Nostalgia has been something of a running theme in the past couple of articles I’ve written about the Pokémon Trading Card Game and rightly so – it is one of those crazes from the nineties that I, like many my age or thereabouts, not only remember fondly but also couldn’t ignore even if I tried.
In the current age of competitive gaming, whether it is a tabletop or a video game, we have seen competitions become spectator sports of a kind, with viewers at home being given the opportunity to watch matches unfold, delivered alongside the kind of commentary and insight one might expect from a traditional sports broadcast. Similarly, you are also treated to being able to watch the best of the best play, sometimes resulting in some unforgettable moments, of the kind you tell your card game buddies about, “Hey did you see that player do X then Y third round?”.
The Pokémon TCG has slowly filled Youtube with official coverage of premier events including its World Championships and so I feel somewhat nostalgic looking back at the coverage of the Pokémon World Championships of 2013 (the year I qualified and represented Australia). Other than the matches I played, and the one Kaiwen Cabbabe played to become only Australia’s 2nd Seniors Division (Age 11-14) World Champion, I remember fondly the final game played out between Simon Narode and Jason Klaczynski.
In particular, I remember the final turns of the game in question. The matchup being played out was pretty iconic of the era – Simon was piloting a ‘Team Plasma’ deck featuring Lugia EX whose ability allowed it to close games quickly if the deck’s other Pokémon were able to set up damage on the board. Jason on the other hand was playing an extremely straight-forward Darkrai EX centric deck which aimed to accelerate energy via the Item card ‘Dark Patch’, increase the damage doled out via ‘Hypnotoxic Laser’ and recover resources as necessary via Sableye.
On Simon’s last turn, he plays a Max Potion to recover the damage dealt the previous turn to his active Deoxys EX, helping to stave off the potential for a huge double KO from Jason’s Darkrai EX. He attaches a WFLM Blend Energy to his Thundurus EX, plays a Skyla to search his deck for a Pokémon Catcher – using it to bring Jason’s damaged Darkrai EX active with its effect. He then uses Keldeo EX’s ability to switch with Deoxys EX, then retreats (for no cost thanks to an attached Float Stone) to the heavily damaged Lugia EX with which he attacks for a huge 3 Prize turn. One of the cards Simon takes from his Prizes is a Pokémon Catcher, meaning if Jason does not win or disrupt Simon’s Hand and Board, Simon can win on the following turn.
Jason enters his final turn, no longer able to simply play Pokémon Catcher onto the previously damaged Deoxys EX to score a double Knock Out (with Darkrai EX’s Night Spear attack dealing the remaining necessary damage to also KO the Lugia EX after it is forced back to the bench). As commentator Jason Wittenkeller says “There’s really nothing Jason can do to knock out this game right here on this turn” alluding to the recently healed Deoxys EX, removing that as a target for a Double KO.
As Jason begins his turn and promotes Darkrai EX, he immediately begins to count the remaining cards in his deck followed by examining the contents of his own discard pile. After checking it thoroughly he plays the Supporter Card ‘Professor Juniper’, discards the contents of his hand and draws seven cards – exactly the remaining number of cards he had in his deck – plays a Pokémon Catcher to force Keldeo EX active followed by a Hypnotoxic Laser, applying poison damage which when amplified by the Stadium Card ‘Virbank City Gym’ leads to a double Knock Out on both Keldeo EX and Lugia EX from Darkrai’s Night Spear attack – granting Jason the win.
What really stands out to me about the final few turns of the game are not illuminated until after the match is over and Klaczynski sits down with commentator Josue Rojano for a post-game interview. Josue asks the question, “When did you actually realise ‘I am going to win this game right now’?” and Klaczynski responds:
“The last turn of the game, the turn before I had an option to Juniper and I know there’s a Catcher and Laser left in my deck, I checked that before when I searched, but there’s eight cards left in my deck. So my fear is that I was going to Juniper and that last card was going to be a Catcher or a Laser and then I would Night Spear setting up the Knock Outs but he would Max Potion and with only one turn left I could still lose the game. So then I checked the discard pile and I knew there was a Bicycle missing too but when you’re playing in timed games you don’t always have the luxury of memorising every single prize card you just look for the important stuff so you know if I had known that Bicycle was in there I could have guaranteed a Night Spear for the win a turn before but I couldn’t risk it knowing that I could possibly miss and end up decking out”.
Josue turns to comment on the fact that Jason’s analytical ability and skill was what propelled him to the heights he had reached. Reflecting on Jason’s explanation of his thought process during the last few turns of the game has me agreeing.
In those final turns of the game, he had the frame of mind and composure not to risk the 1-in-8 chance that half of a two card combo needed to close the game might have been the final card of the deck. I look back at that, and being privy to the contents of his hand at the time, I would have absolutely gone for it and risked missing the other half of the combo which may be why he won and I placed 82nd. I can think back to many games where I have not kept track of things like deck size and lost because I’ve recklessly dug for resources only to come up short and lose because I can’t win before my deck runs out.
It speaks a lot about the skills needed to compete at an elite level, skills transferable between other games in the genre and qualities which propel the same players to the top tables time and again, despite being a card game which is inherently filled with luck-based factors. It’s a set of turns which illuminate the thought process of players of high calibre – mindfulness of resources in hand, resources in deck, cards remaining, risk mitigation, planning ahead and planning around potential plays the opponent is capable of. Thinking back on that moment fills me with nostalgia of a different kind, perhaps even awe at what was a game winning set of turns illuminating the brilliance of the game’s only 3-time World Champion.