Playing TCGs (The Long Road)

Pokemon: Thoughts on side boards, and deck thinning.

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Many who are familiar with the Pokémon Trading Card Game and have participated in any of the games tournaments, be it competitive or casual, have probably noticed the absence of a familiar trend among other such games. Sideboards are not present at all under normal circumstances. The same goes for Shadow Era. I have been thinking about how this affects the two games, and what sideboards could mean for Shadow Era for a few weeks, so here I would like to just jot down my thoughts.

A Quick Explanation
This is something I am sure most competitive Shadow Era players can relate to, most of us run 'tech cards' to help in situation were our deck might otherwise fail us. An example of this would be Ground Shift, to take care of all those pesky combo-like decks that run locations. Similar things also happen while deck building in Pokémon. Cards like this are: Hex Maniac to disrupt a lock or to keep attacks valuable. Team Flare Grunt keeps energy counts at bay and special energies off the board etc. The difference between the two subjects is deck count. Shadow Era does not require an exact card count of 60 to have a completed deck, so naturally we run much closer to the minimum amount of cards required to see us through a game, which is 39 if not counting our hero. In the interest of being thorough, both games have a limit of 4 cards by the same name, and after hands are drawn, and prize cards are set, a Pokémon deck is left with usually around 46 or 47 cards (accounting for a mulligan or two). This is about the time the game begins. While there are several cards counts players run Shadow Era decks in, the most popular I personally run into are 39, 40, and 45. After our hands are drawn, one can see quite a clear difference in how many cards are left in a shadow Era deck verses a Pokémon deck.
Instead of being built into decks, consistency is achieved synthetically in Pokémon. This is often done through draw power with high costs. Seeing a player discard a whole hand of 4, 5, or even sometimes 6 in order to draw a fresh hand of 7 is very common, multiple times a game usually. In shadow Era, if similar cards were created, I am not so sure they would be staple auto-includes like they are in Pokémon, simply because the game has a resource system where Pokémon does not, but that is more food for thought than anything. This is not to say cards like this do not exist in Shadow Era already, but they do not see much play and don’t quite do the same thing. Word of the Prophet is one such example.

What's the point?
Stemming from weeks of contemplation, I believe sideboards are not only unneeded but would harm, yes harm Shadow Era, here is why. I mentioned before that the most important factor in a Shadow Era deck is consistency, now this is easy enough to pull off. In game it is possible to run a deck with only 10 different cards in it and see everyone of them by the time a single game is over. A pile of 10 cards though is often times simply not enough diversity to meet the wide range of archetypes one will be faced with so players have to run more. Most decks run around 15 to 20 different cards depending on the archetype. Needless to say this cuts the consistency of decks down a lot. This is a very good thing for the game, and is occurs because there really isn’t another way to have enough answers to major threats in the absence of sideboards.
This is not an argument against the inclusion of sideboards in Shadow Era, I am simply aiming to explain to players how the game functions because we don't have them, and what it would mean to have them in. It all boils down to this; the lack of sideboards forces us to run more interactive cards, rather than more that would be in favor of building up our own boards. This leads to interactivity. Forcing interactivity in trading card games is more often than not a good thing (save for on the topic of broken archetypes, but that's a topic for another day) it keeps games from becoming static and stale, and allows for new cards to migrate into the system more smoothly.

Less interactive strategies such as rush or tribal are less concerned with this, however it does affect them to. Instead of playing an ally to the board, a rush player may instead be forced to play an ability card to deal with a threat like fireball or captured prey. Whether one is discussing rush or not, that's a very positive thing because it discourages solitaire-esque gameplay where the first person to get out there big baddy or swarm the field wins. In the end, this is usually how a game is decided anyway, but it is done more gradually rather than over the course of two or fewer turns. This gives the game a feeling of back and forth without making each turn feel like a dip in a seesaw, and takes away the feeling of imminent doom one might experience each turn during a bad matchup if such a thing were not in place.

A few possible scenarios
If sideboards were implemented matches would probably be more likely to fluctuate dramatically, and in a very unappealing way. To show an example of lets take a simple Wulven tribal deck and pit it against Ni shaven stall burn. Some Wulven decks don’t run Regeneration, but they could easily run 3 in a 10 card sideboard. The first game nothing unexpected would happen, but during game 2 things change dramatically. The Wulven deck most likely would have sided in all 3, and removed unneeded cards in the match up. Now, the stall burn deck is hard pressed to find cards like Engulfing Flames and Poison Gas and play them multiple times a game, even more so than they are already required to. This pretty much changes the stall burn deck into a deck that just stalls, and doesn’t do enough of the burning it needs to over time in order to win. The stall deck gets to sideboard as well, but there really is nothing to sideboard in this case because field wiping is what this deck wants versus tribal, but there is already enough of that with the common 1 or 2 of Solar Flare and Nishaven’s hero ability, plus other very hard removal.

Right about now I can hear the scream of several complaining players, and I will admit, stall burn is not the best strategy right now, it hasn’t been in a while, so let's take something more recent. How about Zhanna Mist attachments. This deck uses various value allies such as Devoted Knight and attachments to bolster them and make them gigantic. This is a pretty solid deck, and in the way some of the attachments draw more than 1 card when they are destroyed (even if they were discarded because the attached ally was killed) this deck does not need too much help. With a sideboard, suddenly this deck can almost become a utility deck, priests have a wide range of tools to grab from, and while most of their removal is not the best, I think we all know they have plenty of tricks up their sleeves. The match up here is not to important, because in the end given even a 15 card sideboard, this deck won't really side in too many hard answers unless it’s opponent also play attachments or items. It will just try its best to mess up your day, make your plays more uncomfortable, and your attacks less valuable.

To summarize, I am not trying to create an argument against sideboarding, sideboards may be a fun feature to try out and test in game. I am simply aiming to say that without sideboards, Shadow Era has a much more relaxed and flowing feel to it’s gameplay. Sideboards would be good for some decks, bad for others, and some may not even need them. Answers would be more plentiful, but that may lead to entire archetypes being locked from playability. Having a sideboard may be nice, but at this point in the game it is pretty evident that they are not needed and without them the game is doing alright. Thanks to all those that read this, I hope to make more of these soon. Let me know what you think of all this, any criticism is appreciated.

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