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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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21-year-old Cheney man Pokémon champion

Alex Koch, 21, is a fantasy card shark. To be more exact, he’s the 2013 Pokémon City Masters Division Champion, a title he won at the trading card game championships in Richland on Dec. 30.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Koch, who lives in Cheney and is taking a yearlong break from his studies at Eastern Washington University.

The title came with what Koch describes as a “trophy thingy” as well as qualifying points toward the Pokémon world championship – and a box of 360 new Pokémon cards.

Koch estimates he owns more than 10,000 Pokémon cards already, so, really, does he need any more?

“Well, they make new cards all the time,” Koch said, “to keep the competitive game fresh and to go with new video games they release.”

Pokémon are little fantasy creatures that hold a variety of powers, abilities and ways to attack as they battle other Pokémon. A Pokémon card player – also known as a Pokémon trainer – assembles a competitive deck of 60 cards and plays his opponents in a friendly battle. The one with the most varied and complete combination of cards in his deck, wins.

“It’s kind of hard to explain, if you’ve never done it,” Koch said. “The game is not like pinochle or anything else. It’s easy to learn, but it’s hard to master.”

Koch said about 30 players from the Tri-Cities, Seattle and Spokane were at the city championships.

“We don’t have a large competitive scene here in Spokane,” Koch said. “In Seattle it’s not unusual to have 100 players at a tournament.”

And no, he said, he wasn’t the oldest player at the tournament.

“Many dads play Pokémon with their kids and come to the tournaments,” Koch said, adding that the best player he knows in Spokane is a 12-year-old girl. “We are all sort of afraid of her.”

Now, if you have 10,000 cards isn’t it pretty much impossible to pick the top 60?

“Yes, but we can only use cards released over the last two years,” Koch said. “And every summer Pokémon issues rules for which cards are taken out of the rotation and which are added.”

The game relies heavily on math and the player’s ability to figure out successful combinations of Pokémon skills.

“There are about nine combinations of cards that are considered the best – they are called Meta decks,” Koch explained. “Everybody around the world plays those decks.” A deck created by an individual player is a rogue deck. It can still be good, Koch said, but it may not win a big tournament.

Like many Pokémon card collectors, Koch got started when he was young. A pack of 10 Pokémon cards sells for about $5 – but Koch said that’s not the best way to get the cards because you can’t see what’s in the pack. Individual cards sell online or at trade shows for anything from a few bucks to thousands of dollars.

Koch’s favorite Pokémon is Wobbuffet, a bluish figure shaped like a ghost with a tail, and two eye spots on its tail.

“Why? Because he’s kind of silly and goofy guy,” Koch said. “In the current league Wobbuffet is absolute garbage.”

Of course, Koch would love to go to the Pokémon World Championship but he doesn’t think that’s a very realistic goal. For now, his focus is to pick an education-related major at EWU.

Does he know how much money he’s spent on the 10,000 cards he’s collected?

He laughs: “I once cataloged all of them. Honestly, I don’t know, and I’m not sure I want to know how much they’ve cost me.”

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