Since launching way back in December 1996, the Pokémon Trading Card Game has been an ongoing concern ever since and is the most popular and played aspect of competitive Pokémon - even more so than the video games, incredibly. However, while it's beloved of youngster in playgrounds all over the world, it's a game of surprising tactical depth and complexity, which has led to many fans simply collecting the cards rather than playing with them. If you're intimidated by the sheer scope of the Pokémon Trading Card Game, don't feel downhearted - you're not the only one out there.
What follows below is a very basic beginner's guide to the Pokémon Trading Card Game which will explain the core foundations of the game and hopefully allow you to overcome your nerves and get stuck in. This won't give you all the intricacies of the game, but it's a good starting point to get you on your way to understanding the mechanics.
Pokémon Trading Card Game: The Basics
The Pokémon Trading Card Game is much like the video games in which Pokémon types come into play. Pretty much every Pokémon card has got a Weakness, and many have got a Resistances.
There are 11 different types of Pokémon cards in the game: Colorless, Darkness, Dragon, Fairy, Fire, Fighting, Grass, Lightning, Metal, Psychic and Water, with the Pokémon's type typically representing the Pokémon in game but as there are fewer, some types are combined into one such as Ground, Rock and Fighting all being Fighting. So, for example, you will find both Fire and Psychic cards for Salazzle.
Each Pokémon has specific Hit Points, which determine its health and some Pokémon can only be played by evolving their lower evolutions.
You can only have 4 of each card with the same name in your deck, but if the Pokémon has a suffix or prefix, you can have additional ones; so you can only have 4 Celebi in your deck, or you can have 4 Celebi & 4 Celebi EX or 4 Vulpix & 4 Alolan Vulpix, and so forth.
Energy cards are key. They are essential for allowing your Pokémon to use Attacks. Each attack has a cost of how many Energy you need attached to the Pokémon in order to use it, and typically the better the attack, the higher the cost. You can have any amount of Basic Energy cards in your deck, but there are also Special Energy cards, which you can only have 4 of each kind. These Special Energy cards typically have special effects such as Rainbow Energy which can be used as any type of Energy, or Warp Energy which allows you to switch your Pokémon when you attach it.
There are also Trainer cards. There are multiple different kinds of Trainer cards that can be used. First are Item cards; these typically have simple effects and you can use any amount of them per turn. Next are Supporter cards. These cards are based on characters from the games and other prominent characters and have a useful effect such as allowing you to manipulate your hand. You can play one of these per turn. Finally, there are the Stadium cards. These cards are placed on the table and have an overall effect that affects both players cards, such as increasing damage from Water Pokémon.
The goal of the game is obviously to win the match. This can be done through multiple methods:
- Prize Cards - Each player, at the start of the game, places the top 6 cards from their deck face down on the table as prize cards. If a player collects all six, they win.
- Deck out - If a player runs out of cards in their deck, then they lose a game.
- Defeated Pokémon - If a player defeats the opponent's Pokémon and there are no Pokémon on the player's bench to replace it, the game is won.
- Time Limit - If the match is in an official event, then when the time runs out, the player with the least amount of prize cards (after a few turns to round the game out) wins the match.
Pokémon Trading Card Game: The Flow Of Play
The structure of each turn goes as follows:
- Draw a card from your deck
Then, perform the following actions in any order:
- Put any number of Basic Pokémon from your hand to your Bench until you have 5 (or amount set by abilities or trainer cards) on your Bench
- Evolve a Pokémon. With the exception of some abilities and Trainer cards, you can't evolve a Pokémon on the turn you played it
- Use Abilities. Some Pokémon have got abilities. Some activate when you play the card, others are latent and are always active and others activate when you wish them to
- Attach an Energy. You can attach one Energy from your hand per turn. There are Abilities & Trainer cards that can alter this
- Retreat your Pokémon. You may retreat your Active Pokémon and switch it with one from your Bench. You may need to discard a required amount of Energy from your Pokémon to do this. This is called Retreat Cost and can be found on each Pokémon's card and is typically between 0 and 4
- Use Trainer cards. As stated above, you can use Item cards and Pokémon Tools any number of times during your turn but can only use Supporter cards once per turn
- Attack. Attacking requires you to have the required energy. You then put the correct amount of damage counters on the opponent after factoring in Weakness, Resistance and any other effects on the Pokémon
When you attack, your turn ends so make sure you have done everything you want to do before attacking. You can also end the turn without attacking either by your choice or through the effects of other cards.
Pokémon Trading Card Game Formats
Even though there have been over 70 Pokémon Trading Card Game sets released in the west since the first Base set, not all the cards are usable. This means you don't have to go way back to get cards with certain effects. In official competitive play, there are two different formats:
Standard Format - This is the main format and rotates every year. At time of writing, all card sets from XY BreakThrough onwards are legal. New sets get allowed in Standard on the third Friday of the month the set was released in. Same goes for three weeks after a Promotional Card is released through various means.
Expanded Format - This format allows for more open play, allowing for all cards from the Black & White series onwards. Like Standard, it does rotate in time, but it is far more flexible.
With the two formats, it keeps the game fresh and stops players relying on specific strategies. For example, Shaymin EX from Roaring Skies was legal in Standard Format from 2014 up until September 2017 and was a staple of so many decks, but now that it cannot be used in Standard, players have to look for new strategies.
Over time, The Pokémon Company reviews cards to see if they are broken and some may get banned or corrected. You can find a banned card list on the official site. For full details on the rules, check out the official site here and here.
Pokémon Trading Card Game: Deck Building
Deck building is something for which perfect advice simply doesn't exist. Each deck depends on your style of play, whether you want to be a more offensive player or more strategic.
Each deck can only have 60 cards in it, but there are no limits to how many are Pokémon, Trainer or Energy cards you have, other than the limit of no 4 cards with the same name in a deck. In theory, you could have 4 Pokémon cards, 30 Energy and 26 Trainer Cards, if you really wanted to.
When making a deck, you need to think about what you want to do with it. With Trainer cards, you will want to focus on those which allow for you to find the cards you need to win, such as cards that let you search for Pokémon or other Trainers - such as Ultra Ball and Vs. Seeker. This might sound like strange advice but don't try to fill a deck up with Pokémon as that'll prevent you from doing what you want it to do. Focus on just a few species or evolution chains and work from there. There are lots of resources around the Internet that can help with team building, but it's often situational and there is no such thing as a "perfect" deck.
Pokémon Trading Card Game: Getting Started
A good way to get started is to find one of the many Trainer Kits you can find, such as the current Alolan Raichu Vs. Lycanroc. These kits are designed for people who are totally new to the game and provide two 30 card decks which are ordered in a perfect way to showcase how to play the game, with all the rules and various effects.
Please note that some links on this page are affiliate links, which means if you click them and make a purchase we may receive a small percentage of the sale. Please read our FTC Disclosure for more information.
There are also Theme Decks. Theme Decks come out with each set and provide a full 60 card deck utilising cards from the new set and previous sets, and are often themed around certain Pokémon and/or types. These are a step up from the Trainer Kits in that they are fully fledged decks which mean you can get started right away, but they are typically not of much competitive value. You'll need to invest on booster packs to obtain rare cards, a process which is costly and time consuming. However, if you're simply interested in having fun with friends and don't want to play at a competitive level, then Theme Decks are a good place to begin.
Pokémon Trading Card Game: Places to Play
While playing with friends is fun, there are lots of local tournaments being held in card shops around the globe, not to mention the official Play! Pokémon events that lead up to the Pokémon World Championships. However, there is another way. Each Pokémon booster pack comes with a code to redeem in the PC and Tablet game, Pokémon Trading Card Game Online. Here, you can build decks using virtual cards and play with other players around the world. It's a great way of getting into the game and testing to see if your strategies will work.
As we said at the start of this piece, it's not intended to be an exhaustive guide to the Pokémon Trading Card Game - it's such a deep and involved experience that we'd need many more words to do that. Hopefully this taster guide has given you some idea about how to get started though, and there's always scope for more detailed guides in the future - so let us know what you think by posting a comment below.