Starting Out In the Pokemon Trading Card Game

So you’ve decided to start playing Pokemon! Great – hopefully this article will give you a little help as you begin your journey.
If you haven’t already figured them out, here are a couple of the most basic rules of the game:

*You have to start with a Basic Pokemon

*Stage 1 Pokemon evolve from Basics, Stage 2s evolve from Stage 1. You can only evolve once per turn.

*You can only attach 1 energy card per turn, and you can’t attack without the proper type and amount of energy.

*You can only play 1 Supporter card per turn.

*You can play as many item cards as are available to you.

*There are three ways to win:
1) take six prize cards
2) KO your opponent’s final Pokemon in play
3) your opponent cannot draw a card upon the beginning of his or her turn

Okay, those are the bare bones basics. I would recommend watching some videos on these youtube channels: tablemon, Team Fish Knuckles, Derium’s Competitive Pokemon, Rare Candy and Omnipoke. There are many others who are quite good, I just like these five the best because they are good competitive players who are right there in the thick of things, and they do a good job of teaching, not just playing.

Pokemon has an online version of the game here:

Next: how do you get the cards you need to build a deck? I would recommend starting with online cards before buying the real things. Here’s where your budget comes into play: the more you have to spend, the more you can get, but if you’re just starting out, I wouldn’t recommend sinking a ton of money into the game until you get addicted err I mean until you figure out whether or not it’s really for you. Online code cards are fairly inexpensive, I would recommend buying only Shining Legends and Guardians Rising packs as they are the most valuable right now because they contain Zoroark GX and Tapu Lele GX, which are the two most sought after cards in the game right now. You can buy them on ebay or, if you’d prefer to get them faster, you can get them on The real life code cards are a little less expensive, but the ones you get instantly, and usually has a discount going on.

DO NOT OPEN THE PACKS. Instead, use them to trade for the cards you need. Here’s what I would recommend you start with:

* 4 Professor Sycamore
* 4 N
* 4 Ultra Ball
* 3 Choice Band
* 4 Float Stone
* 4 Guzma
* 2 Acerola
* 4 Double Colorless Energy
* 4 Field Blower
* 2 Rescue Stretcher
* 2 Skyla
* 2 Brigette
* 4 Max Elixir
* 4 Enhanced Hammer
* 1 Lillie
* 1 Gladion
* 4 Evosoda
* 2 Energy Retrieval
* 4 Max Potion
* 4 Rare Candy
* 2 Parallel City
* 2 Special Charge

These are generic Trainer cards that are commonly found in the most popular (and best) decks in the format today. Different decks use different Trainer cards, it just depends on your judgment as well as the type of deck you are playing. Note: this list will change in about a month (February 2nd, 2018) as a new expansion set is being released. There are only a couple of trainer cards in that set that aren’t reprints – Cynthia and Pal Pad being the two most notable – but those new trainers could see a lot of play.

One thing to be aware of: Pokemon makes different types of the exact same card – the text on the card is exactly the same, the functionality of the card is exactly the same, the difference is that one type is “common” and the other type is “rare.” They both do the same thing, it’s just the rare card is A LOT more expensive. Don’t think you need the $75 Secret Rare Ultra Ball! The cheapo 35 cent Ultra Ball will do the same thing.

Also, realize that Pokemon has a Standard format and an Expanded format. The Expanded format includes sets going back about five years. The Standard format includes only about the last two and a half years worth of cards. I would recommend staying in Standard for now as Expanded is very complex and there are some REALLY nasty decks out there that will absolutely annihilate you unless you are properly prepared.

The Standard format currently includes Breakthrough, Breakpoint, Fates Collide, Steam Siege, Evolutions, and all of the Sun and Moon sets. I would focus on the Sun and Moon sets as most of the top tier Pokemon come from those sets and the 2018 rotation will almost certainly remove everything pre Sun and Moon from the Standard format. Any card that is NOT from these sets is NOT standard legal … unless it has the exact same name and text as a card that is currently available in one of these sets. And there are some of those: Ultra Ball, Double Colorless Energy, N, these are all cards that originally came out in sets a long time ago but their text has been exactly reprinted on cards that are in currently standard legal sets. The artwork has changed but the name and text remain exactly the same, so old versions are considered Standard legal. Feel free to reach out to me in the comment section below if you have any questions on a specific card.

So like I said, spend however much you want to / can, but start with the list above. If you have extra money and start enjoying the game, I’d recommend investing in a couple of Tapu Lele GX and Zoroark GX cards – but two each of those will run you more than $130 US IRL. I would guess that you could get that whole list above for about 15 or 20 packs. When you go to trade, be mindful of what’s out there. Don’t EVER go onto the trade function of PTCGO looking for a deal – everyone on there is looking to win the trade war. I almost never accept a standing offer on PTCGO, I always do a search on what specific card I want to see what the general going rate is for a card. Always offer less than what the going rate looks like. For instance, I would think you could easily get 4 Sycamore and 4 N (common, not rare or holo) for a single Guardians Rising pack. Guzma might be a little more expensive, but everything else should be fairly cheap to get.

After watching some videos, that will give you some ideas for decks. You can also find lists of the top 30 (or more) finishers at various events at You might want to just use some of their lists at first, but some of these decks are very complicated and might be tough for you as well.

But here’s the most important thing to realize: you’re going to lose some games at first. You’re going to struggle a little bit coming out of the gate. Realize it’s going to take you a little bit of time to figure things out, but it might be skiing uphill at first. Be patient and take small victories where you can get them.
I tell the story of about a year ago in December 2016 where I played about sixty consecutive matches with a very common deck that was winning a lot in tournaments. I struggled TERRIBLY with this deck. It was so bad – I got so frustrated – that I almost stopped playing. I couldn’t understand how I couldn’t win with this deck that was so good and was winning tournaments and placing in the top 8 consistently. I took good notes, however, and learned why I was losing. I made adjustments to the deck, and I went from about a 50% win rate to 63% over the next 60 games.
I always learn more from my losses than my victories. Take good notes and ask yourself, “Why did I lose?” There’s a huge aleatoric factor in this game – sometimes even the best players get donked and there’s just nothing you can do. Try to learn why you lost, and don’t just make reactionary changes after one or two games. I usually track a deck for 20 or 25 games before I decide what adjustments I might need to make.

Good luck! I hope you come to love this game as much as I do.