February 6th. Morning. 9 o’clock. Pallet Town.
You awake and glance over at the clock. You’re late. With equal levels of gusto and panic you make your way out of bed and straight out the door; because who takes a shower these days, right? You run over to the lab next door, only to find nobody there. Were you really that late? Why didn’t your ten alarms work? Have all the Pokemon been taken? WHY AM I ONLY WEARING UNDERWEAR?!
You walk out, dejected, disappointed, yet the slightest bit hopeful that things couldn’t get any worst. The tall grass looks enchanting, you think, as you tread lightly towards it. Your dream lies just beyond that grove. “You can do this”, you say, even without a starter Pokemon. Just one step and it’ll all begin… Closer, just a bit more. You can almost smell the fresh odour of a newly opened booster pack…
And then suddenly from the bushes… “HI, YOU WANT TO BUY VS SEEKER? RM75 only! CHEAP CHEAP!”
We all start somewhere in the Pokemon TCG . For some, the journey begins with a kind sibling or friend introducing you to the wonders of Pokemon. For others, perhaps you came across some old cards from childhood years long forgotten, and sought out details on your own (thanks, Google). Even luckier are the few who were nurtured, gently being exposed to and learning from the best in the business. But not all are as lucky, and making that leap from the casual booster pack a week to a full-on TCG deck can be a daunting experience. More so since the investment for us Malaysians can be in itself unnerving for parents and personal wallets alike.
So, Aaron, where DO you begin? Well, that’s what we’re here for!
WTB – Where to begin?
The common misconception about the Pokemon TCG (at least here in Malaysia, anyway) is that it is an expensive game to get involved in. Unlike your Dota 2 or CSGO, which shouldn’t incur additional cost beyond the initial game purchase (if any at all), TCGs require a great deal of investment to keep up with the format over time as rotations and new sets are introduced. Yet it doesn’t need to be overly expensive, if you know the tricks of the trade, that is.
Step 1: Research
The internet is your friend. Before making ANY, and I really do mean ANY (see the bold, italic, and underline?) purchase, do your research on both prices and products that you are interested in. Of course, if you’re some beneficiary of a ‘donation’ then perhaps money isn’t of too big a concern to you, but for most of us, optimizing our spending is crucial to staying in the game efficiently. And as always, when in doubt, always ask! The Malaysian Pokemon TCG community isn’t as scary as it seems… right?
Step 2: Set a budget
This should go without saying, but I’m saying it anyway because I’m as Asian as you are (hello to all non-Asians who’ve dropped by, by the way). Set a budget on how much you are willing to spend on the game. And I don’t only mean in terms of monetary value; time is as important a resource as finances, therefore it is absolutely crucial to know how much of both are you committing to the Pokemon TCG. Fun tip: if you require your parents’ permission and support to play, letting them know exactly how you are managing your resources can be a good way to convince them to trust you and ensures they worry less.
Step 3: Slow and steady wins the race
The excitement of getting your cards and accessories can really get to your head. I know, I’ve been there myself countless times. Buying tonnes of packs and sleeves by the boxload, week in, week out. Yet as time went on, I realise a problem: excess bulk cards that are nowhere near useful, packs of used sleeves that are either ripped or scuffed, binders that hold cards in loose sheets and dirty pages, deckboxes and storage boxes filled with cards all over the place. We all want more stuff, but there’s a very fine line between what we actually need to play the game versus all the random assortment of products that are for sale. So in essence, always take your time when buying products for your collection. Which brings us to our next point…
Step 4: Start a card game… without first buying any cards!
Sounds a little awkward, but I swear to you, this is the first step to an efficient management of your card collection. The guide below will detail what you should get first, ranked by priority and importance.
PS: Our follow-up article in the next few weeks will look at our specific recommendations for each of these accessory categories, so be sure to stay tuned to that!
High Priority: Card Sleeves
Wanna play a card game but ensure your cards last? Get them sleeved up! Card sleeves may sound like a no brainer to suggest here, but it isn’t rare to see a new player being unsure on how to approach sleeving their cards to protect them from harm. Don’t go overboard with sleeves until you have understood the intricacies of sleeve options: different brands have different types of products, and each have their pros and cons. For a newbie, we advise picking up a simple 80- or 100-sleeve pack (KMC and Ultimate Guard are fine) to start off your first deck.
High Priority: Deck Box
Holding your first Pokemon TCG deck is, well, a deck box. Like sleeves, there’s a huge range of options available, ranging from plastic to even metal. Your first deck box is probably not going to be your last, so a simple Ultimate Guard or Ultra Pro plastic deckbox should suit you well and keep you within a decent budget. You can choose to upgrade later on and still use your older, simple boxes for storing extra cards.
High-Medium Priority: Playmat
So you’ve got sleeves protecting your cards, and deckboxes protecting those sleeved cards. But what about protecting your cards while you play? Here’s where a playmat comes in. While not entirely a necessity, not all tables are clean from the start of the day. In fact, chances are you’ll be playing Pokemon not just at shops, but also at cafes, restaurants, and even on the floor (please don’t, though). That’s where a playmat ensures that your sleeves stay clean and long-lasting, protecting your deck from dirt, grime, liquids, and oils found on most tabletops. Better still, a large majority of playmats are machine washable, so after an extended period of time being the hero of your collection, they can simply be washed and return to serving you well. Ultra Pro playmats are the most common, with other brands like Ultimate Guard quite decent too.
Medium Priority: Binder/Portfolio
Imagine you pulled an EX or GX card at the shop one day, and it isn’t something your deck needs. So where does it end up? You could simply keep it in a sleeve in another spare deckbox, or you could show it off in a binder for your friends to take a look or to show prospective trade partners what you have to offer. You can either purchase a binder that has a number of pages already in it (the Ultra Pro Pro-Binder or the Ultimate Guard Flexfolio are some examples), or simply buy binder sheets to put into any regular 3-ring file. Of the two options, the second one is much more flexible as you can simply move the binder sheets from folder to folder, but after years of experience using them I would recommend a fixed binder with its own pages to lessen the hassle involving the quality of binder sheets as well as problems with a file’s D-ring (the metal ring inside those office files) that can sometimes damage your cards.
Medium Priority: Dice & counters
While you definitely need some counters to play Pokemon, our advice to you is to deprioritize getting a set of dice until you have decided on a decent deckbox. Why? Because some deckboxes actually have slots for dice and counters! That means it’s always best to decide on a box that suits you best and only then make sure the dice you buy can fit into those compartments.
Low Priority: Fancy Pokemon-related merchandise
Yes, we all know how cool a Pikachu deckbox looks, or how a set of Japanese Pokemon Center sleeves really make your deck stand out. But remember, all those are luxuries. If you have the budget for them, by all means, go ahead. For the most part, though, it is best to save your money in getting the basic accessories first, then getting the cards you need for your deck, and finally looking at luxury upgrades.
Step 5: Deciding on a deck
So you’ve got your accessories (or at least have decided on what to get). Time to work on a deck! Deckbuilding is probably an entire article by itself, but here we will part with you, our dear reader, a few tips on what sort of deck should you decide to build.
- Research online what has been performing well in the metagame. There are tournaments almost every few weeks around the world and the card lists to those decks are widely available. Study them and understand what are the popular archetypes being played in the format.
- Try to monitor how consistent decks are in a certain span of time. Some decks die out very quickly as players find ways to deal with them, but some can really go the distance and last for an entire season. As a new player, you wouldn’t want to be spending time and money on a deck that won’t be good enough, right?
- Keep within your budget. There are decks that can fetch hundreds of Ringgit just for a few EX/GX cards, but don’t forget that Pokemon plays 60 cards in a deck. Spending a big chunk of your cash on just a few rare albeit powerful cards may just be a recipe for a disaster for your wallets.
Step 6: Cards – Price, Product, Place, Promotion
Sounds like something out of a business textbook (because it is!).
- Pricing is by far the biggest issue for our local Pokemon TCG scene. Unlike overseas markets, the Malaysian secondary marketplace can be quite volatile and overly dynamic for the average newcomer to adapt to quickly. Our advice is this: when in doubt about the price of a card, accessory, or any TCG product, refer to online sources and/or seek advice from the community. We cannot stress enough how every player or collector should be using an online guide such as TCGPlayer.com or TrollandToad.com to at least have a gauge on the value of Pokemon cards and products. At the same time, having multiple people confirm a card value with you ensures you’re not being mistakenly led to believe by misinformed people in the community. (Editor’s note: We aim to release another article specially discussing pricing, so do stay tuned for that!)
- Always buy singles if you are deckbuilding! Yes, we know opening packs are fun. But among all products packs are the least surest way for you to get the cards you need for the exact deck you want to build. It’s always better to buy the exact cards for your deck than to hope you pull them from a booster pack. Certainty > Uncertainty. Pre-constructed decks can sometimes be good value. Occasionally, Pokemon prints certain decks that actually contain decent cards that you may probably think about putting into your decks. Products like theme decks are released every expansion and surprisingly have gotten better over the years. Special releases such as the Keldeo vs Rayquaza Battle Arena decks are also decent and can sometimes be a great starting point for many newbies.
- Shop locally whenever you can. This goes to both cards as well as accessories. Supporting your local game store (LGS) for your TCG needs ensures they can continue supporting the game you enjoy, providing you the place to have fun and enjoy leagues and tournaments. Consider it an investment in your local gaming community!
- If you can’t seem to get the cards you need anywhere around at leagues or shops, perhaps buying them online from the many online resellers is your best bet. It isn’t ideal, since you probably have to wait anywhere between one to three weeks plus you’ll need an online payment method, but hey, you gotta get ‘dem cards, right?! Online shops can sometimes have promotions too, but don’t forget to check your LGS for their own in-house specials!
Step 7: Getting into gear
So what now? Well, time to get out there, buy your cards, sleeve them up, and start playing Pokemon! Start off by coming for weekend leagues. You don’t have to play at leagues right away; sometimes starting off with some casual games with friends is the less scarier way to begin. But coming to the LGS gives you a taste of what the Pokemon TCG is all about, and be a part of this ever-growing community.
There you have it, as quick a guide as ever to starting the Pokemon TCG. We hoped you enjoyed this article, and do leave your comments and feedback in the section below or on our Facebook page. ‘Till next time, this is Aaron of The Rainbow Wing signing off!
Photo credited to their respective owners.