From: Satak, Steve MM1 - ssatak@lincoln.navy.mil

Subject: The Facts of Poke-Life

 Dear Pojo,

I submitted an article some time back that discussed my experiences in San Diego’s Wizards of the Coast game shop.  I am gratified to see that it is still a part of your “Featured Articles”, and hope it still means something to the other gamers out there.  I log in about every two or three weeks and download every bit of information into a file.  This I print out later, and read over a cup of coffee and a good cigar.  My last visit yielded something like fifty pages of text.

Most of the stuff I see concerns the state of the game; things like the metagame, the relative values of various cards and speculation on new sets.

Other articles describe playing ability, tournaments and the impact of the new cards on the local game scene.  I think most of the writing is pretty good.   And unless you PoJo folks are doing a heck of a lot of last-minute editing, it would seem most of the writers are educated and articulate.  But many are young.  This is especially apparent in the Rants section, which deals with the dissatisfying side of the game.  There are quite a few comments which fit in with a perception of injustice, but other attitudes just seem....well, wrong.  Or at least, misinformed.  I think it is these misconceptions, which cause a lot of discontent among the players and collectors, so here are a few of my thoughts on each topic.

I will group them under three headings because they fall under general ideas


Banning - the game in Japan started out small and grew over a period of years.  The reason Pocket Monsters appealed to kids was because it was easy to learn, difficult to master and had cute animals.  That is what the game was designed for - to sell to kids, so the kids could have fun.  Along the way, it became apparent that certain cards in the game were ruining this fun by (1) creating “killer decks” and (2) rendering most of the cards “obsolete” (and thus, worthless in game terms).  This is bad for business because the kids aren’t having fun and the cards they are buying are worth little outside of a collector’s binder.  SO - Item Finder, Computer Search and Super Energy Removal were banned.  And the game was good.  Since most of the players were kids, or at least kids at heart, this did not seriously affect play one way or another - in fact, it stimulated decks which used Pokemon to duplicate the effects of the missing trainers.

In America, WOTC bought the license to produce the game for one reason - it was popular and they wanted to get in on the action.  There were billions of dollars at stake.  For this kind of money, no one cares whether or not the kids have fun, or if the game is balanced.  They rapidly cranked out cards, and draped the Pokemon League and attendant company-sponsored tournaments on the already-overworked DCI structure.  But they see it as a fad.  There will be no banning, because there will be no “serious” attempt to train Gym Leaders or Judges, organize regular Tournaments or invest any more money in infrastructure beyond that required to maintain the fad as long as possible.  They don’t care if most of the cards are substandard performers in a tournament, because they don’t play in tournaments.  Even if they WERE aware of the shortcomings and they DID play, we’re talking about investing millions of dollars in changes to the game.  Imagine the cost of educating everyone who comes into contact with the game on what Errata are and why the game needs them.  Sure, most of the kids attending tournaments can understand the concept of banned cards.  But you are talking about a company that will not even invest the time and effort to ensure a big tournament’s organizers know and follow their own rules!  In short, errata for Pokemon are a waste of corporate time.

 “Professional” players who come to the PoJo assume that, like Magic, this game is focused on them, the “serious” player.  They are wrong.  We hard-core players are a very small part of the market, almost vanishingly small.  The rules are not made to suit us, nor the cards created to satisfy our need for power plays.  The rules are streamlined so they are easy to understand.  And I think it is completely reasonable for WOTC to want to avoid the black hole of Errata that Magic fell into.  Who would want to create a “Portals” version of Pokemon?  Who would want to play it?

So you may as well simmer down and face reality.  Adjust your play and your selection of cards to the fact that there will be no banning.  Your complaints about the game, as a game, have nothing to do with the bottom line.  They never will.  We, as a consumer group, have nowhere near the power required.  And we never will.  For each player who hones his Haymaker, there are at least a thousand kids who want Pokemon packs simply so they can trade and “try to catch ‘em all”.  And whether you agree with it or not, this is the way it should be.

The Conspicuous Lack of Organization - .  The lack of planning for events, poor organization of the ones which DO take place, and the truly lackluster performance of the so-called “Judges” is, by now, legendary.  There has been no serious attempt to organize the Leagues beyond sending prizes and literature.  There is, at present, no training of Gym Leaders.  A Gym Leader is not required to actually play the game, or even understand it.  If he or she does, and they are good at it, great.  But the fact is, we’re talking about an employee who got volunteered by the local game shop or toy store to watch over the kids playing there, record play results, answer questions about Pokemon merchandise, and hand out prizes.  The only qualification required is that they be breathing.  I have even seen this in WOTC stores, where one or two people at most are familiar with the game.  The rest of the employees make it clear that they not only don’t play, but have no interest in the game whatsoever.  This, despite the fact that they are game store employees!  But it gets worse.

At the Toys R” Us near the Pearl Ridge Mall (in Hawaii), I called in from my ship to see if they were having League.  It was Tuesday, 30 May 2000.  I was assured they did, from 5pm to 7pm every Wednesday.  The following day, I got permission to get off work early and made the pilgrimage with a heavy case of cards.  Tired and perspiring, I arrived at 2:30 and asked the girl at the Toys R Us desk where the tables were to be set up.  She said “I think they cancelled the League today.  I don’t know why”.  Understandably upset, I got hold of the manager, who told me that the end of the previous season had come, so they were taking a two-week break.  None of the other employees in the store knew this.  Worse, none seemed to care.  I went to chat with the Gym Leader, who was working the register, and discovered to my horror that he did not even play the game!  He had no interest in it whatever!  When I asked who judged rules disputes, he said “Oh, some fellow from Jelly’s always turns up, and we ask him”.  He honestly did not seem to think it was his responsibility to teach or even learn the game himself.

As bad as this sounds, it doesn’t appear to affect sales very much.  Sloppy, nonexistent - call it what you will, it sucks.  But the almighty dollar is not affected - or at least, not enough.  And so, WOTC puts out t he minimum.  More work, more organizers, more training = more expense.  More expense, less profit.  And even the suggestion of this is intolerable to a major player in an industry where profits are sketchy to begin with.  Small wonder that they do only what’s needed to keep sales moving.  Whether things on the sales end are really so desperate is anyone’s guess.  It is my distinct impression that “Corporate” WOTC rarely ventures down to the shops unless there’s a problem (or they feel like slumming).  Their business decisions are based on sales figures, and have little to do with ethics or a love of the games they sell.

Unbalanced Cards, Poor Distribution, “Junk Cards” - I’ve read about the unbalanced cards, like Movie Promo Mewtwo.  I play with these cards, and while they are powerful, they are by no means broken.  They do not offer “something for nothing” the way a true broken card does.  I heard folks crank about Ditto when he came out, Hitmonchan when he became the focus of the early Haymakers, Mr. Mime when he began his reign of terror, and Blastoise when Raindance was the fastest, most dangerous deck in existence (mid-‘99).   No one complains (yet) about Dark Vileplume, Dark Blastoise or Team Rocket Sneak Attack.  But they will, and the word “broken” will be hauled out yet again.  And this, too, shall pass.

Distribution is not as much a problem as it was in 1999.  Every Mom and Pop can now carry Team Rocket, if they so desire.  First Edition still makes kids foam at the mouth, but outside of a binder, there isn’t a functional difference.  Folks complaining about Base Set 2 refer mostly to the selection of cards.  You don’t like Base Haunter?  Too bad.  Other versions are easily available, and this is only one uncommon with less than stellar play quality - they culled the REAL junk out when they removed the Clefairy Dolls, Devolution Spray and the other rare “winners” which could make getting an original Base Set pack such a tragedy.

I nearly busted a gut when I read in Pojo about the poor fellow with too many Pokemon cards.  Aside from the impression that this fellow lives a life far different than mine, I read how he considered paper mache, wallpaper, costumes and other solutions to his problem.  Cards nobody wants.......Magic used to have the same problem, only with lands.  The really funny part of this whole, long article was that the owner of all

This cardboard never considered just giving the cards away!  This solution is simple - if you can stop thinking like a greedy cardflopper.  You have cards which are worthless to you?  Give your extra Caterpies, Weedles and Pokeflutes to the only people in the world who WILL treasure them and play with them.  The kids!  Rather than complain about the weight of the cards I haul around, I give the blessed things away by the handsfull, to kids who have none and are deliriously happy to get anything at all!  How can you possibly bear to part with all those cards you paid good money for?  It’s easy.  Take the long view.  He who has the most cards at the end of the fad loses.


The Dominance of Archetypes and Loss of “Friendly” play - I don’t honestly know how irritating the Haymaker can be, since I play probably about twenty times a month, mostly in friendly games.  The time I spent in actual tournaments can be measured in hours.  But the last tournament I was at, was dominated by Haymakers.  They rolled over everyone, though (due to the way the tournament was constructed) they never seemed to encounter each other - or me.  I was playing a Sponge variant - the one hot deck I did play against, lost rather quickly.  I think the Haymaker-types were somewhat intimidated by my age (I’m 40) and preferred picking on the younger, less experienced players.  The majority of the decks I played against were Stall, which takes time to get around.  There was a time limit on the tournament, and I had the poor luck of running into three stall decks in a row (and playing one of them twice).  Talking about wading through molasses!   But whatever we think of them, archetypes (pronounced “ar-keh-types”, in case you care) are here to stay.  Don’t consider archetypes a flaw of the game mechanics, something to repair.  They aren’t.  If anything, they are a comment on the flawed players, who value winning over all.  These folks will cheerfully drive a wedge into any loophole in the rules of Pokemon.  They squeeze the last ounce of advantage out of some poor designer’s oversight.  Don’t wait for WOTC to step in and correct this or any other perceived inequity of the game.  They won’t.

You must try to remember that you don’t come to a war armed for a duel.  You know archetypes are here to stay.  They are an unpleasant, but unavoidable, fact of life.  If the predictable play really bores you, change your crowd  - or at least stop playing so darned much!  Otherwise, play your best - no whining!  If you are in a no-holds-barred tournament, pick the archetype you like best and go kick some boo-tay!  Stomp on quivering Pokemon until you hear bones pop!  That’s what these gigs are for.  But!  Remember!  This is not the reason the game was created.  It was made for FUN.  And tournaments are only a modest part of this.  After you sweep up all the poor knocked-out Pokemon, set the table with a theme deck.   Make a deck up on the spot; see if Psyduck really CAN hold his own in a battle.  This is where you work your playing skills and, hopefully, improve.  You get to test out ideas that might otherwise cost you a fistful of boosters or a prize in a lost tournament.  Or you can really break with your friends and .....teach.

Create a deck with one Oak, a couple Bills and some other average trainers - throw in some good pokes and energy.  Then teach someone the game, or help them tune their deck.  Your deck will make you sweat to win, and it’s easy to lose with in a demo.  Which is what you want, of course.  A believable victory always sends the new player away hungry for more.  But whatever you do with the cards you bought, keep in mind that you are on your own.  The folks at WOTC sold you a pack of cards for $$$.  These cards are part of a game.  There is absolutely nothing in that transaction that states that you will be satisfied with the cards you get, the game itself, the tournaments that are held or the attitude of the fellows up at “Corporate”.

And for good reason.  Take all of this onboard, and consider carefully before you spend your money and time.  If, after looking them squarely in the face, you find you can live with the flaws in Pokemon TCG, then go out and have a blast.  But leave WOTC out of it.


Rude Parents -here is something that I honestly haven’t run into.  I am sure they are out there, and positive they treat other kids like crap.  Lord knows they have the opportunity.  But they don’t do it TO me (imagine that!) and they don’t do it AROUND me.  In fact, the only fellow I ever found in a WOTC store who was unpleasant was there because he’d gotten a flawed First Edition Clefairy from a booster pack.  He’d foolishly called the folks at the Corporate Headquarters, who didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.  He was ticked, and wanted an unflawed Clefairy (not another pack or his money).  I ended the abuse with a First Edition Clefairy from my own collection.  It was worth it to see the guy’s back and the look of relief on the poor clerk’s face.

Rude people are another unpleasant fact of life.  Reflect on the rude or ungracious players you’ve put up with, and ask yourself where they learned to act like that.  Bingo!  Rude parents.  How do you deal with them?

Well, just like you would anyone else.....if they get on your nerves, tell ‘em.  “Excuse me, sir, but you’re distracting me.  Could you save that for after the game?”  It works with parents who coach or make rude remarks, kids who interrupt a game to trade with the players, and anyone who snaps their gum during play.  And just because you’re a kid doesn’t mean you have to take any crap.  Don’t get me wrong.....never disrespect an adult.  You always end up losing credibility.  It’s a high price to pay for indulging your ego.  Instead, give us old folks the benefit of the doubt.  Trust me, most Dads wouldn’t dream of accusing another adult of cheating or lying without very good cause.  They won’t do it to you, either.  Normally.  But if little Johnny is in tears over Charizard’s untimely knockout, it’s NOT normal.  My son is a good little boy, but he is just that - a little boy.  And if he comes to me in tears, you’d best believe the shields go up and ALL phaser banks are on line.

Don’t be that Romulan.  Think first.  Here is an oldster.  He or she doesn’t know the game, the rules or the situation, but now they’re called in by Johnny to save the day.  Now they are on the spot in front of their child amidst a group of strange kids, probably a bunch of punks.  What’s more, they must be able to understand and judge a possible violation of rules in a game they know exactly zippo about.  Parents are always supposed to know what to do.  So the adult bluffs and roars, trying desperately to save face as an authority figure.  Have some pity on Mom.  As has been suggested, after a crushing victory, offer to look at the losing deck and offer some tuneup tips.  I’ve lost plenty of playing time doing this, but it teaches the kid AND the parent.  The best way to take the edge off an irritable adult?  Add some free cards to the tuneup advice.  Does the deck need Bill and Oak?  Energy Removal?  A Charmeleon?  Give the kid what he needs, dry Johnny’s tears and make him smile, and parents will be ready to bronze your shoes.  A few cards and voila! you’re no longer a punk - you’re a TEACHER.  They understand THAT.

Rude Players and the Sport Ethic - yeah, we’ve been through the rotten parents and I’ve apologized for them even though they should KNOW better.  But the kids are the main problem.  What can be said?  You deal with the sore losers the same way you deal with rude parents.  But I am really in no position to lecture.

I lost to the third straight stall deck in a row at the last tournament, and I, the Old Guy, Mr. 40 years, lost it.  I nearly cursed.  I just couldn’t believe the rotten luck of getting stuck playing against an Alakazam/Chansey Damage Swap.  I lost by a couple of coin flips, so I knew I could whip this deck next time out.  But that was the point - there would BE no next time out.  The tournament was over.  I’d spent something like 35 minutes on just this one game, desperately trying to win or lose or SOMETHING to get the darned thing over with.  Talk about your Pyrrhic victory.  And the poor woman playing the Stall deck was astounded.  I was supposed to shake her hand and say “Great game!”.  But you know, all I could do was apologize for griping - then gripe some more.  Being a good sport is tough.  I don’t have a lot of advice other than it helps if you get a lot of practice channeling that anger into improving your deck or analyzing your play style.  Whatever you do, don’t let the anger past your lips.

Oh!  What to do about the arrogant winners?  Good question.  You can meet them on their own ground and try to beat the deck.  Or you can wait until they lose, heckle them and become a twit yourself.  Beating the deck is okay, but not very satisfying.  It helps if you remember that talk is cheap, and most of these kids have deep pockets.  The ones who brag in advance are generally poor players.  Easy to remedy - just beat the stuffing out of their Pokemon.  The ones who boast after a win must be occasionally be reminded that winning is not a license to act like a jacka*s.  Of course, you will find this somewhat difficult, since the entire American culture is oriented (some say twisted) towards the winner taking the spoils.  Money - or power - excuses everything.  Best to do what I did.

I refused to play the braggarts.  I tell them this to their face, in front of their friends.  When the inevitable “What, are you afraid to play me?  Afraid you’re gonna lose?” comes back, I stare them straight in the eye and say “Yes.  That’s it.  I’m afraid to play you.  Whatever.  But mostly, it’s because I don’t play jerks.”  And then you WALK AWAY.  If you have the option of playing this guy, or not playing until someone else comes along, ignore him and go without.  Yeah, that takes some spine.  But you have one - or were planning to grow one.  And this move pays off.  No one in his right mind is going to admit in front of a group of people that he’s afraid (especially if he’s a teenager), so the jerk player is left with one of two choices.  Either you’re nuts.....or you really don’t want to play him, for whatever reason.  He can play until the sun goes out, but he won’t ever face you.  A lot of these guys see this as a red flag.  They can’t resist the temptation to try and get you to play them.  Whatever they do, you’ve gained control of the situation.  How many other people will refuse to play them?  Rather than find out, they generally pipe down.  At the very least, you’ve embarrassed the guy into shutting his trap.  And that can’t be bad.

Apprentice - this nifty program is the answer to the question “where can I find someone who is (1) available for play and (2) better than my friends?  Sure, it’s cumbersome.  And prone to mis-translation.  It crashes whenever it feels like it.  Hackers have a field day with it.  You have a tough time keeping track of conversation via the little window, your cards are hiding over in the corner like terrified gerbils, and you just accidentally revealed the contents of your deck to your opponent.  But these are newbie mistakes.  I know, because I make them, and still I think this is the best place to test a new deck design.  Baptism by fire.  The guys who use Apprentice at Pojo often spend hours online playing - and winning - in tournaments.  These folks are not only adept with Apprentice, they are outstanding Pokemon:TCG players.  Getting your butt handed to you by one of these dudes is a genuine learning experience.  Regardless of how clumsy the interface is, it works and it is FREE.  Trust me, it’ll be a while before someone comes up with something better.  Until then, practice, practice, practice.

Ripping the people who rip the game - again, the most I hear about this sort of thing is someone saying “Pokemon?  It’s not my bag, baby”.  But the big question is this: what are you going to do about someone who spends their time writing posts about how terrible Pokemon is, with snide remarks about the folks who play it?  What COULD you do?  What could you possibly tell such a person?  It’s his or her life to waste typing such crap, right?  So save your breath.  Say nothing.  Let them babble, while you continue playing.  Actions speak louder than words.  Eventually, they will lose interest and get a life.


Lame Magazine Articles and Decks - okay, let’s get something straight.  Tournament-level play occupies a very narrow portion of the Pokemon spectrum.  Most players are grateful to own a single deck that works as well as the pre-constructed decks.  Seventy percent of all players are not high-powered.  Most have only that one deck.  For them, a magazine article, even by a guy who learned the game just last week, is better than what they have,  which is a bunch of friends who know even less.  The InQuest Venomoth deck works well - it’s a medium-strength deck.  It goes without saying that this deck is intended for medium-strength environments.  InQuest never said it was tournament-level and they should know.

Just the same, I must agree that some of the articles are rather simplistic for the target audience.  And some are written by people who don’t quite have a grasp on the game.  They don’t have time to read the cards, or something.  Whatever the reason, I have seen the articles improve considerably since mid-1999.  Still....how much can you say to the general audience before you start talking about things like “energy management” and “archetypes”.  Your average youngster’s eyes glaze over and you’ve lost your audience for next month.....

3) Ripping younger players and their preferences - would someone please get OFF Charizard?  In fact, ALL of you get off Charizard.  Wake up and smell the toast.  It’s a card.  The kids who like it are just kids.  The picture is pretty.  They don’t care if it’s a “good” Pokemon in game terms.  Maybe they never will.  And if they like it and are happy, where do you get off telling them it’s a terrible Pokemon?  Admit it - you’re REALLY upset because that little kid won’t trade it to you for anything.  Well, fine.  When you finally do get it, use the card for trade bait if you want.   Put it in a binder and admire the pretty picture.  Play the game anyway you like, but please, no more of this “I just hate those stupid kids and their stupid lizard.  It’s not even a good Pokemon!”.  Grow up.  The game was made for them, not you.  Remember your place and be thankful there isn’t some sort of age limit.

11) Ripping the price guides and the singles retailers.  We “serious” players may think we drive the singles market; in fact, it is the children who clamor for Clefairy who inflate the prices.  And so it should be.  When it comes to putting a smile on the face of that sweet little boy or girl, Mom and Dad’s pockets are very deep (at least, mine are!).   The shop keeper knows this, and prices his Pokemon accordingly.  There seem to be two kinds of player out there ticked off at shopowners.  The first kind wants the cards for play and cannot understand why the cards cost so much.  They’re just....cards.  To him, I say “Wait”, because when the fad is a memory, the game will still be around.  You will be able to get cards from the shops for pennies on the dollar.  I assume you can’t wait that long, however.  Trade for your cards, buy new packs, do whatever, but don’t give the shopowner a hard time.

The other side of the coin is the fellow who just can’t seem to get book value from the shopowner.  Of course, to him we say “what were you thinking?”.  The shopowner has to make a living.  This means he buys low and sells high - or not so high, if sales are slow.  The Beckett says your First Edition Charizard is worth $350.  Okay, what that means is that the average shop sells a FE Charizard for that much.  Now, if they have to PAY $350, then there won’t be much profit.  If they decide to move it quickly and sell it for “only” $250, then they can’t pay much at all.  Typically, you will find shops give 50% book value in store credit, or 10% in cash.  Yes, that means that you will only get $35 from the shopowner for Charizard.  Maybe $70, if he really likes you.  But if you were looking to liquidate your “investments”, you will find out real quick that your hoard of cardboard isn’t worth what you thought - or what the books said.

That goes double for the average gamer out there.  You don’t like paying the shop owner $20 for a Clefairy.  What makes you think the average player is going to want to pay it to you?  So - what good IS a price guide?

Well, with it, you can get an idea for which cards are in demand.  But more important, you can get a handle on the relative values of the cards.  That way, you won’t get ripped off.  Typical trades are the most likely to benefit.  Two Professor Oaks for your Hitmonchan?  Well, the book says ‘Chan goes for $10 and Oak goes for $2.  So maybe that guy ought to throw in something to increase the value of his offer.  And that is REALLY the only value these books have.  I’ve got a First Edition Blastoise.  Book says it’s worth $65.  Right.  I’ve never thought for a minute that I could get anything for it at, say, the local McDonalds.  It’s not money.  And if it isn’t in a collection or in a deck, it’s being wasted.

Thanks.  If this is too long, I understand.  But the rants all looked as if they were yearning for someone to give some sort of explanation......this might go in the Featured Articles section, if you like it enough.


 Steven Satak