Schmidt is state Pokémon champ

When Dylan Schmidt was 7, like many of his friends he played the Pokémon trading card game. He collected and traded cards, and played against other kids each month at Hastings bookstore for a few years before moving on to other things. Returning to the strategy game a year ago, Schmidt, now 16, has become the top-ranked player in the region.

After winning one of two city championship tournaments in Spokane, on March 19 Schmidt won the Master’s division in the Play! Pokémon Trading Card Game state tournament in Tacoma. This accomplishment earned him a championship medal, a first-round bye at the national tournament in July, a booster box of 36 packs and, of course, bragging rights.

But Schmidt doesn’t brag. “I know it’s nerdy,” he said with a shrug, “but if you enjoy something, then do it to the best of your ability.”

That’s what he did in Tacoma, playing from 8 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. and winning 14 out of 17 games. During the initial qualifying rounds, Schmidt’s only loss was to Spokane teammate and friend Brad Benson. “He’s as good as me, if not better,” said Schmidt, who is now ranked 39th in the country.

Schmidt plays with friends and at the weekend games sponsored by Uncle’s Games. He also watches online videos and reads player blogs to gain additional insight and strategies.

“It’s good to get someone else’s perspective,” he said, adding that he and his friends formed a team called Team Rush. They have fun and hone their skills by practicing together. They also trade and loan each other cards. “The more you practice, the better,” he said. “We’re here to help each other and get better.”

His practice has paid off and, at this level, playing Pokémon is much more than a child’s game. Like chess, it depends on strategy, creativity and knowledge, but with a lot more than 32 pieces.

Each player uses a deck of 60 cards, purchased or traded from thousands of cards costing a few dollars to more than $100. While some players build their decks to match online lists or what has worked for top-ranked winners, Schmidt said he studies a lot of different strategies, then builds decks designed to utilize his strengths and compensate for his weaknesses as a player.

“You should make a deck the way you play,” said Schmidt, explaining that he constantly learns and rearranges his decks. He’ll try new cards and combinations of cards, then assess the results. With more than 3,000 of his own cards and a working knowledge of many more, Schmidt has thought through and mentally played so many different scenarios and possible combinations it’s like he has a plan A through Z.

Recounting each matchup at the state tournament like a sports announcer, Schmidt explained the strategy behind his success while analyzing why he lost a few games. The lingo is like learning another language. He rearranged the opponent’s top decks with an impersonator card and damaged health with an attacker card. He also stalled, donked, deck searched, sniped and power sprayed his way to win after win.

Describing his final game against a player from Canada, Schmidt described how he killed two Garchomps in one turn, used several prize cards in succession to gain a large lead, then took out his opponent’s most powerful card. He based this last play on what he’d seen several turns earlier, and it ensured his victory. “From then on I was happy,” he said.

After celebrating with his friends in the hotel that night, Schmidt said when he returned to Spokane the congratulations continued. “My dad arranged for a surprise party for me winning state. He invited some of my friends that live in town and had a cake made with Pikachu on the top.”

While proud of his accomplishment, his mom said Dylan shows the same hard work and determination to improve in all his endeavors, from school and music to sports. “Dylan is amazing when he says he is going to do something,” she said, noting he has good grades, plays several instruments and is a varsity wrestler for Shadle Park High School.

Schmidt said simply, “You should always try for first.”

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