Guidance for Pokémon TCG Judges from Pokémon Organized Play
Team Compendium, Pokémon Organized Play (POP) and R&D have had multiple discussions prior to the 2015 US National Championships and at the 2015 World Championships. These discussions clarified for the Judge Staff how Pokémon wishes certain situations to be handled. POP is clarifying some of these in their Penalty Guidelines, but this article is meant to explain some of these best practices and to make sure the word is spread and put into practice. This article has been reviewed by POP and R&D and reflects their guidance.
The new Penalty Guidelines for the 2015-2016 season have been clarified and somewhat revised. There has been confusion in the past about best practices in this area, so don’t be surprised if the following doesn’t match up with how decklist issues have been handled in your area. This is, however, how Pokémon wants decklist issues to be handled going forward.
Previously, deck issues carried a relatively light penalty. Unless it was both an illegal list and an illegal deck, the penalty was only a Caution or a Warning. However, the “fix” to the deck problem was seen by many players as much harsher than the actual penalty. The usual fix of any mismatch between a deck and a decklist that could not be uniquely determined was the replacement of the offending card with a Basic Energy card.
Going forward, the fix of the deck will be more forgiving, however most Deck Penalties will start at Game Loss. The only exception will be Legal Deck, Legal Decklist, which will start at a Prize Loss.
If card has been listed but is unclear, the contents of the deck can be used to determine what the correct card should be. For example, if a list just says “Squirtle” but not the set or set number, then the decklist will be corrected and updated using the information from the actual Squirtle card in the deck. The player will keep the Squirtle in their deck. If the judge staff determines that a player is purposely swapping out similar cards, this penalty will be escalated to Unsporting Conduct: Cheating.
If a card is not listed at all, such as a decklist that has less than 60 cards listed, then it cannot have additional cards from the deck added to the list to bring the total up to 60. The unlisted card(s) must be replaced with Basic Energy. If the decklist lists a card but the deck contains another, then the decklist takes precedence and the deck must be corrected to match, or the non-listed card will be replaced with Basic Energy. In both of these cases, a Game Loss is the penalty.
Generally speaking, while a decklist/deck problem will earn a Game Loss, penalties can be still be escalated based on the Judge determining if any significant advantage has been gained.
Answering Players’ questions during an event:
Judges have generally been following a rule of thumb of not answering most hypothetical questions from players and waiting until the action is actually performed before ruling on what happens as a result. The reasoning for this has been a reluctance to appear or actually give guidance that could be seen as “Coaching”.
While the sentiment is laudable, feedback from Pokémon R&D and POP indicates judges have been too strict in this regard. Pokémon has instructed that players’ questions of fact and rulings on card interactions are to be given to players when requested. The only types of questions that should not be answered are advice questions, such as “should I do this or should I do that?”
If there is a choice involved and are you being asked to help choose one choice vs another, do not answer that question. Any question along the lines of “if X is done to Y, what is the result?” should be answered. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that we will be human calculators for players. If a player asks, “Will this attack do X damage?”, you should ask them to walk through their calculations and then either confirm or correct them. This will give them the correct answer without encouraging them to be lazy about doing the math themselves.
Deck and discard pile arrangement:
POP is concerned with clarity of the Game Play area so that judges can easily see in passing what the game state is. However, this needs to be balanced with a player’s needs to have the layout arranged in a manner that makes their gameplay smooth and easy. While the Rule Book includes a layout of the game play area, it is not meant to be enforced rigidly. It has become widely known that Pokémon allows players to switch the layout between right side and left side to make play easier for left handed players. So it is permissible for the deck and discard pile to be on the left hand size and the Prize cards on the right. The important thing is that the deck and discard pile are on one side and Prize cards (and Lost Zone) are on the other side. This gives sufficient clarity to the game state for judges to see what is going on, while also accommodating left handed players.
Similarly, Pokémon in not concerned about whether the deck and discard piles are switched in the layout. There are a number of good reasons that a Player might wish their discard pile to be further away from the table’s edge. They are still easily distinguished from each other, as one is face up and the other is face down. Do not interrupt a match to enforce a layout that does not impact the game’s clarity.
Note that the deck still needs to be orientated “north/south” with the open end of the sleeve facing away from the player as this requirement is in place to address specific cheating concerns. That has not changed.