Average Joe to Ultra Pro: Frank Percic’s Do’s and Don’ts of Learning the Game

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Frank Percic, and I picked up my first Pokemon card in November of 2016. Seven months later, I found myself at 394 championship points trying to clinch my invite with a Top 64 at NAIC. I had a lot of help on my short journey – probably more than most. That being said, the least I can do is give a little back to the community. So, whether you’re reading this as a brand new player, or a seasoned vet, here’s the story of what my friends are calling “the most impressive first season they’d ever seen.”

I’m convinced I’ll never forget my first game of Pokemon. That could be because it was less than a year ago, or possibly because Emily Engle continues to remind me how she washed me in under ten minutes that game. Maybe it was the satisfying feeling of the cards in my newly-sleeved deck lightly slapping across my playmat for the first time. All I know is, those 60 cards had me in complete bliss that day. In fact, those were the only 60 cards I even owned at the time.

Now, I know you’re probably imagining the usual bit. A brand new player: carries their deck around in an old cellphone case, plays with cards they pulled out of a theme deck, thinks Shauna is the greatest card ever printed. And while the cellphone case was spot on, I was actually fairly confident of the cards I was toting in it, which brings me to my first “Do”…

DO: Study the Game

One thing that I believe separated me from a lot of new players is the fact that I knew I wanted to be a competitive player before I even thought about attending a tournament. Obviously, everyone wants to be the very best like no one ever was, but I wasn’t brought into the game through a friend or through my love of Pokemon. I love strategy games and I love being good at them. So, that’s what I sought out to do. My first order of business, though, was learning all I could until I was ready to sit down at my first tournament. I found myself quickly going from how-to-play videos to trying to figure out the most viable deck in Standard format.

Within a few weeks I knew all of the rules of the game, the effects of every card I could expect to see, and the mechanics behind most of the decks the best players were piloting. Even now, I try to go into a tournament with every bit of knowledge I can. I am not comfortable in a game unless I know 1) about 90% of the cards I can expect my opponent to have in their deck after they flip over their first card, 2) how my deck is best equipped to handle what my opponent plays, and 3) the best route to take once the game begins. These things, of course, take a lot of time and intuition, and aren’t exactly skills you can learn overnight. However, most of best players in the game would agree these are almost necessities for anyone that wants to win a major tournament.

Eventually, my journey to be a Pokemon Master brought me to my first major tournament. Ten days after my first game of Pokemon, and with just two League Challenges under my belt, I somehow wound up at the Fort Wayne Regional Championships. It was there I found myself dropping a few rounds after a 3-1 start, but more importantly it was there that I learned a few lessons as well as our first “Don’t” of competitive Pokemon….

DON’T: Be Unrealistic

About a month or two ago, I stumbled upon my first deck list. I’ll spare the details, but I legitimately cringed at the sight of it. It seems so foreign to me now, but at the time I was filling it out, I thought I was the most brilliant mind in that room of over 600 Masters competitors. There was just something about three Hex Maniac, one Ninja Boy and a Zoroark Break, that seemed so genius in my Yveltal deck. It had power, trickery, and spice, and that’s what I knew would win me the tournament.

SPOILER ALERT: it did not.

Most players dream of effortlessly taking a large tournament victory with a secret deck of their own concoction. A lot of the time, though, that isn’t the case. It is extremely difficult for beginning, and even veteran, players to come up with a unique deck that’s a viable option for a large tournament. There are thousands of Pokemon players learning, practicing, and sharing ideas every day. Most deck ideas and combinations will more than likely be explored by the release of a new set. Therefore, rather than trying to craft some new innovative idea during your tenure as a new player, figure out what the pros are playing, and why. Because, surely, there’s some good reasoning behind those decisions.

I promise you that Alolan Sandslash will never be a good replacement for Shaymin, and the Noivern break deck you’ve been piloting is nowhere close to the same thing as John Kettler creating Decidueye/Vileplume and shaping the entire format this past season. If you want to do well at a tournament, save your fun deck for a non-competitive match and bust out a deck that has proven to collect wins.

Even more seasoned players sometimes need to check themselves when it comes to a unique idea. Sometimes my friends will come to me with a decklist that is just absolutely bad, and I’m never afraid to call them out on it, which brings us to our next “Do” of Pokemon:

DO: Make Friends

I can confidently say that one of the main factors that contributed to my above-par season is the fact that I had a lot of people helping me and lobbying for my success. If you would like to learn how to make friends, I would possibly suggest a different article, most likely in the realm of self-help, but I can honestly say having friends is probably one of the more important assets when it comes to Pokemon, and ultimately life.

After meeting my first Poke-Pal at Fort Wayne, Athavan Balendran, I quickly learned what my deck needed to actually fit within the meta. Not only that, but our meeting was a catalyst that sparked many more important friendships. Eight months ago, I never would have imagined I would have multiple former World Champions in my most recent contacts, daily conversations between Pokemon’s current top players, or even be writing this article for my pal Phinn, yet here I am.

Building your social network is a very important skill, I feel, for both newer and older players. Not only was I able to receive advice from players much better than myself, but I also gained a support group who I could bounce ideas off of, as well as practice playing with before it came time to sit down at a major tournament.

Speaking of friends, my journey continued shortly after my meeting with professional player (and amateur friend) Jimmy Pendarvis. The man somehow, after knowing me for all of one day, convinced me to join him in Anaheim, California for my second ever Regional. It was there I learned another very important “Don’t” of the game.

DON’T: Be Afraid to Concede

During a tournament, the clock can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. There is no worse feeling than being just a turn or two shy of winning and securing a Day 2 bout, and then having to tie with your opponent and end your tournament run. The four ties that I earned in Anaheim really opened my eyes to how important the clock can really be in a tournament. Had I conceded the games when my chances of winning became slim and moved on in an attempt to win the Best-of-3, instead of playing to my defeat and tying the series, my tournament results might have been a little more favorable.

I constantly found myself holding onto the hope that I could still sway the game in my favor. Ultimately, that hope ended up being my toughest opponent of the day. Today, I have a number of games under my belt where I have scooped up my cards and given the win to my opponent after just two or three turns into the game. While at first this seemed scary to me, I eventually learned that this is just another important part of being a successful player.

Though Anaheim ended up being a bust, it still remains to be one of my favorite tournaments that I’ve attended for multiple reasons. It was there that I met a lot of very good players, that have evolved into very good friends. Being able to experience California for the first time with a few close pals really topped off the whole experience for me. Not only that, but it really was the first big tournament where I knew more than 0 people. And with that comes my next “Do.”

Do: Remember to Have Fun

One of the major themes of this article up until now has been detailing how to take a more serious and professional approach to the Pokemon Trading Card Game. I always try and remind myself, however, that Pokemon is just that: a game, and the point of such is to enjoy yourself and have fun. Many times I have been so frustrated with my performance or results that I ruined an entire weekend of fun with my friends. While winning is fun, some of my fondest memories of this past season have actually been outside of the tournament scene.

My favorite memory of Anaheim was easily a night out on the town with my friends Jimmy McClure and Travis Nunlist. I feel like high-caliber players especially have trouble with this at times. The point of Pokemon is to have fun and enjoy yourself and a lot of the time this idea can get lost within the intense competition that comes with the game, to the point even that players will play unfairly just to win. I believe, however, that by keeping a level head and just always enjoying yourself, the accolades will soon come.

Continuing upon my quest, I soon transitioned from occasionally top-cutting League Cups to almost always making the finals. I was slowly beginning to rack up more points in a few months than I had expected to all season. I was pretty comfortable with the routine I had going with my friends. Constantly, we were practicing, traveling, and performing well all through Northeast Ohio. This pattern was soon tested, though, when I found myself competing at the 2017 Saint Louis Regionals. After a quick eight-hour road trip to Missouri, I was faced with a challenge very foreign to me thus far. The Expanded format had been looming over me all season, and I was just waiting for it to crush my drive like a fly in its web. But, with every challenge comes a lesson, which brings me to my next “Don’t”    

Don’t: Doubt Yourself

Okay, so having fun and believing in yourself are probably two of the most cliche pieces of advice to give someone, regardless of the context. There is some merit to be found in this instance though. I promise.

Toting my favorite deck in the standard format, Yveltal, I soon found myself learning that Expanded was another beast entirely. The Maxie’s engine I was running felt like a completely different deck than the Yveltal I was used to piloting. Not only that, but I had no idea what half of the cards I saw across from me every round even did. Honestly, I still have some trouble with recognizing cards during Expanded tournaments on occasion.

My inhibitions didn’t stop me from doing well, however. I soon found myself knowing exactly what to do during my games. Keldeo could get me out of any Hypnotoxic Laser trickery, a quick Gallade could easily stand up to Darkrai, and Archeops would stop most evolution decks in their tracks. Eventually, I found myself boasting a record of 6-2, realistically only losing to some horrid draws. One win stood between me and a continued pursuit at winning not only my first Expanded tournament, but the largest regional in the history of Pokemon.

Sadly, I did not make it to Day 2 of that tournament. But I did learn how to truly be confident in my abilities. All of that tournament I constantly found myself overcoming odds that easily weren’t in my favor and beating players with far more skill and experience than I. It wasn’t luck that got me there either. It was the time and effort I put into knowing the game, as well as the intuition I had gained through my past attempts at learning Pokemon so quickly, that helped me grind through that tournament. A confidence was instilled in me by the end of that tournament. From that day forward, I’ve sat across from every opponent knowing I could win if I gave the game my all.

Moving forward from St. Louis, I was hungry for my first Day 2. I even found myself flying out to more Regional tournaments just to keep myself satiated. I had missed so much potential by starting in the second quarter of the season and I needed to make up for it. I eventually found myself at Salt Lake City Regionals and it was there another challenge awaited me.

Do: Relax   

I had always wanted to appear on stream. That is, until I actually appeared on stream. For those of you that witnessed the Round 5 stream of Salt Lake City Regionals, you may have noticed my name from there first. This also happened to probably be some of the worst playing of my life. I had used VS seeker for a Supporter that wasn’t even in my discard multiple times. I held cards when they should have been played and played cards when they should have been held. The list of atrocities goes on. I also believe I was shuffling so sporadically the judge thought I was cheating until he looked through my deck. It was just not a good time for me to be debuting myself on a Pokemon stream.

After my opponent proceeded to mop the floor with me, I eventually found solace in some kind truths from a few highly skilled friends. I found out that even some of today’s highest ranked players still get disarmed when playing on stream, and whether your a brand new player or one with years of experience, the best approach is to just take a few deep breaths and remember that this is just like any other game.

Continuing the hunt for my first Day 2, I again found myself at the top tables of another Regional, with a record of 6-1-1. From the moment I entered the venue at the Blue Ridge Regionals in Virginia, I knew that this tournament was my mine for the taking. I was piloting a deck of my own concoction: Tauros/ Garbodor/ Dragons. No one saw it coming. Chaos Wheel was too much for the Gyarados, Decidueye, and multiple Rayquaza decks I faced during the day, and the Garbodor and Salamence in my arsenal easily beat the Volcanion and Darkrai decks lurking throughout the tournament.

During the 9th round, I sat across from an easily recognizable player, Alex Hill. Though I was fairly confident in the matchup, the two of us decided to intentionally draw, as we were both tired and fairly confident in our resistance. I was especially confident seeing as those around me who were comparing opponents’ win percentages fell short of the percentage my opponents boasted. After easily agreeing to the draw I went back with my friends and prepared for my first Day 2 of a Regional. Or so I thought.

Don’t: Play to Do Well, Play to Win

Fate would have it that only one of my previous eight opponents would win in that last round. My resistance took me from one of the top seeds with 20 points, to a commendable 34th place, killing any chance I had at taking home the win. However, some losses are worth it, as I learned another lesson I won’t soon forget.

Doing well at a tournament is cool, but winning a tournament is really cool. Had I played out Round 9 and lost, I would have earned the same amount of Championship Points and money that I did for tying. Had I won though, I’d have entered Day 2 as the 7th seed, in a field of Rayquaza and Decidueye (two matchups I was confident enough to take on with my eyes closed.) But instead, I tucked my tail between my legs and moved on, knowing that from that point forward my end goal was no longer doing well at a tournament. Every time I enter a field of competitors I am there to win, not to tie.

By the end of the tournament, I was still a bit mopey. Everything could have went so well for me given one or two small changes. However, My friends were all extremely proud of me. Despite heckling all week from Andrew Mahone, Jimmy Pendarvis, and Natalie Shampay, I played a deck I was confident would do me well, and played all of my matches with extreme skill and poise. Really, I couldn’t ask for much more than that. This brings me to my last and probably most important tip of this article.

DO: Play a Deck You’re Comfortable With

I hope that if you’re reading this, you also got a chance to see my first “don’t” of the game, preaching to be realistic with your deck choice. But still, that doesn’t mean you should play something you aren’t comfortable with. Some of my worst tournament results have come from playing decks that I either never touched before, or just simply don’t mesh well with. The meta exists for a reason. There are always at least six to ten viable decks to play with, and even a few decent rogue options at times. Find a few options you are really comfortable with and run with it. The best results for me, have easily come from playing decks I knew inside and out as opposed to whatever just won the most recent high caliber tournament.    

Ultimately, I never did get my first Day 2. I actually went on to lose my win-and-in at five consecutive Regionals, miss my flight to Mexico regionals, and then completely choke at NAIC. But honestly, I’m fine with that. This season taught me so many useful things and made me a player who is not only well educated and somewhat respected, but also extremely confident in my own abilities. I’m extremely eager to take this knowledge into next season and hopefully make a splash in the 2017-2018 format.   

With that, I just want to close out the article thanking all of my readers for supporting me after my first article, as well as all of the people that helped me get to the point in the game that I’m at now. I tried to mention as many people as I could within my short story, but I truly can’t describe how much everyone I’ve encountered thus far has impacted me. Thank you to all of my friends previously mentioned as well as some others that I couldn’t find a spot for: Justin, Kirsten, Alex, Darin, Chris, Michael, Nick, Zach, Igor, Rahul, Corey, Bryan, and everyone else who’s been behind me from Day One – you all are honestly the best.

OH!! And one last thing…

DO:Subscribe to Cut or Tap

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