Words On Wednesday

2017-02-08 Pokemon Trading Card Game

After starting the Pokemon Trading Card Game on Game Boy Color back in college, I’ve finally beaten it.

First Run

Several friends played it in its original form when we were kids, but I just wrote it off. I collected the cards, but I didn’t duel with them. For me, the only true Pokemon games were the core series. Perhaps my tune would have been different, had I actually used the cards to duel with people. In any case, I never bothered with it.

I first played Pokemon TCG on an emulator when I was at Upstate. A classmate loved the game, and decided to play through it again to experience that sweet nostalgia. Seeing him have so much fun with it, I decided to try it out myself. It was surprisingly fun, and I genuinely hated that I had never given it a chance before.

A few days in, I had gathered all the club medals and proceeded to the Pokemon Dome and faced the Grand Masters to inherit the Legendary Cards. Or, at least that was my plan. I dueled Courtney and lost. I challenged her to a rematch and lost. This went on for quite a few times. Even using save states to try and swing the duel in my favor, I couldn’t even beat the first Grand Master. Even if I somehow managed to beat Courtney, who’s to say I would win the following 4 battles in a single try?

Finally, I decided to hang it up. The game had become more frustrating than fun, so I had no reason to continue playing. As much as I wanted to beat it, victory wasn’t worth the hassle. I stopped playing, and didn’t touch the game for several years.

Starting Over

Recently, I began gathering ROM files together to make a dedicated emulation machine. For kicks and giggles, I put Pokemon Blue on my phone and downloading a Game Boy emulator app. After beating Pokemon Blue, I started looking through my other Game Boy and Game Boy Color games to see what else might be forgiving enough to play on a touchscreen device. I came across Pokemon TCG and decided to give it another shot.

From the beginning, I was going to use the Charmander deck and blow through the game with Charizard’s Fire Spin. I picked up the Charmander & Friends Deck and kicked off the tutorial duel. It felt good, playing the TCG again.

Charmander & Friends Deck

  • Pokemon (26)
    • 2x Charmander Lv 10
    • 1x Charmeleon Lv 32
    • 1x Charizard Lv 76
    • 2x Growlithe Lv 18
    • 1x Arcanine Lv 45
    • 2x Ponyta Lv 10
    • 1x Magmar Lv 24
    • 2x Pikachu Lv 12
    • 1x Raichu Lv 40
    • 2x Magnemite Lv 13
    • 1x Magneton Lv 28
    • 1x Zapdos Lv 64
    • 2x Diglett Lv 8
    • 1x Dugtrio Lv 36
    • 1x Machop Lv 20
    • 1x Machoke Lv 40
    • 2x Rattata Lv 9
    • 1x Raticate Lv 41
    • 1x Meowth Lv 14
  • Trainers (10)
    • 1x Professor Oak
    • 2x Bill
    • 1x Switch
    • 1x Computer Search
    • 1x Pluspower
    • 2x Potion
    • 2x Full Heal
  • Energy (24)
    • 10x Fire Energy
    • 8x Lightning Energy
    • 6x Fighting Energy

Over the coming days, I made my way from club to club, dueling like a champ and acquiring medals. I made minor tweaks to the default deck build here and there, but Charizard remained the core. If I could get him on the field, and load him up with Energy cards, very few pokemon could survive the 100 damage points that Fire Spin dishes out.

My first change was to remove the Normal and Fighting type Pokemon and Energy from the deck. Trying to balance 3 energy types in the same deck meant I rarely had both the Pokemon and Energy cards that I needed. Trimming the deck down to 2 types, I *usually* had enough to play with. If not, I would probably draw something good within a few turns.

As I finished up all 8 clubs, I finally honed down my deck into its final iteration. I had shifted which Trainer cards I would be using, and included all the right Pokemon cards to get hard hitters on the field quickly. There would be some duels where I just got a stroke of bad luck and didn’t draw the right cards, but those were few and far between. For the most part, I could hold my own against any opponent. If I came across a Pokemon that resists Fire, I could use Lightning, and vice versa. My deck was adaptable and powerful, but it still relied on Charizard for the best chance of success.

Burninate Deck

  • Pokemon (18)
    • 3x Charmander Lv 10
    • 1x Charmeleon Lv 32
    • 1x Charizard Lv 76
    • 2x Growlithe Lv 18
    • 1x Arcanine Lv 45
    • 2x Magmar Lv 24
    • 2x Magmar Lv 31
    • 2x Pikachu Lv 12
    • 1x Raichu Lv 40
    • 2x Magnemite Lv 13
    • 1x Magneton Lv 28
  • Trainers (12)
    • 1x Professor Oak
    • 2x Bill
    • 1x Energy Retrieval
    • 1x Super Energy Retrieval
    • 1x Switch
    • 1x Computer Search
    • 2x Pluspower
    • 2x Potion
    • 1x Full Heal
  • Energy (30)
    • 14x Fire Energy
    • 13x Lightning Energy
    • 3x Double Colorless

Soon before I went against the Grand Masters, I decided to build an alternate deck. From all the booster packs I had acquired through the game, there were enough spare cards in my collection to build a decent backup option. Psychic and Fighting seemed like a good combination, and I came up with the convenient pun of “Psy-Kick” for the deck name. It wasn’t great, but it did give me some variety. Instead of always playing my Burninate Deck, I could switch between the two options.

Psy-Kick Deck

  • Pokemon (23)
    • 2x Diglett Lv 8
    • 1x Dugtrio Lv 36
    • 3x Machop Lv 20
    • 2x Machoke Lv 40
    • 1x Machamp Lv 67
    • 1x Onix Lv 12
    • 2x Hitmonchan Lv 33
    • 3x Abra Lv 10
    • 2x Kadabra Lv 38
    • 1x Alakazam Lv 42
    • 1x Mr. Mime Lv 28
    • 1x Jynx Lv 23
    • 1x Mewtwo Lv 53
    • 1x Mew Lv 23
  • Trainers (7)
    • 1x Professor Oak
    • 1x Bill
    • 1x Energy Retrieval
    • 1x Computer Search
    • 1x Pluspower
    • 1x Potion
    • 1x Revive
  • Energy (30)
    • 15x Fighting Energy
    • 15x Psychic Energy

Finally, I started my duel with Grand Master Courtney. I knew that these were the hardest duels of the game, so I expected that I wouldn’t beat her on my first try. That’s ok, though. I would finish the game this time, I was sure of it.

My first duel with Courtney was a flop. I hung in there for a while, but she ultimately defeated me. Undeterred, I went back in for an immediate second try. After another valiant attempt, I lost again. This went on for duel after duel. As much as I had practiced with my deck, it was no good against even the first Grand Master.

I grew extremely frustrated. It felt like that Courtney’s deck was always stacked in her favor, playing Moltres in usually the first or second turn. She would often have multiple powerful cards on her bench before I got anything decent in play. As much as her deck was dishing out great cards immediately, it felt like I never got anything good. I would start each duel with probably 1 or 2 basic Pokemon, but all Energy cards were the opposite type. If I did get anything on my bench, I didn’t have any Energy or Trainer cards that could help me do any damage.

Charizard was supposed to go all the way. Fire Spin was so powerful when I was able to get him on the bench and loaded up with Energy cards. Why couldn’t I do what I had been capable of in basically every single club before I went against the Grand Masters? It’s like the game forced my deck to be stacked in the worst possible order.

Eventually, I decided to explore some other deck options. I looked up several guides, and read through what other players were successful with. One guide listed several deck builds that real TCG players have used in competitive play. Surely, a tournament deck would be able to hold its own against the Grand Masters.

Most of the competitive decks used cards that I either didn’t have any of, or didn’t have as many as they recommended. Scyther was supposedly one of the best basic Pokemon cards in the game, but I only had 1 of it. Electabuzz was good, but I also had just a single one. Still, I wasn’t going to let the Grand Masters get the best of me again.

One particular guide listed a few options that I was close to having all the cards in. Between variations of the Haymaker Deck, and the core components of the Do the Wave Deck, I decided to build a sort of hybrid. I looked up which cards were available in which booster packs, and started grinding against weak trainers to get more cards.

Poor Heather of the Grass Club was my first target. She gave up 2 Colosseum booster packs upon defeat, which have a chance to contain Scyther. If Scyther really was as great as the guides suggested, I would at least load up my deck with several of it.

Fortunately, I was able to get my 4 Scyther cards in very little time. Instead of sticking to a more true recreation of the decks listed in the guide, I decided to put together my own version. Given how much success I had with one of the Magmar cards in my Burninate Deck, I decided to include a few of it. I also put in some Chansey and Kangaskhan cards to have some tanky options. Even if I didn’t start a duel with anything powerful, I could at least hold out until I drew some good cards.

Haymaker/Do the Wave Hybrid Deck

  • Pokemon (19)
    • 4x Scyther Lv 25
    • 2x Magmar Lv 31
    • 4x Hitmonchan Lv 33
    • 1x Jigglypuff Lv 12
    • 2x Jigglypuff Lv 14
    • 2x Wigglytuff Lv 36
    • 2x Chansey Lv 55
    • 2x Kangaskhan Lv 40
  • Trainers (16)
    • 1x Professor Oak
    • 4x Bill
    • 3x Energy Removal
    • 2x Scoop Up
    • 3x Pluspower
    • 3x Gust of Wind
  • Energy (25)
    • 10x Fire Energy
    • 11x Fighting Energy
    • 4x Double Colorless Energy

Once I had put this new deck together, I decided to give it a test run on Heather. As much as she had helped me out with getting my Scyther cards, I figured I could at least have one more duel with her. Amazingly, I defeated her with 46 cards still left in my deck and 2 more prizes on the field. Though it might have just been a lucky draw, I felt good about this new deck.

With my success against Heather, I decided to take the fight to the Grand Masters again. They were definitely more difficult than an unimportant lackey in the Grass Club, but I knew this deck build had the power to hit for some crazy damage. Even if I lost some, I felt sure that I could come out on top with some dedication.

I started my duel against Courtney with a second wind. I wasn’t playing to have fun anymore, I didn’t care about inheriting the Legendary Cards; I was out for revenge. Though Courtney’s deck coughed up Moltres and Fire Energy cards like crazy, I pushed my own cards to the limit. Chansey could hit for 80 damage in a pinch, Wigglytuff was insane with Do the Wave when I had a full bench. Ultimately, I prevailed against Courtney on my first try with the new deck.

Though I knew my chances of running through all of the Grand Masters in a single try were slim, I felt confident. If I did lose, I knew that I could beat Courtney again with my hybrid deck. I was concerned about my lack of save states in this emulator, but the original game didn’t have save states and people beat it back then. Even if it took a few tries, I felt sure that I could beat all the Grand Masters in succession.

After beating Courtney, I continued on to Steve. I beat him handily, taking all of my prizes before he drew more than 1. From Steve, I then took on Jack. Similarly, I defeated Jack with 5 of his prizes remaining on the field. Once I finished Jack, I dueled Rod. As much as I was afraid that I may lose against the head of the Grand Masters, I beat him the same as I had the others, with 5 prizes left.

I was amazed. Despite being unable to beat Courtney so many times before, I had just waltzed through the Grand Masters with this new deck like it was child’s play. Was I really that bad at building my own deck? In any case, this new deck was destroying the most difficult duels in the game. I was so satisfied to finally be winning against these Grand Masters who had previously thwarted me so thoroughly.

Even having never made it this far before, I knew what was coming next. Your rival always makes it to the top before you in Pokemon games. Well, maybe not in current generation Pokemon games, but in the old ones. I was well aware that Ronald would be my final opponent, I just didn’t know for sure if I could beat him. The last time I fought him with my Charizard deck, it was a very tough fight. He was obviously going to be more powerful this time, so could I continue this winning streak all the way through?

With all of the Legendary Cards in his deck, Ronald was definitely a tough opponent. We battled back and forth, with him taking more prizes than anyone but Courtney. Eventually, I was down to 2 prizes left and he had 3 remaining. When I looked at the field, I knew I had his duel in the bag. I had Chansey loaded up with 4 Energy cards, full health, and I had Gust of Wind in my hand. Even if Ronald put a Pokemon with over 80 HP in as his active Pokemon, I could force it to switch out with something that Chansey could kill in 1 hit. Taking down 2 of his Pokemon in consecutive turns and sacrificing Chansey due to the recoil of Double Edge, I drew my last 2 prizes and won the duel.

I was speechless. I lost to Courtney at least 4 or 5 times with my old deck. After switching to a new deck, I beat every Grand Master and Ronald without breaking a sweat. Still, I did it. I beat the game. After an unsuccessful attempt and several years to sit on it, I finished the Pokemon Trading Card Game.


The Pokemon Trading Card Game on Game Boy Color has quite some age on it, but it ultimately holds up as a pretty solid experience.

Collectible Cards for Less Money

For people who collect and duel with Pokemon cards or any other collectible card games, it holds the same fun of opening booster packs to see what you got, but much cheaper. No, you don’t physically have the cards, but you do get to duel with them and try out variations and tweaks to make your deck as good as possible. It’s far less permanent, but much easier on the wallet.

To do a quick analysis of how much money you would spend on the same number of cards in an average run through Pokemon TCG, let’s crunch some figures. We’ll estimate than a regular Pokemon card booster pack runs about $5. Every duel in the game wins 2 booster packs, so that’s $10 per victory. With 8 medals to win before challenging the Grand Master’s, that’s at least 16 booster packs and $80 of cards as a bare minimum.

What about the other duels in the game? On average, I would say that most clubs have about 4 available duels, including the leader. That pushes this figure up to 32 total duels, 64 booster packs, and $320 worth of cards. If you grind any to get specific cards, you could easily hit $500 or more in booster packs. No, you don’t keep the physical cards, but you still get that same anticipation that the next one you open could have something super rare in it.

Learning the Card Game

Besides being a fun game in and of itself, the Game Boy Color game actually does a great job of teaching players how the real life Trading Card Game works. If you’ve ever wanted to pick up a starter deck and play with the physical cards against someone in person, the video game is an easy way to learn how the rules work.

Decks are shuffled automatically, coin flips are done with RNG, move damage and effects are done programmatically and without fail. Duels have a certain order, and the video game forces you to follow that. It’s much easier to drive the flow of a duel after you’ve had it controlled for you a few times. You pick up on how things work, and that makes it much easier to follow the rules without having a guide or rule book next to you at all times.

Some people may criticize the Pokemon Trading Card Game for relying too heavily on luck and coin flips, but it’s a fun pastime that doesn’t require the monetary and time investment to learn like some other card games. Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic: The Gathering have huge fan bases, but require much more money to build a good deck, and can be far more complicated. If you want to have some simple fun with friends, the Pokemon Trading Card Game serves that purpose well. If you don’t have any experience playing with the physical cards, the video game adaptation is a great introduction.


Words: 2990 | Characters: 15958 | Sentences: 154

Paragraphs: 150 | Reading Level: 11-12th Grade


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