The Ugly: Really? They couldn’t come up with a different effect? Professor Sycamore seems downright lazy for the card development team. Most players feel like we don’t have too many strong draw Supporters as it is, and then they just reprint one we already have? I don’t see why they couldn’t reprint past Supporter effects that are out of the format, such as Professor Oak’s New Theory. Even a reprint of Professor Elm from Neo Genesis wouldn’t have been bad!
Overall Impact – Neutral: Honestly this isn’t a big deal, but it’s just confusing. In terms of gameplay, it doesn’t really affect anything.
We have a lot of changes coming up for this season, and they’re all happening quickly. What do you guys think about everything? Will they affect your decision on whether or not to play this season? Leave your thoughts down in the comments. Thanks for reading!