Athena Games is already home to several players who qualify for the Pokémon World Championships, and with the Norwich Cities and Norfolk Regional Championships coming up in January and March, there will no doubt be plenty of others hoping to step up their game and join them!
Among such strong contenders are father and son duo, Scot Symonds and Seb Symonds, who between them hold tickets to the Pokémon World Championships for the current season. Scot has attended more competitive events than most in the Master’s division of the game this season, while his son Seb aims for a phenomenal top 22 ranking in the European Senior’s division. They might also be one of the only father/son duos to both win a regional event in their respective divisions.
I interviewed Scot Symonds about the competitive scene of the Pokémon TCG, what his experience has been like this season, and some of his favourite strategies…
Tom: When and how did you get involved in the Pokémon TCG?
Scot: I’ve always had a great relationship with my son, Seb. However when he went to high school, I could tell he was growing up and I wanted to make more of an effort to find something in common with him. I noticed he was interested in playing Pokémon and that it was also a card game.
I love board games, card games, and poker, so I asked if he knew how to play the Pokémon TCG. Together, we started to learn and put some pretty bad decks together, but we had fun playing the game. Then I did a bit more research and found out that Athena Games did a weekly Friday night game, so we turned up and joined in. We were terrible though- we had a lot of out-of-format cards and didn’t really understand the game. However, the kind folks at Athena were really helpful, and welcoming, and we soon settled in. Especially the likes of Simon Humphrey, Tubbs Woolner, Matt Cotton and Alex Pike, who still play now, not to mention everyone else!
What has kept me involved is the great support and camaraderie of all at Athena; we have a very strong local league, very competitive, and that’s a great platform to continue to learn and improve.
T: At what point did you start playing competitively?
S: I think it was October 2014 when we started playing a bit more seriously, attending our first Regional event in Newport, Wales. It was our first full season and we wanted to start to get better by playing different players, and also really enjoyed the more competitive structure of a Cities or Regional event.
We went to quite a few events in the 2014/15 season, and my son managed to get just over 300 Championship points to secure his Worlds invite. I gained about 150, so was well short of the 300 required.
T: What has been your general experience of playing the game at such a competitive level?
S: Overall it’s really good. We’ve both gained a whole new group of friends, enjoy the road trips with fellow Team Athena players, and it’s a great way to spend a day or weekend.
T: How is the current season going for you? You mentioned road trips around the country, taking part in competitive events with some of the other players from Athena Games, including your son. What’s that been like?
S: This season has been really good for Seb and I so far. We have been going to a lot of events. In fact, based on Season Play Points, I have attended the 2nd most events of anyone in the UK! Also lots of events with fellow Team Athena players, especially Tubbs Woolner, Alex Pike, Matt Cotton, Guy Beaven, all attending quite a few events and also having good results. As a team, we have achieved Championship Points at every single event we have attended, which is an improvement on last season. I reached 305 CP at an event in Brighton on 9th January, which means I have my Worlds invite. Seb is also doing really well, on about 650 CP now, although he is trying to get in the top 22 in Europe, which will mean a paid invite to Worlds for us both!
T: Are there any events of memories which stand out for you since you started playing?
S: It has to be the Regional Championships at Newport in October last year. Seb won the Senior’s division and I won the Master’s division for a massive 150 CP! It was a really great day with Tubbs Woolner and John Riches also there for support. It was a late departure, however, well worth it!
T: What, if anything, attracts you to the competitive scene of the Pokémon TCG above other card games like Magic: the Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh?
S: It’s really just what I fell into, I’ve played a bit of Magic before but I just really enjoy the feel and art of Pokémon.
T: Do you have a favourite card type or strategy in the current meta-game? What, in your opinion, are some of the strongest cards at the moment, and what makes a card stand out for you?
S: I have favourite decks which I believe are the strongest in the format at the moment. Quite a few actually. And then I tend to change the one I play, making slight changes based on how the meta changes. It’s fascinating how things move on, and you have to keep the pace and make the right choices to stay competitive. At the moment I think there are quite a few good decks that can compete in the Standard format, and that makes it interesting. Manetric/Bats; Lucario/Bats; Raichu/Bats; Seismitoad/Giratina; Night March; Entei; Mega-Mewtwo Y; Vespiquen; and Yveltal/Gallade are all really good choices.
T: The Norwich City and Norfolk Regional Championships are coming up in January and March respectively. Any thoughts? What can a player who has never attended an event like that before expect from one?
S: I think they will enjoy it, first of all. Playing a best-of-three format gives them the opportunity to learn about their opponent and the match-up, and make strategy changes for game two or three. They will get new ideas and see different decks.
T: Do you have any advice for new players, or players hoping to play the Pokémon TCG at a competitive level?
S: Take your time, learn your deck well, get to the position where you play without making errors, and don’t be afraid to call a judge if you are unsure of a situation that has arisen in your game. I call them all the time!
T: We have the next Pokémon TCG expansion, BREAKPoint, releasing in February, as well as Pokémon Generations later in the year. What are you hoping to see in future expansions? More support for a certain type, perhaps, or maybe the return of an old gameplay mechanic?
S: I’m rubbish at questions like this, partly because I try to focus on what is currently in the format. A lot of people speculate in advance of a certain release and will over-hype certain Pokémon, which can lead to people over-valuing them and making bad trades. It takes time for new cards to find their best partners and become competitive, so I will take my time before making any calls! For example, Mega-Mewtwo Y won its first Cities last weekend and the set its in [BREAKThrough] has been out for almost three months. Now we understand how good that Pokémon is going to be!