Pokemon TCG Live Beta Wasn’t Ready For A Global Launch

Pokemon TCG Live finally expanded its beta globally this week, but it probably shouldn’t have. The release was marred by excessive technical difficulties that not only interrupted access to the game, but caused some players to lose packs and cards. Beyond those not-uncommon launch issues, the game itself is buggy, frustrating to navigate, poorly designed in some ways, and missing essential features from the previous iteration. PTCGL is still in beta, but after almost a year in closed access, I expected it to be much further along than this.

My introduction to Pokemon TCG Live was not a pleasant experience. It crashed during the tutorial, and when I logged back in, it skipped ahead to the end as though I’d completed it. After a few practice matches, it then tries to teach you how to collect rewards on the battle pass, craft cards, and build decks, but this entire tutorial chain was also broken. I got an error when I tried to collect the reward currency, which meant I didn’t have the resources to craft the sample card, which meant I couldn’t edit the deck the way I was instructed. None of these issues slowed down or interrupted the tutorial though, which moved along as if everything had worked properly, leaving me with an illegal deck I had to re-edit back to the way it started. This was not a great first impression, and everyone I talked to had the same experience.

Then, I tried to redeem one of the code cards I’ve been hoarding all year from packs I’ve opened. After a delay, the first one went through and added ten new cards to my collection. I then tried to redeem ten more code cards – the max you’re allowed to redeem at once – and got an error message. I didn’t get any cards, but all ten codes now show redeemed. I tried again with ten more codes because I am a foolish man, and now I’m out 20 code cards – equivalent to $80 worth of booster packs – with nothing to show for it. I don’t recommend redeeming any of your codes for the time being.

Between the three queues, Ranked, Standard Casual, and Expanded Casual, only the Ranked queue works. I’m still not able to claim any of the battle pass or daily challenges rewards, which means I also can’t buy or craft any cards. Server issues and buggy launches are nothing new to me, and I’d be more willing to have patience with Pokemon TCG Live, but the problem is that even when it works I’m disappointed in what it has to offer.

TCG Live feels like a downgrade from TCG Online, not an improvement. The menus are more difficult to navigate due to small buttons and a confusing flow, the board layout is cluttered and overwhelming, especially on mobile, and the things I liked about TCGO aren’t here. Things that seem like basic features in any digital TCG seem to be missing here. There’s no collection tab to look at your cards. If you want to see what you own, you have to create or edit one of your decks. Even then, only your Standard-legal cards will be visible. If you want to see your entire collection, you have to toggle to the Casual queue, then select the Expanded format, then create a deck, and then you can see your full collection.

The actual matches have a lot more animation than TCG Online, and effects that look great, but the formatting on mobile is confusing. Like Marvel Snap, PTCGL is played vertically, which means as soon as you have more than three cards in your hand they slide off the screen and you have to swipe back and forth to see them all. You need to tap every element to inspect it, but the bench, deck, discard, and prize pile for both players are so crammed together it's hard to select the thing you actually want to see. Unless you're inspecting a card, all the text is blurry and unreadable. I thought that might be a resolution issue when I was playing on PC, but cards look blurry on mobile and tablet too.

And then there’s the big feature changes. PTCGL no longer has a market for trading, which is something that made TCGO unique. Instead, it has a crafting system similar to Hearthstone. I think I can get used to that eventually, even if it feels like a big loss right now, but the thing I’ll never get over is the removal of the Theme Deck queue.

The Pokemon TCG has started moving away from Theme Deck throughout the Sword & Shield generation, so the new version of the digital TCG doesn’t have them either. Unfortunately, that means there isn’t a way for players to jump in with a premade deck and battle other players with decks of equal power. The beauty of the Theme Deck queue was that everyone was on equal footing, but nothing like that exists in the new version.

It gives you eight premade decks, but you can change the contents of these decks, and there’s no specific queue to use them. Your chances of winning games with these premade decks against players running the top-tier meta decks is very slim, and while you can still climb the battle pass and earn rewards when you lose, losing games with a lousy deck isn’t exactly fun. If you want to play PTCGL and actually win games, you’re going to have to construct a competitive deck, which is easier said than done when crafting and redeeming are currently broken.

Again, this is technically beta, and anything could change. I’ll admit, though, that I’m surprised at how lousy the supposedly new-and-improved app feels to play, especially when certain regions have had access to it for almost a year already. Mobile support is a huge benefit, but if you’re an active TCGO player, I wouldn’t recommend migrating to PTCGL until you have no other choice. There’s no way to migrate back if you change your mind, and right now, the cons far outweigh the pros of switching to the new version.

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