As promised, the Fincastle Gym hit another milestone at our league. Sunday, Gym Leader Joel battled the youngest player to ever take on one of our Gym Leader Challenges. Eddie R, maybe standing all of 3 1/2′ tall, is about as full of himself as any 5-year-old that we have met. To be good at this game, you need to able to read and comprehend ideas that are pretty foreign to the average 5-year-old mind. You need to be able to perform basic math and at times, math that goes way beyond the definition of “basic”. You need to be able to grasp the strategy of a themed deck, whether it is a creation of the best cards you have or a deck based off of the top decks played by Masters and Seniors. Pokemon rates this game for ages 6 and up, but from what we seen on average, most kids aren’t ready until that 7-8 range. The average 5-year-old (in our country, anyway) does not read and is not expected to be able to. If their parents are active with them, many 5-year-olds are counting, but that’s a far cry from doing math. The most complex strategy in most 5-year-old brains is how get something they want or how to not do something their parents want them to do. We have absolutely zero qualms in labeling any 5 year that can play this TCG as “exceptional”.
Let’s see if we can put this into some context. Gym Leader Georgia began playing the TCG when she was 5. We built simple, often 1 energy attacker decks like Jumpluff & Empoleon. Georgia played a Feraligatr/Alomamola deck at her 1st Nationals. All of the decks she played early on were simple, consistent and straight forward. She lost plenty of games that we thought she should win. She won games that were surprises to her opponent, including stealing some wins against her older brother, Logan (who did not start playing until he was 8), as he ascended to becoming one of the best Juniors in the world. One of Gym Leader Joel’s favorite memories was watching Georgia square off against Jimmy McClure, who at the time was one of the top players in the Senior Division. Georgia, who was barely visible in her seat (outside of the oversized Play!Pokemon sitting on top of her little head), traded KO’s with Jimmy back and forth, while he asked multiple times… “How old are you?!?” Georgia responded each time by simply holding up her hand. Whether she was answering his question with the #5 or telling him to “talk to the hand” is open for interpretation. She lost a close game, but it was definitely a sign to us of many great things to come.
Playing a game with a 5-year-old is a challenge in its own right. We spent a lot of time with Georgia, helping her learn to read some cards and memorize others. Throughout the years we’ve played and the various rule and format changes that we’ve endured, one thing has remained… games can take a long time. Keeping the attention of a younger Junior in a match that can run on for more than an hour is hard. We try to keep them engaged any way we can, often helping them along the way a bit. We’ve always felt that there is a fine balance in teaching a young player how to play a deck properly without letting them win. We are not “trophies for everyone” people and we definitely believe that learning to lose is far more important than learning to win. You cannot get good at this game until you learn how to battle through tough games, lose close games and even come back in games that seem lost.
The Gym Leaders have created our Gym Leader Challenge system with all of that in mind. A single type deck, especially one that is 100% weak to 1 type is not hard to defeat if you know what you are doing. Against players of any age, the challenges are as much of a test of a player’s ability to create and pilot their deck as they test it against us. Our quartet of leaders are all experienced and skilled players. We often are able to outplay our challengers, despite having the weakness disadvantage, by playing decks that are very consistent. Enter, stage right, the mighty Eddie. Eddie is learning what is becoming a very tested Volcanion list. The deck is very fast and streamlined, but we would not go so far as saying it is easy to play. It is a challenging list to get good with, as it does present some tough choices that require the correct decision to be made in order for the deck to do well. Eddie definitely held the advantage over Gym Leader Joel’s Grass-type deck, if he could work his way through his 1st best 2 out of 3, championship-style match.
Game 1 quickly unfolded into a great scenario for Eddie. In addition to getting a solid start with a good accompanying opening hand, Gym Leader Joel started with a lone Spinarak. With a lone “Ultra Ball” as his only option to improve his situation, the Gym Leader opted for a Shaymin EX, hoping to “Set Up” into some better cards. Shaymin offered little help, landing the Gym Leader a Sceptile EX and not much to go with it. Eddie developed his bench and then started a 3 turn series of “Steam Up”-boosted ”Power Heater” attacks that resulted in KO’s that left the Gym Leader with nothing but Shaymin EX in play. To demonstrate to Eddie how time conservation is an important aspect of the TCG, Gym Leader Joel conceded Game 1, as it was way beyond winnable at that point.
The 2nd game of the contest flipped the script on Eddie, as he started a lone Volcanion EX to the Gym Leader’s ideal start. Joel took an early KO on that Volcanion EX, all the while starting the process of loading energy onto his benched Trevenant EX. Lacking the energy necessary to take out Eddie’s other Volcanion EX (that now each sported a “Fighting Fury Belt” to drive their HP to 220HP), Joel used “Lysandre” to catch a benched Shaymin EX and knock it out. Eddie returned the KO by one-hitting Joel’s Trevenant EX to tie the game at 2 Prize cards each (remaining). Joel hit a ”baby” Volcanion for 100 damage w/his 2nd Mega, charging another benched Trevenant EX w/grass energy. Eddie evaluated his options, dug some basic Fire-type energy out of the discard pile, used the “Steam Up” ability from 3 benched Volcanion EX and one-hit Joel’s final Mega to take his last 2 prize cards and the match! The win came just in time, as the match had already exceeded 1 hour, we believe the 5 year old’s battery was running dangerously low on juice and may not have had it in him to go to a 3rd game. Way to go, Eddie!
Eddie earned the Grass-type gym badge, his 1st badge earned at the Fincastle Pokemon Gym. His win claims for Eddie the title of the youngest player to ever win a badge at the Gym. It also marks the 1st TCG gym badge won since August 2015 (wow). Only 3 badges have been won in 2016 and they were all against VG gym leaders. Eddie is the 28th different trainer to earn a badge in Fincastle and the win brings the number of total badges won to 60. There is 1 more fire-weak deck in the rotation, the Steel-type gym leader deck. If Eddie can defeat it in the coming weeks, his path to claiming all of the badges will definitely be off to a good start. However, from there, the difficulty level of the remaining decks will increase quite a bit. Welcome to the Wall of Fame, Eddie! See you at the Gym!
TCG Gym Badges Earned (aka, The Wall of Fame):
- Austin W – Steel, Grass
- Tyler D – Lightning, Steel, Grass
- Chris L – Lightning, Fire
- James H – Psychic, Steel
- Tessa Y – Fire, Psychic, Grass, Lightning
- Angela Y – Lightning, Fighting, Psychic
- Dustin F – Psychic
- Brycen F – Psychic, Lightning, Fire, Grass, Darkness, Steel
- Troy B – Lightning
- Jordan L – Grass
- Hunter H – Grass, Darkness, Steel, Lightning, Psychic, Fighting, Water, Fire and Dragon
- Kelli B – Fire
- Eli T – Grass
- Isaac B – Steel
- Jeff D – Psychic, Fire
- Jacob A – Steel
- Alex D – Lightning, Grass
- Jacob V – Dragon
- Alan G – Fire
- Ryan N – Psychic
- Wesley H – Fire
- Alex T – Grass
- Rob C – Psychic, Water, Lightning
- Dean E – Grass, Fire
- Robbie F – Lightning, Grass, Psychic, Darkness, Water
- Nathan S – Dragon
- Davis N – Lightning
- Eddie R – Grass
*players in BOLD have won all 9 badges