Updates to Pokemon Rules and Resources for the new 2019 Season (effective immediately!)

Pokemon Organized Play updated a number of documents on their Rules and Resources page today.

They can be found here: https://www.pokemon.com/us/play-pokemon/about/tournaments-rules-and-resources/

They also have a summary of the MAJOR changes in an article here:

But that does not cover all of the changes that you should be aware of, so for the convenience of Players and Judges, we are going to summarize the updates here along with some clarifying commentary (in Bold Italic)

TCG Penalty Guidelines

Section 2.1 Deviating from Recommended Penalties – Clarification of existing rule
“The penalties for infractions are simply recommendations and may be increased or decreased in severity based on circumstances, which may include the point at which the error was caught and the ease with which the corresponding action may be reversed.”
Note: While this is a good thing to keep in mind at all times, it is specifically referring to examples given in GPE Major for playing more than one energy in a turn or using an Ability when it cannot be used. The standard penalties for these assume some irreversible damage to the game state, so if the action can be rewound without damage, they can be deescalated.
NOTE that the penalty for drawing an extra card should NOT be deescalated in this way. It was moved from GPE Minor to Major on purpose specifically to incur the more severe penalty.

General Event Rules

Section 4: Age Divisions – Update to age divisions for 2019 season
Note: This does not apply to the World Championships held in August 2018
Note: Those age groups are: Junior (born in 2008 or later), Senior (born in 2004, 2005, 2006, or 2007), and Masters (born in 2003 or earlier).

Section 7.3.1: Time Extensions – Rule change
“In addition to the above, judges are responsible for ensuring that players are not disadvantaged due to time lost as a result of a ruling or penalty. Judges may issue time extensions of a length corresponding to the time taken to resolve the issue.”
Note: A little history on this. This used to be the rule years ago. It was changed to only rulings taking “+3” when event time was being impacted by long round turnarounds at large events. Now that automation has improved that turnaround and events are moving faster, OP is moving back to giving a 1 for 1 time extension.

Section 9: Note Taking – Clarification of existing rule
“A player’s note sheet must be completely free of text, handwritten or otherwise, at the start of each match.”
Note: This indicates that players having notepaper with lines or other graphics are fine as long as they are not pre-preprinted notes. Some judges were getting a bit exuberant and penalizing players for using lined paper.

Section 11.1: Conceding a Match  – Clarification of existing rule
“The option of an intentional draw (ID) is exclusive to TCG tournaments. Video Game competitors may not agree to an ID.”

TCG Rules and Formats

Section 3: Card Sleeves – Clarification of existing rule
“We expect players to use their best judgment when determining which sleeves to use with their deck. Pokémon Organized Play strongly recommends the use of sleeves with an opaque back. Using clear sleeves, or declining to use sleeves at all, may expose imperfections on the back of the card itself that could contribute to a Marked Card situation.”
Note: For those not aware, a player was DQ’d and subsequently banned for just this situation. Word to the wise: Don’t use clear sleeves.

Section 9.1 Tiebreaker Games – Rule change
“If both players take their last Prize card (or Knock Out their opponent’s last Pokémon) at the same time, and no other win conditions have been met, players must determine the winner of that game by engaging in a Tiebreaker Game. The players should set up as though they were playing a normal game, including setting up 6 Prize cards and flipping a coin to decide who goes first. The winner of the Tiebreaker Game is the player who takes a Prize card first.”
Note: This is a MAJOR RULE CHANGE! Previously players played a Sudden Death Game as described in the regular Rule Book. This change was obviously made to correct situations where a card has a more powerful effect with just one prize left than it would normally have at the beginning of a game.
While not mentioned in the rules update, if both players take prizes at the same time, the game would continue until such time as one player is ahead on prizes. Also remember that all effect have to resolve and all prizes taken from those resolutions before checking game state and checking how many prizes remain.
FINAL NOTE: The coin flip works the same way as the flip at the beginning of the match. The winner of the flip gets to choose who goes first.

Sections 9.3.2 & 9.3.3: Determining the Outcome of an Unresolved [Single Elimination] Match – Clarification of existing rule Note: Document incorrectly tags 9.2.2 and 9.2.3
“The current game continues, starting with any between-turns effects that take place after the last completed turn, if necessary, until one player has fewer Prize cards remaining than the other, or one player satisfies any other win condition that would result in their winning the game outright.”

Section 9.3.3 Determining the Outcome of an Unresolved [Single Elimination] Best of 3 Match – Rule change
“If the last turn ends during game 2, the winner of game 1 wins the match.”
Note: This is a MAJOR RULE CHANGE! This eliminates the whole “if one player has taken 4 or more prizes” determination. It should eliminate a lot of confusion among players and newer judges.

VG Rules and Formats

Section 3.4: Match Resolution – New rule
“A player who selects the Run option is electing to forfeit the game. Should both players select the Run option during the same turn, the game will be recorded as having no winner.”

Section 3.4.2 & 3.4.3: Resolving Best of 3 Matches (Swiss & Elim) – Clarification of existing rule
“The criteria listed should be used, in order, to determine the outcome of a game that is unresolved after the final turn has ended.”

Section Team Error Minor – Rule change
“In all cases, the offending Pokémon or held item should be prohibited from play in addition to applying the appropriate penalty as described below. In events tethered by local distribution:
Should the Pokémon or held item described on the team list is immediately available, the player should be given the opportunity to add the correct Pokémon to their team. Otherwise, the removed Pokémon may not be replaced. In events tethered by QR Code: Should the player be unable to present the correct Pokémon or held item so that it may be added to the team, the offending Pokémon should instead be prohibited from use for the remainder of the tournament rather than removed.”

Section Team Error Minor – Clarification of existing rule
“At the start of each round, the player’s opponents should be informed of the Pokémon that is prohibited.”

Tournament Sanctioning Regulations

Section 4: Minimum Number of Players – Clarification of existing rule
“To remain sanctioned, a tournament must have at least 8 participating players. Of those players, at least 8 must complete 2 or more rounds.”
Note: This is a clarification that is good to see in writing. This has already been in effect as there have been tournaments reported where players dropping after Round 1 brought the total number of players below 8 and the tournament was therefore invalidated. Organizers (and Players) should be aware of this and inform players if their dropping early will cause the entire tournament to be invalidated!

Section 5: Organizer Presence – Added Section
Note: It was not always required that the Organizer be present at the event. There were (and maybe still are) TOs that sub out the actual running of many of their events to judges that act as the organizer on site. It seems that this is no longer allowed.

Tournament Operation Procedures

Section 3.1.1
Update to age divisions for 2019 season
Note: Those age groups are: Junior (born in 2008 or later), Senior (born in 2004, 2005, 2006, or 2007), and Masters (born in 2003 or earlier).

Section 3.3.5:  Determining the Number of Rounds Needed – Rule change
“Every player with 19 or more match points or the Top 32 ranked players, whichever is greater, makes Day Two of Swiss rounds.”
Note: Major Tournament Change!

Get Your FAQ for SM05 – Ultra Prism

PokeGym members and Pokemon Community, the FAQ for the new Sun & Moon set, Ultra Prism, has been released. Download your copy and alert your local judges to have a copy ready for the Prereleases starting this weekend.

Note that this only covers rulings needed for the Prerelease. Other rulings will be coming soon, but this is what you need for this weekend!
Download from the link below.


Guidance for Pokémon TCG Judges from Pokémon Organized Play From Dec 2015

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.

Decklist Penalties:

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.