Hello everyone! In the current lull we have after the release of Fusion Strike and before the resumption of the official tournament circuit, I’ve been exploring Magic the Gathering. It’s more similar to Pokemon than you might think, but has some key differences. Through this month, I will discuss potential ways the Pokemon TCG could learn from some of the practices shown in MTG, with this first article detailing the legality of foreign language cards.
For players who might be unfamiliar with the ruling each game has for foreign cards, in Pokemon you are only allowed to use cards from the country you are playing in. In the United States, Asia Pacific and South Africa, all players must use English cards whereas in other countries, players are permitted to use cards from local language cards in addition to English. There are exceptions made for Internationals and Worlds, allowing players to use any language that is legal in their home market. MTG permits any language to be used in any location as they are essentially the same card. Originally, Pokemon allowed cards of all languages to be played in any country (although not a complete deck), but this was changed sometime around the Diamond & Pearl block. I believe that Pokemon should adopt the ruling established in MTG and allow cards of any language to be used in any country.
The biggest argument for allowing foreign cards to be played in official tournaments is that it will make every card cheaper to acquire – even the English copies. To explain this, I will compare the prices of several popular and expensive cards currently played in Standard. ChannelFireball.com has been used for English cards, and European sites have been used for other languages.
Mew VMAX is currently the centerpiece to the consensus best deck in Standard and thus commands a relatively high price tag compared to other cards. It has been on top of Tord Reklev’s best decks in Standard ever since Fusion Strike came out and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. On the CFB marketplace, the cheapest Mew VMAX is 34.80 USD. However, on the EU side of things, the cheapest price is 29.00 EUR, or 32.75 USD. This isn’t too significant a difference, but it becomes more noticeable when examining different languages. A French copy of Mew VMAX goes for 27 EUR or 30.50 USD. The four USD discrepancy can add up, especially when buying three to four copies of the VMAX.
This difference was also seen when looking at the prices of Genesect V on both marketplaces. For the English copy, both prices were similar with CFB’s Genesect V for 8.20 USD and Europe’s cheapest English copy 7 EUR (7.90 USD). Overall, 30 cents is not a significant difference between the English copies of the card. However, there was a German Genesect V available for 5.60 EUR or 6.32 USD. The prices of some cards from the previous set, Umbreon VMAX and Jolteon VMAX for example, were similar across both marketplaces so the discrepancy may only be present with the most recently released cards.
The greatest different can be seen in Japanese cards. Mew VMAX was available for 15 EUR which is 17 USD and Genesect V was 1 EUR, or 1.12 USD! While these cards aren’t as desirable in Europe since they aren’t tournament legal, there is still a huge different between the price of English cards and the price of Japanese cards. I would assume that this is due to increased stock in Japan and that the cards released in Japan come out several months before they release in Western languages. If all players were permitted to use Japanese cards this would increase the demand for them, leading to a price increase, however it would make card prices cheaper overall since the supply of available cards would increase but the overall demand for cards from players would remain the same.
This would also translate to decreased prices right as a set releases. For players who are unfamiliar, the legality date of a new expansion typically coincides with either an International Championship or a Regional Championships and acquiring cards during that two-week period from a release date to a card’s legality is often extremely expensive. A recent example of this was Zacian V priced at almost 50 USD right before the 2020 Oceania Internationals, which lined up with the legality of the Sword & Shield. Allowing players to use foreign copies of Zacian V would increase its supply and decrease the urgency to acquire cards right after release if Japanese cards were permitted.
Another positive of foreign cards being allowed for competitive play would be the ease of European and Latin American players to travel to tournaments in the United States or the Asian Pacific. With the current ruling for foreign cards at Regional Championships and below, players must use cards from the region in which the tournament is being played. This disincentivizes players in Europe and Latin America who primarily use cards in their local languages from travelling to American Regional Championships.
While there are a lot of positives to allowing foreign cards to be played in official tournaments, there are some potential downsides. First, Japanese cards have a different card back to English cards. If a player is using sleeves which are not perfectly opaque, the different card backs can sometimes be seen through the back of the sleeves which creates marked cards for that player.
MTG has a similar situation with their double-faced cards – a card can turn into a different card by flipping it over. While there are checklist cards which can be used in place of double-faced cards, many players choose to play the cards themselves. When it comes to official tournaments with double-faced cards, it is the responsibility of the player to make sure their deck isn’t marked by their sleeves not being fully opaque. I believe that if Japanese cards were permitted for use in Pokemon, a similar rule would have to be put in place.
Second, having to call a judge or pull up a reference card to translate a card to another player has the potential to cause delays in large tournaments. This can be compounded if many foreign cards are being played by one person, which could create significant delays depending on how many cards need a translation. However, the International and World Championship already allow players to use cards of their local market so there are already a significant number of non-English cards being used at high level tournaments without many delays being caused. For major tournaments, there have been many previous examples where cards which use a language other than English hasn’t caused any large issues, however that can be very different at the local level.
Next, having foreign cards be legal for play at local tournaments has the potential to create an uninviting experience for a newer/younger player. This could occur when a more established player is using foreign cards that a newer or younger player has never seen before. However, there are several resources a newer player can access in this situation. First, the opponent could pull up an image of the card in English on their phone. I had a scenario when I first began playing MTG when this happened, it was resolved very quickly, just by my opponent pulling up an image of the card they had in Japanese and showing me the text. I took note of it and the game resumed.
Finally, there are several cards currently Standard-legal where the text printed on the card does not match what the card does when played. Cards that have received an errata where the older version remains legal, for example. Sometimes these changes are minor, in the case of Potion healing 30 damage instead of 20. However, cards like the Quick Ball released in the Diamond & Pearl block have completely different text compared to their modern-day counterparts. Both cards are played the same way in-game.
This is also true for several other cards, which all have older printings with wildly different text to their current iterations. These include cards such as Rare Candy, Pokemon Catcher and Great Ball, all of which see Standard play. The legality of these pre-errata cards poses more problems than foreign cards do, because the text is in English but is essentially meaningless. An unfamiliar player must trust their opponent that a card does something completely different to its text. If a player is just using a foreign card, it isn’t readable but with a reference image can be played as normal, while a judge may be needed for an errata card.
Rare Candy, Great Ball and Pokemon Catcher all received their errata over eight years ago and I have never heard of an issue caused by the older printings being legal in a premier-level tournament. If we have older versions of cards which have received an errata being legal in competitive play, I don’t see why we should be unable to use Pokemon cards of any language in tournaments.
Overall, there are significant benefits in permitting the use of foreign cards in premier tournaments. While there are potential consequences, they look inconsequential compared to the negligible impact allowing pre-errata cards has had.
Thank you for reading my first article detailing some aspects of MTG which I believe the Pokemon TCG can benefit from. I will be back next month with another article discussing the ways TPCi could implement a consistent eternal format!