Pokemon TCG Online isn't as spry as it once was. Actually, that's not true — it's software so mature, virtually every kink's been ironed out along the way. But regardless, it's showing its age overall. Pokemon TCG Live is here to slowly but surely replace the sunsetting Online in full.
Longtime Pokemon TCG Online players will experience at least a moderate mental whirlwind coming into Live. It's inevitable. But if you know the biggest shifts ahead of time, we reckon you'll adapt to Pokemon TCG Live's ecosystem swiftly enough to get right on back to battling.
Pokemon TCG Online had a wider array of battle formats. At first blush, that makes it sound like a net win for the old and a net loss for the new, but let's hone in on what's gone: Legacy and Theme, the former of which tasked players with tapping into only older cards, and then only from the HeartGold & SoulSilver and Black & White generations. There was fun to be had, but it was essentially little more than a time machine to a very specific era.
Theme, on the other hand, reduced the playing field to the pre-made starter decks from TCG Online, and to be frank, they weren't great. The novelty of going head-to-head with below-average cards wore off fast, or at least, it did for us. It was a balancing act of sorts, forcing veteran players to leave their powerful Pokemon off to the side to give newer fans a fighting chance. An honorable aim, but trite.
What's worse, the existence of Legacy contributed to Pokemon TCG Online's somewhat overlong early-play phase, in which fresh players are stuck with a collection of weak cards that don't exactly raise the pulse in the middle of the action. If you miss these formats, we do apologize; we don't mean to sound like we're passing judgment. It's not our place! But we don't miss them.
What we have now is Standard and Expanded, the bread and butter of the Pokemon Trading Card Game. Standard operates identically to TCG Online, as it is indeed a universal concept. Every year, some of the oldest expansions are removed from the Standard Rotation, generally maintaining meta-wide equilibrium and centering things on the current era. It keeps more competitive matches from blurring into a billion dicey strategic propositions.
Expanded is effectively the option to ignore that and request those billion ideas, though you should know in advance it's more like a million. That is to say, Expanded currently encompasses only as far back as the Sun & Moon sets. Per The Pokemon Company's resource pages, we know that X & Y and Black & White cards will be added into Live's framework later, but as of this writing, they're out. Once they're in, Expanded will feel more, well, expansive.
Once that's been squared away, though, we'll have a snappier interface that simulates real-world Pokemon TCG duels better than TCG Online ever could.
A Livelier Rewards Loop
There's nothing wrong with how Pokemon TCG Online handled rewarding players for sticking with the game, per se. Considering the app's been around for nearly a decade, it's actually pretty good. You earn points (of various currency-based nomenclatures) from battling players, which makes sense. You climb a Reward Ladder every week that starts with mediocre prizes, but by the tail end, really pays off.
We also love that TCG Online lacked microtransactions, which is why we're thrilled that Pokemon TCG Live also has zero microtransactions. The game appears to operate more on the fundamental idea that it's an advertising system to get folks to go out and buy the real cards, since you can plug decks and booster packs in digitally to enhance your collection.
But even without the 'MTX', TCG Live has incorporated a modern Battle Pass akin to what you'd see in games as thematically different as Call of Duty and several popular MOBAs. With the Battle Pass, you're climbing TCG Online's Reward Ladder much more thoroughly, with 50 tiers' worth of rewards and much more time to complete it.
The end result is a livelier loop that lets us earn more, and more rapidly, so that practically every match results in something free coming our way, either from the Battle Passes or through leveling up our player rank.
Better Battle Passes
The Reward Ladder's Battle Pass replacement isn't just more satisfying. We also enjoy its increased prize diversity.
You'll climb the Battle Pass on a tier-by-tier basis, earning Booster Packs, the various forms of currency (which are, in turn, used to purchase more packs, as well as specific cards and assorted goodies), and even full decks. There's a Premium Battle Pass, too, which you'll unlock rather quickly by spending some of the Crystals you're winning just from playing. Both Battle Passes are completely free, offering 100 tiers per season.
Above all, immigrants from TCG Online will surely notice the rewards pile up fast in TCG Live, giving it a more competitive edge in a gaming industry where every live service title wants you engaging on a daily basis.
A Bit Of A Bug-Type Blunder
All said, we're warm on Pokemon TCG Live. But if there's one area TCG Online still wins out, it's the app's relative stability. TCG Live is new software. As of now, it remains in 'Open Beta', even. You're going to bump into more Bugs than Burmy, if you catch our Drifloom.
Expect the occasional total timeout, hopefully while you're browsing your collection and editing your decks rather than while you're in the middle of a match. Don't be shocked if your Pikachu's artwork fails to load; it'll get there. You may encounter lag ranging from shrug-worthy to game-breaking, but likely only on a recurring basis. Not that that makes things ideal, but it does mean Pokemon TCG Live is presently playable. Usually.
In the future, we'll likely replace this last section with something spiffier. At least, we sure hope we can! At the moment, if there's one reason to stick with the old TCG Online home and hearth, it's this one.
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