Meta Catch ‘Em All

Visiting my parents in Czechia always feels like a trip back to my childhood. The house where I grew up changed only a little, and my room in particular is preserved in almost the exact state I left it. Lord of the Rings movie posters still cover the walls, if a little faded out now. My desk is littered with cheat sheets for the final high school exam. And in the top drawer, in pristine condition, sits a great treasure – my deck of Pokémon cards.

I was obsessed with Pokémon at the turn of the century, when the global phenomenon just hit our country. Every Saturday morning, my friends and I eagerly watched a new episode of the animated TV show. It followed the adventures of Ash Ketchum, aspiring Pokémon master and the protagonist of the video game for Nintendo Game Boy. But none of us actually owned the console. Instead, to feel like Pokémon masters ourselves, we played the trading card game (TCG). Not just played – we role-played.

Each of us pretended to be one of the gym leaders from the show, powerful trainers who others challenge to fight. One friend liked Misty and, like her, specialized on water Z2 Pokémon. Another claimed Lt. Surge and fought with lightning ZL Pokémon, including the signature Pikachu. I boldly assumed the role of Giovanni, the story’s mysterious villain, and built an unbeatable card deck. One by one, I would crush my friends in battle and earn their badges. It’s this deck that now occupies the top drawer, unchanged, enclosed in a glass case. Curious to see how powerful it really was, I recently investigated how well it would fare against top tournament players back then. Turns out it wouldn’t stand a chance. Not only was my deck weak, it didn’t even fit into the meta of that time. Of course there was a meta!

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