What did Pokémon mean to me in 2020?

ATGN’s commander in chief Toby asked me the other day if I could write about a best deck or moment in the Pokémon TCG in 2020, a year which shook things up in the game with the beginning of the Sword and Shield block and outside of the game with the ongoing pandemic.

The best deck of the year is a contentious topic – there are a few decks vying for that title and my pick in ADP/Zacian V is a whole topic of its own even beyond being just the best deck. On the other hand, moments to think about are few and far between thanks to the year it’s been and the cancellation of events. Although there are still regular local events and plenty of online tournament series, my competitive arena of choice has always been at official, premiere events played over the table and across my opponent. For me and for plenty of my peers in the game, the year had essentially been cancelled.

If I had to pick out one favourite moment, it was my hot run through the second Pokémon Team Challenge tournament run by Gold Coast Good Games where I very nearly won the whole thing with Decidueye. I was winning games right through until the finals where I fell just short to my aforementioned 2020 deck of the year – ADP/Zacian V.

I decided I would take Toby’s prompt and ask myself “What has Pokémon meant to me in the year 2020” – a year with no local premiere events and a metagame which seemed to pivot far away from the enjoyable formats of recent years past.

This year I spent a lot of time in the lab trying to come up with unique ideas. If you were to log into my account now and scroll through the decks I’ve pieced together, you’d see list upon list of very unusual combinations.

Over the years as my desire to win at all costs has mellowed and I’ve instead pursued the unencumbered happiness of trying to succeed with decks which are off the beaten track, I’ve somehow become that guy who always plays weird decks. To be honest that isn’t always the case – I’ve spent long stretches of my time with the game playing top tier decks at different times. I remember playing Volcanion for a year straight and that deck is a very straight forward “accelerate energy and attack” kind of a deck.

Something I’ve spoken to previously is that Pokémon is often a game where you need to set your own goals to enjoy it. There are some who aim for competing at a high level and until 2020, were traveling to local, national and international level events (I’d count myself among them). For many players however, the scope and the angle is different. I choose the word different because I don’t want to seem dismissive by calling it ‘smaller’. People have different lifestyles and priorities and of course I think that anybody who wants to make time to play the Pokémon TCG should be applauded no matter the scope – be it an international stage, or your family living room.

In these different arenas, you can still be competitive and you can still find joy in playing cards to the table as long as you set goals which become those achievements you can be proud of. Some of my most enjoyable moments this year were those quiet moments late at night as my friends and I slowly concocted new strategies and saw them come to life. If winning a high stakes tournament game is a rush, so can winning with a completely off-meta or ‘in theory only’ idea.

What has Pokémon meant to me this year? It hasn’t just been a platform of competition, nor just an excuse to meet with friends. This year its been a journey towards discovering what there is to discover in a format decried by many of the game’s contemporary player base. It has been self-expression through strategy and card choice in a time where competition can be few and far between. It has been finding new ways to think about and play the game, to set my own goals and pursue mastery whilst unbound by the usual structure of competitive events.

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