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Top o’ the World Player Profile

Tom Lafleur - 34
currently ranked
2nd in the world with a 2225 DCI rating.
Currently a Captain in the US Army, currently stationed in Garmisch, Germany.

1) How did you get into this game? 
My son Thayer and I have been playing Magic since 1995.  One day in March 1999, two magic playing friends, Lance Carlysle and Phil "Chief" Robinson showed us how to play Pokemon.  I was living in Killeen, Texas at the time (stationed at Fort Hood, Texas)  My first deck was all grass, with Venusaur, Koffing, Chansey, and Pokemon Center.  Phil held weekly tournaments for prizes at his store, The House of Cards, before Pokemon was sanctioned In August 1999, but after the release of Jungle, and the decision to sanction, Pokemon became immensely popular.
 2) What do you like about it? 
I enjoy trading and collecting, but I really like making decks.  Testing out new ideas has its risks (like when I went 1-4 in a tournament with an all psychic deck, beaten down game after game by colorless guys...) but you won't get any better if you don't try new things.  Most of all I love watching new players figure out good combinations.  Their eyes light up when they "get it".  Then they're hooked!

3) What don’t you like about it?  
The game itself is good - needs a bit of balance with some cards and themes, but basically OK.  I think quite a few cards could be restricted to balance game play, cards such as Professor Oak, Computer Search, Super Energy Removal, Item Finder, etc.  Some folks think that the new format that becomes legal on 1 September will breathe new life into a stale environment, but I still believe that restricting would do the same job better.  I am against removal of entire card sets - too many themes can't be used in the new format, such as damage swap, rain dance, energy trans, metronome...  The troublemakers (wiggly, sneasel, etc.) should be restricted, and the new cards should be played, but not at the expense of the older cards.  On another note, players put a lot of money and time into trading and acquiring tournament worthy cards.  Remember where most of the younger players get their money for cards - from their parents.  Try explaining to parents who have invested several hundred dollars into "formerly tournament worthy cards" that can't be used in the present tournament format.  This will result in even more players quitting.  It is true that some newer cards are "substitutes" for older cards; cards with the same or similar attacks or effects, but show me the substitute for Mr. Mime?  Muk?  Aerodactyl?  Blastoise?  Venusaur?  And the list goes on.  I believe that the removal of card sets will limit the game, not enrich it.  The answer lies in restriction of the power cards.
 4) What’s your favorite deck to play?  
I keep a "stable" of about 8 decks - the most highly-tuned decks I can dream up.  I play each one at least three times a week to keep their themes fresh in my mind, and to let my son Thayer try to dream up ways to beat them.   Most of them have energy removal, lots of search, one evolution chain, and plenty of energy.  With that said, I really love Blastoise.  That turtle ROCKS!   I don't play that deck in tournaments much, but I love playing it at home.
 5) What do you think is the strongest deck in the current environment?  
With global internet access the metagame has become even more important.  It's more a matter of knowing the most popular deck themes and building a counter-theme to them.  Of course, some basic rules must be followed to create a tournament worthy deck - enough energy, enough basic pokemon, key trainers like gust of wind or energy removal, etc.  It is a mistake to build a deck to counter the most popular decks if your deck can't stand on it's own.  Your deck needs to be able to win vs. lots of different themes, not just the most popular one.  For example, Ditto is a strong metagame card, since it saves cards (no evolving to gain effects of opponent's evolved Pokemon), uses any type of energy, etc.  Same with Clefable.  Same with Mr. Mime.  While a deck filled with Dittos, Mr. Mimes, and Clefables would destroy many popular decks, it would not win against others.  Balance in deck building is the key to strong tournament results.
 6) What deck do you hate to play against?  
A great player can make any theme work.  I don't play against a deck, I play against an opponent.  I really enjoy  a tough match, regardless of the outcome (though I would prefer to win:)).  I expect my opponents to use energy removal.  Any player who doesn't is foolish.  I also prefer pokemon with low retreat to pokemon with great attacks - to be able to run away and fight another day is often better than slugging it out and losing 8 cards on a full-up Blastoise.  I also pay close attention to weakness and resistance.  I think that resistance gym is a powerful card; a game changing card.  I really think that Gyms are powerful - they create or change an environment in the game.  People who are good use gyms to their advantage, so you need to use gyms to counter theirs, as well as to create your own environment.  I also expect my opponents to use fast, powerful basic pokemon.  As a result, I use energy removal in almost every deck to slow them down.  Deciding on which energy to remove is an art form - give it some thought.  A good player can tell you the contents of the opponent's deck, give or take 10 cards, within the first few turns of the game.  Think about the special energy your opponent is using before using the ER.  Non-basic energy (I call it special energy) should be your target - it's very hard to get back, and in short supply in their deck.

7) What would your “Top 10 Best Pokémon” list look like? 
Well, here are a few:  BASICS - Mr. Mime, Ditto, Scyther, Hitmonchan, Sneasel, Rocket's Zapdos, cleffa, fossil Magmar, promo Mewtwo, Chansey.  EVOLUTIONS - Muk, Blastoise, Clefable, Alakazam, Wigglytuff, Slowking.  For some reason, I have always liked Erika's Victreebel - try it out.
Some pokemon work well with a theme, like Moltres and damage swap, or Articuno and rain dance, but aren't top 10 by themselves.  Others like Ninetales or Venusaur are useable as well.
I am amazed that so many folks are excited with faddish cards like Slowking and Dark Vileplume.  They are flavors of the month - and wouldn't work at all if some joker didn't put 30+ trainers in his deck.  Trust me when I say that those decks can win and win big, but they only win big because so many people are ignoring common sense when they build their decks.  One of my 8 decks is a Slowking deck, and it can be very powerful, but only in one specific deck (like Blastoise and Alakazam).

8) Top 5 trainers?   
Search and destruction.  I would say Professor Oak, Computer Search, Gust of Wind, ER & SER, and Pokemon Breeder.  Of course, most trainers have their uses in specific decks (like switch, Pokemon Center, Gold Berry, lots of others), but these 5 trainers are game winners.
9) Where do you usually play? 
Well, being in the Army I move around a lot.  In Texas I played at House of Cards in Copperas Cove, Texas.   When I moved to Kansas, I played at Collector's Cache.  Now in Germany, I play in Garmisch, Germany at our club - Spooky Mountain Gym.  We have about 45 players, both Germans and Americans, and I hold tournaments once a week.   I run the tourney one week, and then Thayer runs it the next.  That way, I can play in two tournaments a month.  The tournament scene in Europe is pretty bleak.

10) Who is your most difficult competition? 
Well, when I lived in Killeen, Texas, I would say Mark Anders was the toughest for me.  In Kansas, I played at Collector's Cache - they had a couple of guys on their "Team Cache" who were pretty tough.  My son Thayer (currently ranked 128 Globally) is probably the best player I have ever played.  He is 13.  I have taught him everything I know, but he hasn't taught me everything he has learned.  He's pretty smart!
11) What do you win at tournaments? 
Right now, nothing.  I provide all the prizes for tournaments at Spooky Mountain.  There is no charge to be a member of our club, and the tournaments are free.  Everyone wins a prize - holographic cards and lots of chocolate for the top 8 finishers, and lesser rares and prizes for the rest.  We also give a handfull of commons to the last place guy/gal so they can improve their deck.  I also give out promo cards to the top 3 finishers - usually pre-release Aerodactyl, ivy-leaf Pikachu, or Computer Error - something like that.   I usually buy 4 or 5 boxes when the new set comes out, so I can make a "tournament set" for the players to see exactly what the cards can do, some cards for my own decks (and Thayer's), and the rest for prizes.   I think it is good to give every participant of a tournament something.  I ran large tournaments at Ft. Hood with my buddy Phil Robinson (late 1999), and we made sure that everyone got a Japanese card just for attending.

12) What are some of your most thrilling victories? 
They all involve Gust of Wind.  One time, I was down on prizes, but my opponent only had 10 or 12 cards in his deck.  I gusted up his Rhyhorn (huge retreat cost) and waited.  After 3 turns, he had enough energy on him to retreat, and I gusted him up again.  3 turns later, he retreated again, and I gusted him again.  He drew a switch and switched, and I item findered for another gust.  He finally scooped him up, but it was too late and I decked him.  I should have lost - he was really mad that he metagamed one Rhyhorn in his deck.  A couple of times it was Ditto vs. Ditto, and we were both building up our benches.  You've got to save your gusts for the right time - or you can lose the game.  Anyway, he had a promo Mewtwo with 2 energy on it and another one with no energy.  In 2 turns, I gusted them both up and got 2 quick knockouts. 
13) And your most devastating losses? 
Well, I lost turn 1 with my Slowking deck.  I was using Psyduck to stop trainers until I could set up the 'Kings.   I had 3 search cards, energy, and a Psyduck.  Well, he won the flip, had a Rocket Zapdos, played a lightning energy and comp searched for a plus power for the win.  Another time, I was playing at Rama Llama Comics in Dallas, Texas. and had a starting hand of a Hitmonchan and 6 fighting energy.  My opponent had an Electabuzz.  He hit me for 10, I hit him for 40, he played 3 plus powers and Thunderpunched for the win.  What are the odds, with 14 basic Pokemon in the deck and 10 search cards, to draw that hand?  Oh well, the luck of the draw.
 14) Did you compete in the TMB, STS, or any other large-scale tournaments? If
you did, how’d ya do? 
I went overseas in May of last year - the first STS was in June.  I get back from Germany in mid-December -  will miss the next one too.   I guarantee that Thayer and I will be at the NEXT one, though.  My club is sending a guy to the TMB this year.  His name is Andi Diedrich, and he is currently ranked #1 for his age in Germany.  I think he will represent us very well.  He is a gifted player and a really nice guy.

15) If you had to ban one card, what would you ban? 
Well, I am a big fan of a ruling by the DCI to restrict certain power cards to 1 or 2 per deck.  I think that baning is pretty extreme.  I guess if I had to pick, it would be Rainbow Energy.   Banning it would really reduce the power of Dark and Steel.  Also would make you play with more energy if you want to play a 3 color deck, which would reduce the insane number of trainers many players use.  it is also tougher to use tournament worthy basic Pokemon in an off-color deck without Rainbow.

16) What deck do you think is the funnest to play? 
Well, I really like Moltres with Alakazam.  I love playing Muk.  I really enjoy rain dance.  I think Stage 2 pokemon are great - just take some thought before throwing them into your deck.  My rule is one evolution chain per deck. 

17) What do you think of Wizard’s ideas of No 15+ qualifiers, Prop 15, etc.?  
I am against age restrictions.  Games are meant to be enjoyed by people all ages, and  Pokemon is a great game.  I've lost to quite a few 8 year olds in my time, and let me tell you that age isn't the biggest factor between players - it is experience.  Some of the best players in the world are under 15 years old, but some of the best are older.  It isn't fair to not allow them to compete - this isn't boxing or wrestling, where a 100 lb weight difference is going to really matter.  This is an intellectual game with clear-cut rules.  Anyone who knows the rules and has access to cards can win a tournament.  I think the prop 15 is a good idea.  Mixing up the format for specific tournaments is GREAT!  Eliminating card sets because they are old or overpowered is not.

18) What does it mean to be ranked as one of the best Pokémon players in the
It is a great accomplishment.  Competitors should strive to be the best.  I'm just sorry that Wizards can't take their league badges one step further and award patches to players for recognition of global ratings.  Some form of visual recognition that a player can sew on to a jacket or pin on to a shirt, which can't be earned by playing 10 league games.  It must be proven after many tournaments and a great tournament record.  Recognition is great for young and old alike.  The greatest pride I took as an Infantry Company Commander was seeing one of my soldiers receive an award for an exceptional performance of duty.  Take a look at a child who brings home an "A" on a report card, or one who receives a badge from Wizards for attaining a global rating of 1800.  Pure joy.  If you like this idea, write them and tell them.  Your voice will be heard.
19) Do your friends/schoolmates know you play Pokémon? Does it give ya a
good/bad reputation? 
You have to be proud of who you are.  Your real friends should be proud of you too.  I believe that you should also be well-rounded as a person.  I was a champion 175lb wrestler in High School - and also played 3rd board on the Chess Club!   Get over the nerd/jock attitude (or whatever they call it today).  You can be anything you want to be - and will regret it if you don't pursue your dreams.  Never be ashamed of your hobbies or interests. 
20) If you could have 100 Smeargles or 100 Japanese Woopers, which would you
rather have? =/ 
I'd rather have 25 signed 1st ed water energy from Ness.  If he sends them to me, I will send him 25 signed 1st ed basic energy of his choice.  "To Tom from Ness"
21) Who do you believe is the best Pokémon TCG player in the world? 
Not Phil Mondiello.  Seriously, let WotC invite the top 32 players in the world, by DCI ranking, to Seattle next year for a three day mega tourney.  I will be in Seattle for the next 18 months (starting mid Dec) and volunteer to help plan it.  Let that tournament decide who is the best.  Another way is to have state championships, and then send those 50 players to Seattle for a National Championship.  Don't forget the guys in Europe and around the world, though.  They are trying pretty hard, and don't have the opportunities you in America have to attend tournaments. 
22) Any other hobbies?
Lots.  Almost all of them involve games, but the biggest one is my family.   Thanks and love to my wife Madeline for supporting my game-playing hobbies, my son Thayer for being a guinea pig on all my new deck ideas, and my little boy Sam who is destined to be the best of us all.  Last bit of advice - if you want to be a master, read "Mastery" by George Leonard.  It will change your life.  Feel free to e-mail me at
lafleurt@marshallcenter.org  Best of luck to you all.

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