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The Pokemon Travelogue: Gdansk

Polskamon? Polskamon!
The Pokemon Travelogue: Gdansk
Waaaaaaay to the east this time around.

A quick reminder: This is the Pokemon Travelogue, a monthly installment in which I interrupt my random musings about education, product development, and creativity for more focused musings on the European competitive Pokemon card game scene. Last month we were in Lille, France. This month it’s Gdansk, Poland.

Introducing: The Pokemon Travelogue

Seth Trudeau • Oct 21, 2023

“So, um, do you want me to let you know if you’re becoming a bit too much like Richard Williams on the one extreme, or Britney Spears’s dad on the other?” My friend asks when I tell her that I’m heading out that afternoon to accompany my children for the first of 7 international Pokemon tournaments ov…

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Tournament 2 is officially in the books, so I’m coming at you with the latest Pokemon travelogue. I like to come up with names for each tournament and force my children to refer to them that way, so this weekend’s tournament - held in Poland - will be referred to in our minds and in our hearts as Polskamon. Onto the rundown!

Intro to a third tier city

I don’t have a lot to say about Gdansk, Poland in particular; we were there for less than 48 hours, and in that time we saw the airport, the convention center, and the food hall at the mall next to our hotel. It snowed, and it was quite a pleasant snow. Count that in its favor.

Things to know about Gdansk:

  • it’s a port city on the Baltic in northern Poland.

  • it is proof that there are cities in Poland other than Warsaw and Krakau.

  • it has very smooth highways?1

Could you/should you/would you live here? The good news is that it will not become the 3rd city on my list of cities where I could not live, but I did give it a long second thought at 3:45pm on Saturday when it was already dark outside. I spent most of my formative years in the American Midwest, and Gdansk reminded me a lot of central Ohio - the weather, the malls, the woodlands. It felt very familiar; it reminded me of being out at a friend’s house as the winter night crept later and later, staying long enough that the frost and ice built up on everyone’s car windshield such that when you did finally decide to go home, you had to spend 10-15 minutes defrosting your car. That courtship ritual in which someone trying to impress someone else might also scrape the frost and ice off of the other’s car for them, gracing them with the gift to stay inside in the warmth. If they were really trying to be extra and establish themselves as one of the good ones, they might even clean off other people’s cars as well. There’s a pleasant familiarity in that memory.

If you jump on Google images you can find a very charming picture of downtown Gdansk. I didn’t see that side of the city. This is what I saw. I am also convinced now that you can find a charming photo of nearly any city on Google images. My friend from Lagos confirmed this theory for me.

Go ahead, inflict this on the person in your life who prattles on endlessly about their favorite game. And then when they’re like “WTF?” You can just give them a knowing look.

How we’re rolling

We have friends who drove 12 hours each way for a 2 day tournament. That math doesn’t math for me. I looked into the train, and it would have taken even longer than that. So we flew, paying our allegiance to the Dutch national airline, KLM. And, yes yes, it was far more expedient than any other mode of transport, but I find flying so much less pleasant than taking the train. It’s a much more anxiety ridden experience for me - you have to get to the airport so early, because you never know what the queues are going to be like, and there are going to be so many queues, and if you are a little bit late then there’s no real way of easily re-routing. And then you board and go through all of these announcements where the airlines are very cleverly trying to paper over the fact that if something goes wrong, you’re probably going to die. Everyone feels like they don’t have enough space, so everyone wants to assert their rights to whatever space they can reasonably claim, and while you’re in motion they are policing when you can and cannot go to the toilet. All of this happens on the best case scenario flight. I am not a fan.

Based on the fact that you probably had not heard of Gdansk prior to 3 paragraphs ago, you might also be able to guess that there aren’t exactly a lot of direct flights that go there. Consequently, at least half of our flight on the way out were people going for Pokemon. This didn’t really affect the vibe of the flight in any particular way, but the amount of branded gear was noticeable.

Where we’re eating

Put simply: Poland is not France. Both get steamrolled by the Germans in global conflicts, so it would be somewhat understandable if you got them confused. However, I come not to sing the praises of Polish urbanism or Polish cuisine. The food certainly wasn’t bad, but unlike in Lille where we could take a quick walk and come across just about everything a person could desire, Gdansk is a lot more car-centric, so the path of least resistance - especially with the gluten-free children - means the food hall at the mall. Now, to its credit we are talking about a food hall, not a food court…which is certainly a cut above. No greasy chain restaurant fast food for us! At the same time, why has this particular thing - the food hall - become so ubiquitous globally with almost the same design aesthetic (dark interiors with neon lighting) no matter where you go? I have been to this same food hall on 4 different continents with very little variation. This one had pierogies, cuz Poland, but otherwise if you’ve been to a food hall you know exactly what this was. The kids had pulled pork tacos, which were absolutely fine. I had a Sicilian pizza, which was not particularly flavorful. No one got sick. We’ll call it a win.

The venue, on the other hand, had exactly 1 food vendor for an event where there were 1,200 competitors plus several hundred more spectators and volunteers running the show. Lines were very long. The food was passable? Fortunately, I don’t ever anticipate gluten-free options for the kids, so I always stop in a grocery store the night before and pack them lunches. Still, not a good look. This is the kind of thing that makes me suspect that we won’t see an event in Gdansk again next year…

This is the queue for the 1 food vendor…see how it starts on the left side, and then about 80% of the way back it seems to wrap to the right and keep going beyond the horizon? That is not an optical illusion.

What we’re playing

Nate has changed things up considerably, while staying firmly within his “big hitters with high HP” lane. He’s playing a Giratina Lost Box, so his attacks take some time to power up because they require him to render multiple cards totally unplayable…but once they’re powered up they can wreak havoc.

Amazon.com: Pokemon - Giratina VStar 201/196 Lost Origin Secret Rainbow  Rare Foil : Toys & Games
You can only use that second attack once, and it takes some time to power up…but it really packs a punch.

Tommy has made only minor tweaks. They’re still rolling with his Rapid Strike deck from the last tournament, but with a new set of cards released since the last tournament that introduce some compelling new mechanics, they have made a sneaky change that allows them to “de-evolve” their opponents Pokemon, essentially making the Pokemon significantly less powerful and reducing the amount of damage they can absorb. When this deck works as intended, sometimes Tommy can play the de-evolution card and wipe out all of the opponent’s Pokemon at once - leading to an automatic win. The night before the tournament, Tommy agonized between 2 cards over which would be the 60th out of 60 cards included in their deck, knowing that leaving either one out would leave them vulnerable to a particular kind of opponent. They ultimately made their choice, and then ended up seeing neither of the two kinds of opponent anyway2.

How we did

The aforementioned move in which Tommy could wipe out all the opponent’s Pokemon at once? They got to pull that trick one time, to immense satisfaction. After rushing out to 3 wins in their first 3 matches, Tommy’s deck ran out of steam a little and they ended up winning 4, losing 2, and drawing one - good enough for 29th place…which scores championship points! We’ll take it. While Tommy probably could have done better if they hadn’t played a rogue deck, I think this was the tournament that convinced them to switch to something a little more proven the next time around.

From a great distance, I watched as Nate and his opponent had a slightly protracted conversation toward the end of the allocated time for their match. I knew Nate had won the first game in the best of three match, and now I was afraid that Nate had just agreed to take a draw when he could have just let the second game go into extra time and take the win. We were going to need to have a conversation about being more savvy. Of course, I was wrong. Nate came back to where I was waiting grinning and informed me, “I won. I figured out pretty early in the second game that they weren’t going to be able to beat me fast enough, so I drew out play and as time wound down I told them that they couldn’t win the game.” Thus continues a parenting shortcoming of mine in which I regularly underestimate Nate and am proven the fool3. Nate made a bunch of similar big brain plays throughout the tournament. He won 4, lost 1, and drew 2 to finish 16th - our first top 16 of the season!

Some bad news: unbeknownst to us, eligibility for points from local events actually reset in the middle of November…so we didn’t max out and get the full 390 available. Not too many kids did, fortunately, but that’s going to make our road to the travel award a little more precarious.

Miscellanea: the 3 ways a Pokemon player loses

A tournament of the size of these last two - about 1200 players each - breaks down more or less as follows: 100 juniors players who play 7 matches each, 100 seniors players who do the same, and 1000 masters players who all play 9 rounds on the first day. That means nearly 6,000 matches being played on the first day, and while a decent number of those matches end in a draw, the majority end with someone losing. Every loss is uniquely heartbreaking, yadda yadda yadda. In reality, there are only 3 ways that a Pokemon player loses….strangely, none of them are “I was faced off against a player who was clearly superior to me in skill, and so I was soundly defeated - as should be expected.” Nope. Here’s how a Pokemon player loses:

  • “I bricked.” Shorthand for getting a bad setup in the early game. The purest version of this sentiment is that they drew a bad first hand, but the way it’s actually used, it could mean several bad turns to start a game. If you brick, and your opponent does not, you’re starting out at a disadvantage.
  • “They got exactly what they needed on the last turn.” This is sometimes paired with, “I had the card I needed to win in hand, but…” This means it was a somewhat competitive match - how competitive is a direct function of how much you trust that it was genuinely astounding that the other player got exactly what they needed. If they somehow found a series of cards that were exactly what they needed, then luck might just be on their side today. On the other hand, if they found the one card that they needed, and if they had set themselves up over several turns to be able to find that card…well, maybe that game wasn’t quite as close as it seems.
  • “It was a bad matchup for me.” This is not actually an admission of superior skill but rather a recognition of a weakness in one’s own deck. This is a fun aspect of the current meta game: pretty much every deck has a deck that it’s going to perform poorly against. If it’s a less common deck, you might not run up against it. Right now, some of the most common meta decks have pronounced weaknesses against other common meta decks. At Gdansk, as mentioned above, the winning deck (Snorlax Stall) was a bad matchup for a lot of decks - including its opponent in the final. I can only imagine how rotten it feels to be headed into the final of a big event, knowing what deck you’re playing against and knowing that your deck has almost no chance against it.
Where to find and how to get shiny Snorlax in Pokémon Sleep - Meristation
Snorlax, a favorite of the “cute Pokemon” aficionados…and a really bad matchup if you haven’t specifically prepared for it. Was #bansnorlax trending on Sunday? Yep. But, I mean, come on. Look at him - he’s a sleepy boy.

And that’s it, a comprehensive rundown of all 5,000 match losses from this weekend.

Up Next

We’ve got a quick turnaround - the Stuttgart regionals come just 2 weeks after Gdansk. That’s not a lot of time if anyone4 needs to learn a new deck…but both kids are at the point where world championship qualification is in sight. Could the first ticket get punched in Germany? Watch this space.

  1. according to a friend of ours who drove there from the Netherlands.

  2. though the one they had prepared for ended up winning the masters division of the tournament, so good foresight kind of I guess?

  3. see also: Nate’s probably going to cry when we drop him off for his first day of preschool. And by “cry”, we of course meant “wave happily as we depart.”

  4. cough, Tommy, cough