Many of us play the Pokémon Trading Card Game online, or PTCGO for short. It has become the primary testing tool for many competitive players, but it is not without its drawbacks. Today we’ll be discussing the pros and cons of PTCGO as a testing tool, as well as some ways you can best use it to prepare for tournaments.
Generally, I’ve found that PTCGO is a very helpful tool, and it has become an important part of my testing regimen. For the below points, I’ll mostly be focusing on the “Versus” mode of PTCGO, but also somewhat factoring in the benefits associated with Friend Battle.
* There is no faster way to marathon games of Pokémon, regardless of the mode you’re playing. When I was preparing for my first Last Chance Qualifier back in 2008 and 2009, my “lofty” goal at the time was to play at least ten games a day, every day. Fast forward to 2017, and you can get ten games on PTCGO fairly quickly, and that’s not even including premature concessions!
* Similar to the above point, it’s generally an efficient use of your time. Questionable RNG and occasional glitches aside, playing any online program saves you time and effort involved in sleeving, shuffling, cutting, and all the other physical factors in the physical card game. With respect to PTCGO over most freeware versions of the Pokémon Trading Card Game, such as on PlayTCG.me or through Apprentice, PTCGO is almost completely automated.
* Versus Mode is the easiest way to discover “secret” or otherwise below-the-radar decks before they are unveiled. Wailord, Vespiquen/Vileplume, Gardevoir, Decidueye, and any other deck that had a period where it was not terribly well known or respected have all actually made early appearance in the sea of PTCG opponents – you just had to queue up enough times to find them.
* The majority of your opponents are not as focused as they would be at an in-person event, or even in-person testing. Between the TV, multiple open browser windows, and finishing daily challenges, there are many factors that will make it less likely you’re playing against your random opponent’s best at any given time. The daily challenges in particular could skew the results in your game if your opponent is making an unusually risky move just to get an extra Knock Out, or deal that last 200 damage they need with a Lightning Pokémon to complete the Damage challenge.
*Glitches can disrupt or skew your testing. Between the past three releases, we’ve seen two very new and important cards suffer from horrible bugs on release day: Ninja Boy (Steam Siege) and Rotom Dex (Sun and Moon). This is hardly new, and in fact we see at least one important, metagame-significant card every other set end up broken for weeks if not MONTHS on end!
* You have to claw your way up in the ratings before you get to see the really good players that make PTCGO a useful testing tool outside of friend battles. Since this matchmaking rating is hidden so that you won’t obsess over it, you also have little to go off of until you start seeing name players you recognize in the community.
3. How to Best Utilize PTCGO as a Testing Tool
So you know the pros. You know the cons. Where do you go from here? And how do you maximize PTCGO’s benefits?
* Remember that Versus is for quantity, while Friend Battles are for quality. Random players rarely know you and chat is in fact shut off in Versus mode, meaning the only way you will know if you screwed up is if A) you catch it yourself; or B) some doofus is BM’ing (bad manners-ing) you with a sarcastic, well-timed drop of “well played!” – one of the only available pre-loaded phrases you can say to your opponent. However, while Versus won’t help you reach new depths as a player most of the time, it will help you become familiar with your deck, notice patterns in peoples’ moves, and generally learn to recognize most of the infinite board possibilities in the game. Conversely, spending some time with a trusted testing partner over Friend Battle means playing a couple really high-quality games and then analyzing the results, digging deep into the “why” of everything.
*Have some way of keeping track of all the cool ideas you come across on PTCGO. Note this doesn’t have to be as formal or rigid as an Excel spreadsheet; rather, it can be hopping into your deck editor and preserving the idea. A couple weeks before U.S. Nationals, I ran into Wailord EX/Suicune PLB before it became a worldwide phenomenon. What I did shortly thereafter was trade for some Wailords and build the deck online – BOOM! Secret deck preserved and now readily available for testing!
* If an important card is glitched on PTCGO, supplement or outright replace use of the program with other methods of testing, including the physical game itself.
*Win a lot. Because the more you win, the better players and decks you’ll see on average, meaning fewer people attaching Fighting Fury Belt to M Mewtwo EX!
Despite its flaws and quirks, PTCGO is a fantastic testing tool, and your window into some of the best decks and minds in the game. Just like a balanced diet, you can’t rely on PTCGO too much over other methods of growth like in-person games, theory crafting, and reading articles, but it is by far the largest platform for Pokémon TCG players in the world, and is something you don’t want to miss out on.
P.S. If you liked today's read on PTCGO, then I'd also encourage you to check out a similar article on The Charizard Lounge, located here.