9 min read

Pokemon Travelogue: Dortmund

*Crosses fingers* Please don't be Stuttgart Redux, please don't be Stuttgart Redux
Pokemon Travelogue: Dortmund

Intro to a third tier city

When I looked at the schedule at the beginning of the season, I thought to myself, “Ugh, Dortmund.” If you had asked me at the time which event I thought would be the worst in terms of locale, I would not have hesitated to say Dortmund. In fact, some people asked me and I did not hesitate. “Who wants to go to some German industrial city?” I uttered out loud more than once.

To the fine city of Dortmund, Germany, allow me to say: I’m sorry. I wasn’t even ill-informed; I just assumed too much, and we all know what happens when you assume.

I found Dortmund to have a great energy for a medium-ish city. At first I thought that may have been because we arrived on a night when local football club Borussia Dortmund had a match, and we were staying a stone’s throw from their stadium and thus caught up in the throng of people headed out to support the local club. Unlike certain cities that I may have visited for Pokemon (cough, Liverpool, cough), it certainly seems that the locals are pretty vocal supporters of Borussia Dortmund.

The kids commented on the energy too, as we navigated through all the street food stalls selling sausages, beers, and other assorted grilled meats that extended for several city blocks out from the stadium itself. They even made me stop so we could get bratwurst, despite the fact that we were walking to a restaurant for dinner; we had no regrets.

I spoke in praise of French urbanism when talking about Lille. Here, I would like to speak in praise of German public transit. Every German city with a 6 digit population I have ever been in, from Bochum to Berlin, has an affordable, accessible local train network. Dortmund was no exception. Yes, yes, the train stations could use better signage, and at least one of them has green tile walls that seem to be a tribute to vomit or mucus, but any city where I can get around with ease on foot or by train is an alright city in my book.

Dortmund U bahn
You should see the other wall…just imagine 2 more shades of lighter green in addition to this one.

How we’re rolling

Finally, finally we are actually rolling again. Finally we are taking the train again. The German ICE trains are really an excellent travel experience - as long as you can get past the fact that your connections will always be delayed, leading to the occasional dicey moment where you’re not 100% certain that you won’t be stranded at a train station for several hours. But I don’t care. The seats are comfortable, the ride is smooth, even the food onboard is very good…and the Wifi is actually very reliable. I am writing this on my way home while the kids are streaming the live video of the Masters finals of this same competition. As long as they don’t go on strike, the ICE trains are pretty great.

What we’re playing

After a bit of agonizing after a couple disappointing finishes in a row, Tommy decided to change (one card in) their deck. Loyalty runs strong, and maybe so does stubbornness. Sarah & I have no idea where that quality came from. Nate had reminded Tommy of another card in the same Rapid Strike style called Empoleon V, and Tommy decided to start testing it out in the online game. Tommy liked what they saw and thought it might actually be helpful for one of the deck’s trickiest matchups, and after discussing it with their coach decided that the card should be added. One problem: Tommy didn’t actually own the card. Some frantic messaging to the members of their local league ensued, and a copy of the card was found. So out went Lumineon V, and in came Empoleon V.

Empoleon V PR-SW SWSH108 | Pokemon TCG POK Karten
In addition to being a cool looking card based on an emperor penguin, it also blocks the abilities of your opponent’s basic Pokemon.

59 cards stayed the same. 1 card changed. If you think this isn’t foreshadowing, you may need to take an introductory literature course.

The Charizard deck disappointed Nate, so after careful deliberation about several other options, Nate acknowledged that the heart wants what it wants and returned to the Giratina Lost Box that he had played quite capably in a couple tournaments already.

Where we’re eating

In a continuation of my apology to the fine city of Dortmund, I also need to say: the quality of service we received in restaurants, hotels, even at the train station was friendly and enthusiastic. It almost felt like being back in ‘Murica at times. This defies not just my stereotypes but my actual experience in a lot of northern Europe in general.

Unlike in Stuttgart, breakfast was included at the hotel, and it was a very satisfying one indeed - which is what I’ve come to expect from German accommodations. Simple foods, good quality ingredients, nothing too over the top. The kids protein loaded, which I don’t think is actually a thing, but it’s what they like to do - just plates full of sausage and bacon. I don’t normally eat breakfast, but I also consistently forget to eat lunch during tournaments, so I ate some porridge and fruit and maybe snagged some bacon too for good measure.

After striking out in Stuttgart on the quest for currywurst, Dortmund delivered! In fact, the in-venue food options were the best of any tournament so far: bratwurst, currywurst, pizza, sandwiches & salads, kebabs, crepes.

Outside the venue, we went to BASE Kitchen on Friday night and had some very good teriyaki beef loaded fries and pulled pork loaded fries. On Saturday, we got takeout Mexican and it was, you know, fine? Mexican wouldn’t be the most obvious food to order in Germany, but gluten free options were not abundant, and after a full day of playing Pokemon none of us are all that picky.

In hindsight, we probably didn’t need the extra order of waffle fries.

It’s possible that the 3 of us didn’t consume an entire vegetable for 2 days…which I would not want to do consistently, but for these 2 days it was fine.

How we did

Nate made a very respectable showing, ending the tournament with a record of 4 wins, 2 losses, and 1 draw. Over his 7 rounds, he played against 2 players currently ranked in the top 20 in Europe, winning 1 and losing 1. In all, it was good enough for 28th place out of 117 players and 60 more championship points. We all felt really good about that performance, especially because it means that Nate makes his debut in the European Top 50 at #43.

Tommy…well, Tommy went and decided to have a bit of a moment. On the first day, Tommy played the most challenging lineup of any player in the tournament. In the 4th round, they were matched up against their good friend Joshua, currently top 3 in Europe and a constant thorn in Tommy’s side ever since they first faced off against each other as strangers in 2022. And Tommy’s decision to play the Empoleon proved to be that slight edge that allowed Tommy to prevail in a hard fought 3 game battle (Note: in regional tournaments, they play best 2 out of 3 games).

After dropping a game to Joshua, Tommy didn’t lose a game much less a match the rest of the day - ending the first day with an undefeated record of 5 wins, 0 losses, and 2 draws (both of the draws coming from the final 2 rounds where the competitors realized that they could agree to draw and still advance to the quarterfinals).

Yes, you read that correctly - after knocking on the door of the top 8 in the past 2 tournaments and being left out in the cold, in Dortmund Tommy made it into the top 8 as the second seed.

This was not without some drama: as we waited for our fifth round pairings to be announced, Tommy’s friend Joshua - who Tommy had just defeated - came running up to Tommy. “I’m so sorry - I accidentally grabbed this,” Joshua blurted out, and held out 1 of Tommy’s cards. A minute later, the pairings were announced and Tommy went to the next matchup, where they were promptly deck checked by the judges. Had Joshua recognized the mistake even 5 minutes later, Tommy would have automatically lost the first game of the matchup for having only 59 cards in deck…and would have lost the match altogether if they hadn’t been able to replace it. A disaster narrowly averted.

When the quarterfinal pairings were announced, we were able to match all 7 other players with the decks they were playing, and it dawned on us that Tommy would actually face a pretty favorable draw the next day. The one deck that would be almost impossible - A Snorlax Stall - was matched in the quarterfinal against our good friend Ethan & his Lost Box Kyogre, and Ethan (another top 3 in Europe) seemed pretty convinced that he’d be able to make quick work of it.

I need to pat myself on the back, because I managed to stay pretty zen throughout the whole of day 1, and as I sat in the hotel room after the kids had gone to sleep, I centered on 3 things that I wanted to tell Tommy before their quarterfinal match:

  • this next match is going to be the hardest one you’ve faced so far (this is what we say before every match to keep from ever underestimating our opponents).
  • you’re going to have a lot of fun.
  • somebody has to win, so it might as well be you.

And that is what I said to Tommy right before the quarterfinal matchup against a Lost Box Tina, almost the same deck that Nate was playing (and that Tommy had therefore practiced against dozens of times).

The other player, another European top 10 player, had clearly done his research and knew what Tommy was playing and was prepared for it. Tommy lost the first game. What their opponent was not prepared for was Tommy’s Empoleon. It turns out it’s a novel combination that we can’t find any indication anyone has played in a deck like Tommy’s before. It proved its worth as it slowed down the Tina in both of the next 2 games, and Tommy advanced to the top 4.

In a bit of poetic justice (maybe?), Tommy’s top 4 matchup was against the kid with whom they had drawn in the last round at Stuttgart, leading to both of them bubbling out of the top 8. It was good to see that this kid had also made it back into a top 8 again and even advanced to the top 4. In this matchup, Tommy faced off against a Charizard - the same deck that Nate had played for a good 2 months. Tommy was well prepared and dispatched it quickly in 2 games.

On the other side of the bracket, our friend Ethan was as good as his word and knocked out the Snorlax Stall in his quarterfinal match and then similarly blazed through his own semi-final.

The finals was set: Tommy against Ethan. And, honestly, if you’re playing in the finals you probably want it to be against your friend because you’ll know that at least if you lose then your friend has won. Also, honestly, the matchup was very favorable for Tommy. We all knew it, and by “we all” I mean: Tommy, Ethan, me, Ethan’s father, Ethan’s older brother, Nate, Joshua, Joshua’s father, and also random parents who scrunched up their noses a little bit when they heard the matchup.

But, guys, Ethan is a very good player. You don’t get to the top 3 in Europe if you’re a slouch. In the first game, he gave Tommy absolutely everything Tommy could handle. Playing a deck that gets stronger in the late game, Ethan took 4 points out of 6 and had all of the pieces ready to take his final 2 points on his next turn. And yet, Tommy had kept pace and on his final turn before Ethan would take the game, Tommy took the final 2 points for the game 1 win.

In game 2, Empoleon went to work. Tommy got it in play immediately, and it blocked everything that Ethan wanted to do in his early game. Tommy raced out to a commanding lead, and by the time Ethan could start to get his strategy working, it was too late. Tommy won game 2 and with it the Dortmund Regional tournament.

I don’t usually post pictures of the kids, but I guess when one of the kids does well enough that it’s already on Twitter and Instagram I can make an exception Link here.

I am writing this on the train home, and we’re all still a bit in shock. They’ve been building to this moment for a few months now. The bread crumbs have been there. As I type this, another Dutch player is playing in the finals of the Masters division (the 18 and overs), and 4 weeks ago Tommy played to a draw against him in a local competition. The week after, Tommy finished 4th in an online tournament against other Masters. Tommy has put in a lot of work to reach this moment.

With the 200 prize points, Tommy rockets up the standings to #15.

“I guess we should start planning our trip to Hawaii,” Sarah said when we called to share the news. I think she’s right.