The Pokemon Company has been developing an online version of the TCG for the last 2 years. Early versions of it allowed some limited play with starter-type decks. As you battled computer opponents, slightly better cards would be unlocked to add to your deck (whether you wanted them or not, if I remember correctly). While the idea was cool to play around with from a novelty standpoint, online play was slow and stale. We at the Gym abandoned the early version because it really wasn’t that interesting.
As Pokémon continued to develop the game, we acquired an enormous amount of the online code cards that we did not use. We looked at trying it out again, only to find out that at that time, online codes had to be entered manually. We redeemed some cards, which added a new dimension to the definition of “tedious”, as each card is a random mix of around 13 numbers and letters, separated by dashes. After losing several hours of our lives typing these things in one at a time, we again turned to filing the code cards into a drawer.
Fast forward now to about 3 months ago. We had allowed cards from both tournament winnings and pack purchases to accumulate for a month or 2 too long. So, we sorted cards and in that process, sorted out another large batch of online code cards. Time to do something, as they now accounted for over half of all of our space to store cards. I returned to the online game one more time, as I’d seen YouTube videos of people playing and it looked like the game finally worked. I logged back in under my old account, which I was pleasantly surprised to see still had booster pack credits from our last attempt waiting for me. Before I went any further, I tested out the mechanic to redeem the online codes and it worked! As long as you have a webcam on your computer, you could now scan the codes and redeem them in the amount of time it takes to pick 1 up and wave it in front of the computer. In about 30 minutes, I scanned over a hundred code cards and started “opening” packs.
Gym Leader Logan joined in on his account and in a few days, we both had copies of several of our competitive and Gym Leader decks built and ready to play online. This allowed us to practice against all sorts of decks, presumably from all over the country/world (we don’t know what, if any, boundaries there are in the random pairings and if you are ever paired with foreign language opponents). As the last month or so has passed, we have built a large variety of decks that range from competitive to decks to ones we play in the “Novice” category. You can even play theme decks against theme deck in a category designated just for them.
The “pros” of the online game are many. The most notable one is this… any card you have can be used again in any deck. If you want 4 copies of something in any particular deck, like 4 “Pokemon Catcher” or 4 “N”, that’s all you have to have in your account. You can use those same 4 copies in as many different decks as you wish. Not having to stockpile cards or switch them between decks is a luxury that we enjoy very much, as we are constantly switching cards between decks or printing proxies for testing. This allows you the freedom to trade excess cards you have in your online account for cards that you need without worrying over the value of the trade as you must do with the real thing. For example, between the code cards from the promo tins and the odd streak I hit while opening Boundaries Crossed packs online, I had 14 Keldeo EX cards in my account. I kept the 1 full art copy and 4 of the others (as you cannot have more than 4 copies in any deck) and traded the others to obtain other cards that I needed.
The online game is a great tool for testing. We emphasize “tool” for some reasons I’ll explain in a moment. When a deck idea comes to mind, being able to log on and put it together immediately is awesome. Especially when your idea turns out to be horrible, you don’t have to take apart a 60 card deck and re-sort the cards. If the idea is close but not quite right, you can click “Edit Deck” immediately after finishing a game and change the cards you want while it is still fresh in your mind…which is very important when you’re my age. The list I took 3rd place in Harrisonburg with was put together card-for-card from one of my online lists. If this spring wasn’t so busy for us, I had several decks that were itching to break out of their online cages and become decks in real life (sounds like Pinocchio). I’ll be sharing several of these with you over the next few days.
The online game is not without negatives, but we at the Gym are not big fans of criticizing a body of someone else’s work. Overall, they’ve done an amazing job translating the TCG to the online version. The reason we say to use this as a tool and not you’re only means of testing is what seems to be an odd method/mechanic for randomizing shuffles. Perhaps the online game is truly random and conventional shuffling is not as random as we like to think it is, but whatever the case may be, we frequently get some horrible hands online. I’m not referring to simply not getting the cards you want, but, for instance, playing a Professor Juniper (or something else that nets you at least 6 cards) and drawing 4 “Catchers” or 4 “Switches” all at once. That’s not to say that something like that hasn’t ever happened while playing the actual card game, but it happens A LOT when we play the online game. I’m sure the programming responsible is way over my head and can’t imagine taking on the task of trying to get the game to accurately simulate playing for real. Just keep in mind that such things do happen in the online game. I would not let instances like these weigh too heavily on your testing results until I tried the deck out for real first.
The only other negative that I experience often is the game dropping out completely because of a loss of connection with the server. Again, I have no idea if this is a problem with the online game’s server, local internet or my opponent unplugging their connection when the game is lost (it always seems to happen when I’m crushing one of the “best deck in the format”, cut & paste Plasma decks). Perhaps it’s a coincidence, maybe it happens to everyone.
Variety in the decks that you face online has narrowed considerably with the advent of Plasma Freeze, but that’s not an issue with the online game. That’s just the format, which unfortunately has taken a turn from a very diverse assortment of decks, to a Plasma-heavy format. The real TCG format is already swamped with it and variations of Kyurem/Deoxys/Thundurus/Lugia/Snorlax/blah blah blah will surely dominate this summer’s National Championships (in # of decks anyway). I’m sure the fans of the old SP Luxray/Garchomp vs Luxray/Garchomp finals match-ups are ecstatic. Wheeeee.
As far as getting set up to play goes, its pretty self-explanatory. Just goes to Pokémon’s main website and follow the links to download the game. You do have to have an account set up with Pokémon (which means that younger players need their parents to set up one as well). Settings that restrict/allow things like online trading, adding friends and chatting with opponents are all accessed through the parent account on Pokémon.com, where you can configure the settings however you prefer. Again, everything is pretty easy to follow on their website and can be modified with a click of the mouse. We keep instructions at league on setting up your account, so if you need a copy, see us at league. We will post those instructions soon in the “What You Need To Play” tab.
Well, this ran on a little longer than expected. Rather than try to squeeze a list and explanation into this article, we’ll just start the next post with that. Check back and see some of our ideas. Until then, keep testing and give the online game a peek when you have some spare time this summer. See you at the Gym!