Since the Fincastle Pokemon Gym Leaders started playing the TCG, Play!Pokemon has made several rule changes and rulings that change the definition of existing cards (known as publishing an “errata” or new definition for that card). The “errata” is usually followed up with a new printing of the changed card with its new definition at some point. This fall, Pokemon is making both. The new rulings will definitely have game-changing implications. The first set of changes is in effect now (for the Fall Regional Championships). The 2nd set comes on November 8th, after the release of X&Y and will be in effect for all tournaments for the remainder of the 2013-14 season.
The most immediate change in the TCG concerns how rounds are played out. Up until now, “swiss” rounds at US events have been single games with the 30 minutes + 3 turn limit on each round. The single game format has been solid and is what everyone is accustomed to, but its weakness becomes painfully obvious at major tournaments. As quickly as 2 minutes into the start of a round, we routinely see droves of people getting up from the their games and exiting, having suffered the fabled “donk” (1st turn loss) without ever getting to play a card. Since we’ve been playing, we have not seen any format changes that have been able to resolve this problem. Whenever “donk” cards are rotated, they seem to be replaced by cards that allow the “donk” with more ease than before. The new rule on rounds will not prevent the “donk” from happening, but will at least give you a chance to try again if you fall victim to it.
Beginning at the Fall Regionals (and throughout all Regionals and State Championships), swiss rounds will be “best 2 of 3” matches with a 50 minute time limit for the match, with the “plus 3” turns at the end of the time limit. There is no time limit now on a single game. As in top cut matches, whoever loses game 1 chooses who goes 1st in game 2. City Championships will be single elimination and League Challenges will be optional (up to the organizer). My first thought upon hearing about this change was “how will you get 3 games in within a 50 minute time limit?” I guess the obvious answer is that you will not in most circumstances. If you have a decided advantage over your opponent, then winning 2 straight games in that time frame should not be a problem. However, the tightly contested matches will be where this gets interesting and we see of Play!Pokemon fixed anything or removed the hideous “donk” monster and replaced it with a much uglier and nastier beast.
The resolution for the matches goes like this. If you win the 1st 2 games, you win the match. If you win game 1 and are not finished with game 2 when time is called, you still win the match (as you won the only complete game). If you win game 1, lose game 2 and are playing game 3 when time is called, then the match will be a “draw”. The resolution of the “draw” will make tournament results and entry into the top cut rounds very interesting.
Players who win a match will awarded points in addition to keeping their tournament record and tie-breaker % against the rest of the field. If you tie or draw, you will receive a smaller amount of points and get a tie on your record (like 5-2-1). I don’t know what the point values will be yet, but standings will be based on these points 1st, then fall to the other stats to break ties. It seems like a draw will not be as damaging as a loss, but it is doubtful that you will make the top cut if you get a tie in every match.
The problem, which is not a new one to the game, unfortunately, is player manipulation of the rule. This has been (and surely will always be) a factor in one way or another. From slow play, to purposefully allowing misplays to win, to stacking tournaments with friends who all roll over for you to gain needed championship points, we have played long enough to see just about everything. As previously stated, this one is a whole new monster. This rule creates a bit of haven for these types of players. It is hard to predict how this new format will play out at Regionals, but I’m sure slow play will plague many matches.
Beginning on November 8th, another major rule change and errata takes place. The rule change governs the opening turn for both players and almost returns to the way games began back when we first started playing. The player that wins the opening coin flip will get to choose whether he goes 1st or 2nd. Currently, the player that wins the flip automatically goes 1st. With that choice, he/she must consider the 2nd part of this change. The player that goes 1st cannot use any attack. I have not seen any official rulings, but for now we are assuming that this includes set-up attacks (like “Call for Family”, “Junk Hunt” etc). The players that goes 2nd can do everything (attack, play item/supporters, etc). Here’s the head-scratcher… the coin flip and choice both happen before you set up and look at your hand.
This change definitely takes the decided advantage away from the player that goes 1st as it exists at the moment. While I’ve eeeeked out some ugly wins going 2nd (and still lost when going 1st), the advantage at the moment to going 1st is huge. Under this new structure, if your opening turn still leaves you with a single pokemon, then you are still susceptible to a “donk”. However, surviving the 1st turn could leave you open to a huge 2nd turn. The choice you make on the coin flip and the advantage under these rules may completely depend on what type of deck you are playing. How you make the right choice before looking at your hand… your guess is as good as mine. I guess you have to hope that your guess is better.
The “errata” that accompanies this change increases the likelihood that you can get your field set up. This comes in a change to the definition of the most powerful card in the game, “Pokemon Catcher”. This item card’s definition is being changed to require a coin flip and only allowing you to bring a benched pokemon to the “active” position if you get a “heads”. So, it basically changes “Catcher” back into the old “Pokemon Reversal” item card. I personally cannot think of any tightly contested games that I’ve played since “Catcher” was released that did not swing either for or against me because of that card. To say that this “errata” is game changing seems to be a slight understatement… kind of like saying the Titanic sprung a leak. This will definitely allow decks requiring more set up or using more Stage 2’s to become more competitive.
Overall, we at the Gym like the changes that are here and that are coming soon. We shall see how the whole “draw” thing plays out. If everyone just plays their games at a good pace, scoops games that they know are beyond saving and refrains from stretching out games that they can end (in other words, does not play like a jack-wagon), then the transition should not be that bad. For those of you that complicate this new format by trying to play the rules instead of playing the game, may your next Happy Meal leave you feeling hollow and alone (harsh, aren’t I?). Our advice is now what it has always been… play your game and have fun.
If you have any questions about the changes, ask us at league or feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just as a reminder, we are back at our normal location @ time this Sunday. See you at the Gym!