Preparing for Pokemon Regionals and other IRL Tournaments
Hey everyone, it’s Tate again and this time I’ve got a bit of a different topic than my usual deck profiles. With the announcement from TPCI that Regional Championships will return in March 2022, a considerable number of new players who have joined the competitive scene after March 2020, and thus have only competed in online tournaments, will be preparing to attend their first Regionals this season. This has led to a number of questions from these newer members of our community: what exactly is a Regional event like? How should one prepare for the tournament, not just in terms of deck choice and metagaming, but also the non-Pokemon things like when to arrive, the daily schedule, and more.
In this article I’ll be breaking down a typical Regional-style event, answering questions (including common ones I’ve seen on Twitch, Twitter, and Discord, especially the Celio’s Network and FrostedCaribou servers) and offering some of my own tips for real-life play, including the multiple ways it differs from online play.
1. What is a Regional?
- League Challenges award the smallest increments of CP (15 for first place). They typically do not have a Top Cut--the standings are final after the last Swiss round is played.
- League Cups are the next level up from Challenges; the main difference is the addition of a single-elimination Top 8 after Swiss rounds are completed. Cups award 50 CP for the winner down to 25 CP for a Top 8 placement (and sometimes smaller CP increments through Top 16 or even Top 32 for a very large Cup). Cups may be best-of-1 or best-of-3 in Swiss but will always use best-of-3 for Top 8. Challenges and Cups are generally held at local game stores, once per store per quarter of the season; you can find these small events near you using TPCI’s event locator.
- Regionals and Special Events are the next level up and represent the first tier of what I have labeled “major events” on PokeStats. Major events are characterized by their large attendance (hundreds or over a thousand Masters) and event space (usually convention centers), timeframe (usually an entire weekend), high CP payouts (200 for the winner, through 60 for making Top 32 and often smaller increments as far down as Top 256 at very large Regionals), and ability to attract top players from all over the country and even the world. North America typically sees about 12 Regionals per season; the abbreviated 2022 season will feature six plus a handful in Europe. (You can see a list of all announced Regionals here.) Special Events are equivalent to Regionals in terms of CP payout but usually have a smaller attendance and have occasionally been played in just one day; they are usually reserved for regions with lower populations where competitive play may not be as developed. I expect TPCI to announce one or more Special Events for Latin American regions by the end of the 2022 season.
- Finally, we have Internationals. There are four per season, one in each of Europe, Oceania, Latin America, and North America. For an example of the scale of these events: the 2018 North America International Championship, the largest tournament to date, saw 1534 players attend just in the TCG Masters Division. The winner of an International receives 400 CP, and CP payouts are generous through Top 32 and typically further. Even if you’re a fairly new online-only player, you probably know the name of Tord Reklev--Tord is well-known for having three International Championship wins to his name, an incredible achievement given the scale of these events and the difficulty of winning repeat events in a game with as much variance and metagame shifting as Pokemon.
FAQ: Do I need an invite or minimum CP qualification to attend a Regional or International?
No— the only sanctioned event you need an invite to attend is the World Championships. As long as you have a Player ID, you can compete in Regional and International Championships as well as League Cups and League Challenges.
2. What is the schedule for a typical Regionals?
FAQ: Some Regionals listed on the official Pokemon website are scheduled to start Friday and last through the weekend, so should I prepare to arrive on Thursday?
This confused many new players when the 2022 schedule was released. Regionals are played on Saturday and Sunday, and the majority of players arrive on Friday. You do not need to check in to the tournament until Saturday morning (but can do so on Friday night). The reason why some are scheduled to include Friday is that often on Friday the convention center will be open for vendors, which is useful if you need to buy cards for that last-minute list swap, or just want to get some practice games in on Friday night. In recent seasons, we have also seen many Regional venues offer a League Challenge on Friday night (a warmup for the main event, if you will). I have never arrived to a Regional earlier than Friday afternoon.
If you haven’t played in a Regional before, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of Pokemon being played under one roof in two days--I certainly was at my first. It is a long Saturday, and that’s not even counting Day 2 if you make it there. At modern Regionals, you should expect the first round of Day 1 to begin at 9 AM, and play will run late into the evening. Each round of a Regional is a best-of-3 match scheduled to last 50 minutes; allowing 10 minutes between rounds, you would expect a typical 9-round Day 1 to last about 9 hours. However, things never run that smoothly— judge calls, matches that go into extra turns, and technology issues can hold things up considerably, and many modern Regionals also include an hour for a lunch break in the middle of the day. Basically, you should expect to spend your whole Saturday in or around the convention center, unless you drop (as many do) before Round 9 is completed.
At a typical Regional with 9 rounds on Day 1, either the Top 32 players or all players with 19 Match Points reach Day 2— whichever is greater (at modern Regionals, it is almost always the latter number). (For those unfamiliar with Match Points, you receive 3 for a win, 0 for a loss, and 1 for a tie. So a minimum W-L-T record of 6-2-1, or the rarer 5-0-4, is needed to reach Day 2.)
If you reach Day 2, you’ll want to be back in the convention center for that same 9 AM start time on Sunday. However, Day 2 is shorter both due to the lower number of rounds (usually five more Swiss rounds plus the Top 8 matches), and the lower number of players leading to greater ease with pairings and judge calls. Typically, the finals will be finishing up around late afternoon to early evening. If you are making travel plans, there is no obligation to stay late into Day 2 if you are not competing, but of course it is pretty exciting to be able to catch those Top Cut matches. I’ve known some players who have lost in Top 8 or Top 4 and promptly sped off to the airport to catch their Sunday night flight!
In the next section I’ll discuss what I bring to be prepared and stay in the game for that long Day 1.
3. My “backpack breakdown” for Regionals
Someone in the Celio’s Network Discord server asked me to give some advice on what to pack for a typical Regional Day 1, given that it’s such a long day and playing that much Pokemon can be pretty draining.
I’ll first note that in the past couple years, many Regional venues have not been allowing external food or drink into the convention center (this is beyond the discretion of the tournament organizers). There tends to be water available within the venue but you may want to be prepared to shell out some cash if you want snacks, an energy drink, or the like (with that lovely convention center markup). However, information about external food and drink will be available on each respective Regional’s website in advance of the tournament, so you can be prepared. Also, as I mentioned above, most modern Regionals include a lunch break after the third or fourth round. I know some players such as Rahul Reddy hate the lunch break and prefer to just grind through all nine rounds as fast as possible, but I personally like the ability to recharge mentally, walk around outside, and get some “real food” during this time.
Now for my list— this will include the “tournament essentials” of what you absolutely need to play in the tournament; the specific gear I use for things like storing my deck; and the extras I like to have to perform as well as possible.
Tate’s “backpack must-haves” for a full day of Pokemon
1. Tournament essentials:
a. 60 cards. I shouldn’t have to say this, but, well, you need a deck to play in the tournament.
b. Sleeves, and extra sleeves. Your 60 cards should be sleeved, and sleeves should be fresh with no discernible wear that could earn you a marked-card penalty. I always stress the importance of having extras of whichever sleeves you’re using. If you damage one, which is pretty likely with how much shuffling you’re doing all day, you don’t want to be that person that gets a penalty because you can’t fix your marked card. I usually use Ultra Pro Pro-Mattes, but you can experiment and find the ones that shuffle best for you. An important point is that you must either be using plain-color sleeves or official Pokemon sleeves; third-party sleeves with designs on the backs are not legal for tournament play. (I do not recommend using the official Pokemon sleeves as I find the shuffling quality and durability to be very poor.)
c. Dice and other accessories. You’ll need some form of marker to keep track of damage counters on your Pokemon; almost everyone uses dice. I personally just use dice from an Elite Trainer Box, but I prefer the old ones with pips rather than the new ones with numbers. Doesn’t matter; just make sure you have some. I (and most other players) use a larger die for my “coin” (even = heads, odd = tails), but you can use one of the Pokemon product coins if you want the genuine flip. In formats with GX Pokemon (Expanded), you’ll also need a GX counter, but you probably won’t need to worry about that at Regionals in 2022, with everything announced being Standard.
2. My gear:
a. Deck box. I use an Ultra Pro Satin Tower, which I got for about 12 bucks and is simple and very durable. There is a compartment in the base for holding dice and other accessories. You can use anything you want (I have used a tupperware sandwich box at a League Cup before), but I recommend something that’s durable and won’t take up a lot of space in your pack and on the table.
b. Playmat. While not required, it’s pretty rare to see someone competing without a mat. It keeps your cards clean and makes them a lot easier to pick up and move around on the table. Unlike with sleeves, the official Pokemon playmats are great quality, or any equivalent third-party product will work fine.
3. Water bottle, and snacks if permitted. Even at Regionals with no external food/drink allowed, I’ll have an empty Nalgene to fill at the water fountains. Dehydration can lead to mental fatigue and headaches— don’t fall victim! At lower-level events like a League Cup where I still expect to be playing for the better part of a day, I’ll always have high-energy snacks like a granola bar or trail mix with me. At Regionals that don’t allow you to bring snacks in, internal vendors will sell some food, or you can stash some of those high-energy snacks in whoever’s car you came to the venue in, so you can grab a bite if you finish a match early and have down time in between rounds. I’m also a big Gatorade fan (usually more so than sugar-crash-y energy drinks at tournaments); whatever they’re putting in that stuff works pretty well at keeping you fatigue-free throughout the day.
4. Notebook. You don’t need one at all, but something many new players don’t know is that note-taking is totally permitted during matches. The only requirement is that your note paper must be blank at the start of the match, so you can’t take any information into the match that might help you. While many players just memorize their Prize Cards on their first deck search, you may notice some big names on stream like Ross Cawthon or Christopher Schemanske jotting down their Prizes or other reminders during the match, such as information on opponents’ tech cards. Because I keep track of metagame information and post Day 2 decks for PokeStats, I always have a pocket-size notebook in my backpack to track that information, and if I want to take notes during a specific match I can just rip out a blank page.
5. Phone charger. I always bring mine from the hotel. Days are long and with most modern regionals posting pairings online via RK9 Labs, you don’t want a dead phone.
6. Deodorant. We all know the greasy gamer jokes. You’re gonna be packed in a convention center with hundreds of other people— if you tend to sweat, best to have a solution. Don’t be that person!
I try to pack light. You won’t want to lug a heavy backpack around all day. I also like to wear a t-shirt underneath something I can remove easily like a zip-up sweater or hoodie, since you never know if the event center is going to be boiling or freezing.
4. Shuffling, judges, and tournament etiquette
A lot of people in Discord, Twitch, Twitter, etc. have asked questions in this area as well.
FAQ: What are the rules regarding shuffling my opponent’s deck? What about checking their discard pile?
My answer may ruffle a few feathers, but I have always been adamant that at a Regional, you are in a competitive environment and playing to win, and moreover, each player’s cards are merely tools to that end. I never ask to pick up an opponent’s discard pile— the contents therein are considered by the game to be public knowledge and you have the right to view them at any time. (Although if you need to read an opponent’s card that is in play, I would ask them before simply picking it up off their board.) And if I want to shuffle their deck instead of cutting (see below), I will do so— this is one of your best tools to prevent cheating or just make sure your opponent’s deck is randomized properly before a big draw.
Any time your opponent has finished shuffling their deck, you are allowed to cut the deck. What many less experienced players don’t know is that you have the option to shuffle their deck instead, in which case your opponent is then allowed to perform the cut. The rules allow this to discourage forms of cheating such as “cut stacking,” where players can shuffle in particular ways to influence the cut. If your opponent asks you not to shuffle their deck, you should be immediately suspicious. They cannot deny you the ability to do so and you should call a judge if it persists. Unless I have a reason to be suspicious of an opponent, I typically just cut, but you should be aware that you can always shuffle your opponent’s deck instead of cutting. I’ll explain shuffling further below.
I shuffle my deck with a combination of riffle shuffling and overhand or “mash” shuffling. Riffle shuffling is statistically the most efficient way of randomizing the deck. If performed properly, riffling does not damage the cards (you can see top player Alex Wilson demonstrating this here).
Some players pile shuffle between games. I consider this to be a waste of time as it does not randomize the deck very well and is somewhat time-consuming. It can also be easily abused to stack the deck. However, I do recommend pile shuffling once before your “real” shuffle at the start of each match. I do this to ensure that I actually have all 60 cards present with me at the table; for example, sorting into 6 piles of 10. It can also help you see if you have any damaged sleeves before the game starts.
I remember someone asking me if they should shuffle after each deck search if they’re performing multiple in succession, to which I answered that their opponent would probably get pretty mad if they did that, not to mention that they’d be wasting valuable time from their own clock. Minimize the time you spend shuffling! It’s considered good etiquette to announce that you’re “going back in” and not shuffling if you intend to play further search cards.
FAQ: Should I call a judge?
If you are asking yourself this question, the answer is “yes.” Judges are there to help you. It is not somehow a negative act to call a judge, regardless of whether you think your opponent is behaving suspiciously, an accidental gameplay error has occurred, or you just have some confusion over an in-game interaction.
In general, people being rude and unfriendly at Pokemon tournaments is the exception, not even close to the norm. I’ve had a lot of players in Discord servers and elsewhere tell me they’re nervous for their first big real-life tournament. That’s understandable— the stakes are higher and games can be more nerve-wracking when you’re across from another real person and not a computer screen— but I encourage people to remember that although it is a competition, ultimately we’re all there for fun.
FAQ: Do you announce every action you make during the game?
The answer to this will vary depending on which player you ask. I usually do not announce most of my Trainer cards, as I expect my opponent to be alert to my actions and aware of the general cards and shortcuts competitive decks will use, and I play cards quickly. Some players play out each card at a fairly consistent rate as they think through strategies over the course of a turn. Others, including myself, tend to stare at their hand for a bit, come up with a plan for the entire turn, and then play down many cards rapidly. I recommend getting comfortable with certain shortcuts (for example, with two Quick Ball in hand I may slam down both at once alongside the necessary discards for each, and search my deck for two Basic Pokemon).
Things like evolving a Pokemon or attaching a Tool I will typically do without announcing. If playing a deck that gives me the ability to attach multiple Energy per turn, I will often announce my “attach for turn” to avoid confusion, but your opponent should be alert to that too.
However, you should always announce Abilities and attacks clearly, to avoid any confusion about exactly what attack you are using or where you are targeting. Luke Morsa often tells the story of one of his worst Regional blunders, when he simply forgot to announce Jolteon-EX’s Flash Ray attack (which he needed to do every turn to establish a lock), and lost because of it. Judges are there to help you with issues (e.g. you announce an attack for which you don’t have the necessary Energy), but you want to be clear and avoid ambiguity.
5. More tournament tips
In this section I’ll discuss a few significant ways that real-life tournaments such as Regionals differ from online tournaments. If you have the opportunity to play at league or at small store events before attending your first Regional, these are things I would advise to practice and familiarize yourself with.
The vast majority of online tournaments, from Limitless tournaments small and large to official ones like the Players Cups, have featured open decklists. This is in stark contrast to sanctioned physical tournaments, at which you do not have access to your opponents’ decklists before, during, or after each match. I think this will be the single biggest change online-only players will need to adapt to at physical events. Rahul Reddy summarized this best for me when he said that closed decklists change the entire way game 1 of a best-of-3 match is played. With no knowledge of any techs your opponent may or may not play for your specific matchup, you have to play cautiously and leave many options open to yourself. In online events, you not only can see whether your opponent has teched for you, but can also know the exact counts of their cards so that tracking their discard pile and resources used are much easier, and it’s much easier to play “perfectly,” so to speak.
In a physical tournament, in the first game of a series, be very cognizant of every resource you can see that your opponent plays, as well as what you think they might not play. Remember how I talked about the discard pile being public knowledge, and you should always feel free to check your opponent’s? Take advantage of that, and try to figure out as much of their list as you can so you can make more confident and accurate plays in the second (and third if needed) game of the series. Sometimes top players will scoop a game 1 where they are in a poor position or drawing poorly, just to avoid revealing a tech they play for the matchup, beforing whipping out that tech in games 2 and 3 where hopefully they are able to draw better.
I have missed closed decklists not just because I think they increase the skill level of the game, but also because they allow for more creativity in deckbuilding. At 2020 Collinsville Regionals, my team played a unique Mew/Cramorant V Toolbox deck with a huge variety of tech cards for different matchups. In my very first game of the day, I took all six Prize Cards in a single turn (after appearing to be losing for most of the game) with a Moltres & Zapdos & Articuno-GX combo that came out of nowhere. If my opponent had had access to my list, they would have managed their board quite differently, but they had no idea what cards I was playing and so they could not effectively play around my combo. While they smartly adapted and played around Moltres & Zapdos & Articuno-GX in game 2, I was able to further leverage other cards in my deck that I did not reveal in game 1. My opponent was playing a fairly typical Night March list, so in contrast, I was fairly confident about what plays they would make and what cards they would show me on each turn, and I felt like I had the upper hand the entire time. In an online open-list tournament, my team’s deck would probably not have been as strong of a play, because it would lose the surprise factor and ability to leverage unexpected techs that it had in the closed-list Regional, and on a more level playing field our deck was not quite as strong as some of the established meta decks.
Managing the clock
My final point for this article will be about time management. This is not something online tournament players have had to worry about much because certain actions (checking your Prizes or opponent’s discard, and most of all shuffling) are automated and much quicker online. At a Regional, International, and some League Cups (and always in Top Cut), you are playing best-of-3 with a 50-minute time limit. And at all of these events, dozens and maybe hundreds of times per day, players will turn a potential match win into a tie, or a potential tie into a loss, because they did not manage time effectively.
Here’s an example. I am in game 1, and I can identify a route to winning the game, but I can also see that the odds of that route occurring are pretty low— either I need to draw into a very precise sequence of cards on a later turn, or I need my opponent to miss a beat somewhere, or something like that. Could I play it out and try to go up 1-0 in the series? Sure. But, depending on the exact caliber of risk involved, a lot of top players might scoop (concede) game 1 once they arrive at that point where they feel like they need to get really lucky to win. The logic is that, if they feel comfortable that their deck can win the matchup or that they’re simply a stronger player than their opponent, they will have high odds of winning games 2 and 3 and winning the series. If they had dragged out game 1 to the end, and lost, perhaps they could win game 2 in time but not finish game 3, and would end the series with a tie instead of a win.
Obviously there are a ton of factors in play here: every game, match, matchup, list, and player is different, and there’s no quick algorithm to tell you whether scooping a game is optimal at any given time. It’s something you need to play by ear and something that comes with experience; one of the biggest advantages the game’s best players have over everyone else is that they’re very good at managing the clock.
Here’s one more example. Check out this Day 2 match from the 2017 Europe International Championship, between Michael Long (playing Greninja BREAK) and perhaps the world’s best pilot of stall and control archetypes, Sander Wojcik. Michael concedes the first game with about 36 minutes left on the clock. Sander is not even close to meeting any win conditions, but because of the nature of Sander’s Raichu lock deck and the specific board state that has been reached, Michael understands that there is almost no chance he would win that game if it played out to its conclusion. Thus, he scoops game 1 in the hope that he can prevent Sander from establishing that lock in games 2 and 3. This ends up working to perfection: Michael very swiftly dismantles Sander’s deck in game 2 and is able to avoid the full lock once more in game 3, winning the series with over 4 minutes left to play. (We can also consider things from Sander’s perspective— had Sander been drawing poorly or had a very poor board state early in game 1, he probably would have been the one to scoop. Sander’s stall deck took a very long time to win games, so losing game 1 could have resulted in a 0-1 series loss, while winning a long game 2 could have earned him a 1-1 tie. This principle applies to most stall/control decks, which tend to take their wins in a 1-0 fashion, and clock management is particularly important when you are playing with or against stall/control.)
That’s all I’ve got for this article, but I think I packed it pretty full. However, the topics of tournament prep and helping new competitive players find their footing are ones I love talking about, and there are certainly things I didn’t touch on here. I barely even mentioned how to metagame for Regionals and how this differs from smaller online events, or how top players settle on their deck choices for major events— those might be good topics for a future article…
If you have further questions, feel free to hit me up via Twitter or anywhere else you see me online. As always, also check out my team UNDNTD, and if you’re interested in coaching, here you go. I’ll be back with more article content in November, maybe with some more tournament advice, but certainly with a look at some of the new decks we’ll be seeing with Fusion Strike. ‘Til then!
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