It’s Esa from the blog The Deck Out. Last time when I wrote on SixPrizes, I wrote about the Battle Roads metagame. This time, however, I’m back with very different content. It’s time for me to start maybe the most awaited feature of my blog – Eye on Japan. For those of you who have no idea what Eye on Japan is about, I’ll give a brief explanation: In the Eye on Japan series I’ll reveal how the always so mysterious Japan tournament system works, how the game in Japan is in general, and of course the most interesting part – what their metagame is like.
Since this will be the first part of the Eye on Japan series, I decided to post it on SixPrizes in order to let as many people know about this article series as possible. myself find these things highly interesting because the difference between Japan and rest of the world in Pokémon TCG is huge. I hope you find this information interesting and helpful.
Japan as a Pokémon TCG Country
Japan is – as some of you may know – the world’s second biggest country in Pokémon TCG if we look at the achievements. Probably the most legendary Japanese Pokémon TCG player is Tsuguyoshi Yamato who won Worlds in 2004 with a Team Magma deck and made it to top 4 in 2007. He is the only person in the world who has two X-0 results in the Swiss Rounds of World Championships (2004 and 2007). He is also the only player along with another successful Japanese player – Yuta Komatsuda – who has won Worlds by winning every game in the tournament.
Yamato is also widely known for his strange and crazy decks which usually differ greatly from what we have been accustomed to – the latest example being Yanmega/Lanturn/Zekrom which he used to grind himself into this year’s World Championships.
One could write a whole article about great Japanese players of Pokémon TCG. Yuta Komatsuda won every game in World Championships 2010 with his Luxchomp deck. There is also Takuya Yoneda who won Worlds in the Seniors division in 2004 and played a crazy rogue deck in 2007 Worlds placing in top 16. There is Go Miyamoto who placed 3rd in Worlds 2004 and went 8-0 with his ZRE deck in the Swiss rounds in Worlds 2005. Japan also has many Junior division winners in World Championships, and the list goes on.
Japan has always been a mystery to the rest of the world. Japan isn’t using the same ranking system as we are and their format is always different compared to ours. However, this year, Japan and the rest of the world are playing the same format, which makes things very interesting. Of course, we are always at least one set behind Japan but it only means that we have lots to learn from them.
The problem with getting in touch with Japanese TCG players has always been the language barrier. I, for example, can’t speak Japanese even though I can speak Finnish, Swedish, English, and German, and I’m pretty sure that there aren’t many players in Pokémon TCG worldwide who can.
However, thanks to my friend who writes and speaks fluent Japanese, I was able to make a contact in Japan and now I’m able to share all this information with the rest of the world’s Pokémon TCG community. I hope you find this information as interesting as I do. Before I begin the “real” article I would like to thank my friend Ukinin for providing this information – without him this wouldn’t be possible.
The Japanese Tournament System and How They Qualify for Worlds
The Japanese tournament system has undergone some big changes just like ours. In the past, Japan had 47 Regional Championships a year. The winners of these tournaments were allowed to participate in the Japanese National Championships, meaning that Japanese National Championships were an invite-only tournament.
In the National Championships, the winners received a travel award just like in our National Championships, and the other top players received an invite to Worlds. This year, the system has been modified. The number of Regionals dropped from 47 to 11 and they were to be held in the biggest cities of Japan. These Regionals differ from our Regionals in one way – the winners of these tournaments receive an invite to Worlds.
From my point of view, their former system was interesting, because at least in Finland, Nationals is the very first tournament for many new players. Also, I think that’s the case in many other countries as well and that’s why I was surprised to hear this. The system was probably like that because Japan has a strong way to recruit players to the younger age groups, as I well explain later in this article.
However, the horrible catastrophe that struck Japan this year cancelled every Regionals tournament. That’s why no invites or travel awards were given out in Japan and every player from Japan who went to Worlds had to pay for their own trip and play their way through the Grinder. This, of course, excludes the Japanese players who had gotten the invite and travel award from the previous World Championships.
Alongside with the tournaments system, the Japanese age groups changed as well. The biggest age groups in Japan are Juniors and Masters. In the past, Japan’s age grouping was similar to ours. However, due a very low amount of players in the Seniors age division, they decided to change the system. The new system has only 2 different age groups: A: -12; B: 13+.
Once again because of the earthquake, the new age division system has not yet been tested in the official tournaments. Also, as the change wasn’t well received by the Japanese player base, the change might be cancelled even before it takes place.
60-card Decks and 30-card Decks
This is something I found exceptionally interesting about the Japanese Pokémon TCG system. I’ve heard rumors before of Japanese players playing with 30-card decks, but I never knew why and where and how. Ukinin was kind enough to explain all this to me, and here it is:
All the official tournaments for the Juniors age division are held with a 30-card deck format. This is probably because it keeps the game more simple and approachable for younger players. I think this is a great ideology to attract more younger players because I’ve played a few 30-card deck matches and I found it fun. It’s also easier for a Junior player to build a 30-card deck than a 60-card one because it’s more difficult to get one’s hands on four copies of every card compared to two to three copies of each card.
Even though the 30-card deck format may be considered easier to play, there is no way it doesn’t develop the gaming skills of Junior players as Japan has always been the dominating country in Juniors in World Championships.
60-card decks are used for Seniors and Masters in the official tournaments. However, there are also shop tournaments where even Seniors and Masters use 30-card decks. The 30-card deck format isn’t very popular among high-level players because it involves more luck than the 60-card deck format. So, the 60-card deck format is the most played format in Japan as well, excluding the Juniors age group.
Are Japanese players satisfied with the game in general?
Well, this is no surprise. The first-turn rule has a rather bad reputation in Japan as well. The beginner has always had a slight advantage but with the new ruling the advantage is just too huge. It’s bad for the game; the whole world agrees with that now.
The coolest thing in my opinion is that the game developers of Pokémon TCG visit shop tourneys in Tokyo and investigate what people think about the game. That way players in Japan are in very close contact with the people who really affect the game’s direction. In my opinion, it’s very encouraging to hear that the game developers are interested in the player base’s opinions on the game.
It only means that the game is developed in the way the players want it to be developed and, in my opinion, there is evidence of that in the newest sets with cards like Durant and N, which take the game to a whole new level.
Also, as the Japanese players aren’t happy with the first-turn rule, there is a great chance that the game developers are already thinking about how to make the game healthier. We’ll just have to wait and see and wish for the best.
The Japanese Metagame at the Moment
As mentioned earlier, Japan has a few more sets released than we do. They have Pokémon EXs released as well as the upcoming cards from the Noble Victories set. Thanks to Ukinin I was able to get information on what has been played in Japan before and what’s been played right now.
This is going to be our States, Cities, and (for some) Regionals format, so I think this is very interesting. The information from Japan shows us that there seems to be lots of variety in the decks played. Here is a short list of the decks that have seen play and have done well in the tournaments – maybe you get good ideas for your CC decks from this list as well!
- Reshiboar w/ Cobalion (BW3) tech
- ReshiPhlosion – yeah it’s big out there as well
- Cinccino/Beartic w/ Rocky Helmet
- Electrode Prime/Cobalion/Kyurem – I’ve built this deck and I LOVE it.
Japanese players are crazy when it comes to deck ideas. I love how they build things so differently compared to the rest of the world. I’m always inspired by the decks that the skilled Japanese players play and I highly respect their innovation and imagination when it comes to deck building.
This list includes only a slice of their total metagame, and their metagame probably has lots of things that won’t ever see play in our tournaments. Noble Victories will bring a huge impact on our format and I hope it inspires Western players to play crazy rogue decks as well.
Mewtwo EX – Psychic – HP170
[C][C] EX Ball: Does 20 damage times the number of Energy attached to each player’s Active Pokemon.
[P][P][C] Psycho Drive: 120 damage. Choose 1 Energy attached to this Pokemon and discard it.
Pokemon EX Rule: When Pokemon EX is Knocked Out, your opponent takes 2 Prize cards.
Weakness: Psychic (x2)
I had to make Mewtwo EX a header of its own. It’s THAT good. My Japanese friend described this card with words: ”almost all the players are now agreeing that Mewtwo EX is the strongest and most powerful card in BW3 (maybe one of the strongest cards ever).” But with what is Mewtwo EX played for it to be SO good? Well, there are a few cards my friend specifically mentioned:
- Typhlosion Prime
- Celebi Prime
In my opinion this means that anything that can load energies to Mewtwo EX quickly is pretty much playable with it. I’ve made a deck list with Mewtwo EX, which uses Celebi Prime as an energy accelerator and have been testing it quite a bit. Remember this deck list includes cards from the future sets so be sure to check the strange cards’ translations: BW2 and BW3
Pokemon – 7
4 Celebi Prime
Trainers – 38
Energy – 15
Try it out and be surprised how good the deck really is even though the list looks weird and simple. I love this deck especially for one reason: it gives Zekrom – the current possible BDIF – a very hard time. Once Zekrom hits Bolt Strike, you will be able to OHKO it with just Mewtwo EX which has a DCE attached to it.
I’m not very much into early hyping but I must admit the truth now that I’ve done some testing. This is only my first Mewtwo EX list and it already works very well against the best metagame decks out there. I don’t know if Celebi Prime is the best partner with Mewtwo EX, but at least it’s a very good option. Be sure to get your hands on Mewtwo EXs or cards that counter it because I’m sure it will be big in our metagame as well.
Also make you get a hold of cards that can load energy to Mewtwo EX – I’m pretty sure that Celebi Prime won’t be three or four dollars each after the EX-set has been released. In Japan, Mewtwo EX is so big that people are playing either Mewtwo EX or Mewtwo EX counter decks – nothing else. It’s pretty much like GG in the 2007-2008 season; it dominates the format and you have to be able to beat it in order to do well in tournaments.
When it comes to countering Mewtwo EX, there are two very good options. First, Mewtwo EX. Yeah, with one DCE you can surprise OHKO them back and get 2 prizes – that’s a hard counter if you ask me. The second – more played – counter card is Mew Prime. As long as you have Zoroark/Jumpluff in your Lost Zone, you’re able to OHKO every Mewtwo EX your opponent plays. Mew Prime will of course have its problems with the rest of the format so that’s why Mewtwo EX is as dominating as it is in the format at the moment.
What do you want to know about Japan?
There is still much more information in storage about Japan & Pokémon TCG, so be sure to follow my Eye on Japan series. If you find this article interesting and are eager to know even more about Japan’s Pokémon TCG, please let me know what you want to know so I’ll be able to ask the right questions. I would like to know what interests you the most in this series.
Are you interested in getting more deck lists and info about the metagame? Maybe you’re interested in the Japanese Pokémon TCG community or the demographic of the Japanese TCG? And finally, would you find it cool if also the rest of the world could get their voices heard in the game developers’ office?
Feel free to leave any comments on my Eye on Japan article series, questions and feedback in the comment field below, to my blog or to my e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading and please let me know what you think!
For more great Pokémon TCG content and the future Eye on Japan articles check my blog, The Deck Out.