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A Complete Beginner’s Guide To Playing The Pokemon TCG

Quick Links

  • Learning Your First Lesson
  • Your First Encounter With Pokemon Types
  • Taking Your First Turn
  • Your First Victory
  • The First Few Rounds You'll Play

So, you want to be a master of the Pokemon TCG? Do you have the skills to be number one? Are we going to quit with the corny references to classic Pokemon anime songs now? Yes. But you've come to the right place because we're about to teach you the fundamentals necessary to pick up your first deck of Pokemon cards and get playing.

We believe that playing the game yourself is the best way to get a firmer grasp of the Pokemon TCG. Even so, there is good value in reading up on it ahead of time, so that the effort isn't overwhelming. Let's dive right in.

Learning Your First Lesson

The Pokemon Trading Card game pits two players against each other with thousands of unique cards featuring franchise-famous people, places, items, and of course the true stars of the show — the Pokemon themselves. The Pokemon are, fittingly, the most important part of the Pokemon TCG, as they will be sent out to fight, with set amounts of HP, and attack one another.

Your goal is to claim six prize cards before your opponent does. Prize cards are earned whenever you knock one of the other player's Pokemon out, generally at the rate of one prize card per Pokemon. Certain exceptionally powerful Pokemon called V, VSTAR, and VMAX are worth two, two, and three respectively.

Most Pokemon have two attacks to choose from, though calling them all 'attacks' is a bit of a misnomer. After all, while the majority are designed to inflict damage, many do something else entirely — like letting the player draw more cards, for example. Regardless, nearly every 'attack' in the Pokemon TCG must be powered up by Energy Cards.

Different attacks require different amounts of Energy. Furthermore, Energy Cards come in several elemental types: Fire, Water, Grass, Lightning, Fighting, Psychic, Dark, Metal, Colorless, and a few special varieties that buck the rules and do something unique instead. These correspond with the types of Pokemon cards themselves. A Fire-type Pokemon card, Charizard, will likely need primarily Fire-type Energy to fuel its attacks. A Lightning-type, like Pikachu, will mostly rely upon Lightning-type Energy.

Trainer Cards come in multiple forms. Some, like the Ultra Ball, let you search your deck for Pokemon. Others, like Potion, will heal your Pokemon by set amounts. Stadiums stay on the field and enact unique rules both players must abide by. Character-based cards like Bill run a wide gamut of offerings; in Bill's case, you can draw two cards.

Your First Encounter With Pokemon Types

Fans of the Pokemon video games stepping into the TCG for the first time are doubtless left wondering why there are far fewer card types by comparison. This is because the Pokemon Trading Card Game would quickly grow unwieldy if every type were represented. Imagine needing 18 different forms of Energy. Many decks are built with two types in mind, but finding enough Pokemon to fill only those two types, and synchronize nicely with each other, would be laborious at best.

Every Type

While there are plenty of exceptions strewn throughout the TCG's history, here is how the reduced number of types generally factor the 'missing' types from the games into account.

  • Fire is typically just Fire.
  • Water encompasses Water and Ice.
  • Grass incorporates a high number of Poison- and Bug-style Pokemon.
  • Lightning is usually just Electric Pokemon.
  • Fighting, interestingly enough, covers not just Fighting Pokemon but the majority of Ground types and Rock types.
  • Psychic is where Psychics Ghost-types tend to go.
  • Dark doesn't govern much beyond itself.
  • Metal means Steel, and is often the domain of any dual-type Pokemon with Steel as one of its types.
  • Colorless means Normal types but tends to draw in most Flying-type Pokemon who don't have another type to draw from. Many Fairy Pokemon can be found here, though by no means all.
  • Lastly, there are Dragon Pokemon cards, though they're relatively few in number and require Energy Cards of various other types rather than having their own form.

You may encounter Fairy-type cards as you begin your collection. Fairy was its own type for two eras of the card game, X & Y and Sun & Moon, before being removed with the start of Sword & Shield.

What does this mean for you as a player? If you're making decks with any cards from across the two-and-a-half decades of the card game and counting, you should feel free to throw in some Fairy-types, though be advised that you'll need Fairy Energy for them.

On the other hand, the competitive scene features something called rotations that are designed to standardize a fixed number of legal cards at any given point. (This is useful, in part, because over the years Pokemon have gotten increasingly more powerful, with higher HP pools, damage output, and such.) Fairy Pokemon are fully in the past now, so you won't be able to use them if following rotation.

Weakness and Resistance

This is all well and good, but why should you care what a Pokemon's type is? Franchise vets won't be surprised to know that different types can be weak or resistant against each other. You'll mainly be dealing with weaknesses in the TCG, since most cards have them. Somewhat fewer have resistances, but they're by no means nonexistent.

If a Pokemon is weak to a given type, it usually takes twice as much damage from all attacks on Pokemon cards of that type. Charizard, then, is going to suffer immensely from a Blastoise card. As for Resistance, you'll mainly be seeing a -30 damage reduction.

Don't expect things to translate one-to-one from the games. Pokemon cards can only have a single potential Weakness as well as a single potential Resistance, so matters are simplified considerably. You'll note we didn't talk about Blastoise usually being weak to Venusaur — that's because most Blastoise cards, and indeed the bulk of Water-type cards, are weak to Lightning instead. Still, you'll run into your fair share of Water Pokemon who are weak to Grass, so don't discount it!

Further reading follows:

Taking Your First Turn

At the beginning of any Pokemon TCG match, each player draws seven cards from a deck of 60. Note that, unlike many other trading card games, you must have exactly 60 cards in your deck. Not one more, not one less.

Of the seven cards you have drawn, at least one must be a Basic Pokemon — that means it's not something that is the evolved form of something else — because you need to set a Basic Pokemon as Active at all times. Any additional Basic Pokemon can be placed on your Bench if desired, which can support a set number of up to five backups at once.

What happens if you don't have any Basic Pokemon on your first turn? You have to draw again. Sometimes, opponents will enact a 'Mulligan' rule, which allows the other player to draw an extra card for every time this happens to you. This is part of how the game encourages players to make sure they have the Basic Pokemon needed to play the game.

You and your opponent will set your Active Pokemon face-down. Initial turn order can be decided on a coin flip, by mutual agreement, or however else you elect to do so. (Probably still to nonviolent approaches, though?)

Regardless of who goes first, both players will reveal their Active Pokemon simultaneously. Now, here's where things go from there:

  1. Draw a card.
  2. Do the following in any order you wish — place more Basic Pokemon on your bench if desired; Evolve Pokemon with cards that are stated to be able to do so (Froakie to Frogadier, Sobble to Drizzile, Clefairy to Clefable, Charizard V to Charizard VMAX, so forth); attach only one Energy Card to one of your Pokemon, be they Active or Benched; play as many cards designated as Trainer Cards from your hand as you like, but only one card designed as a Supporter Card; use any Abilities you'd like on your Active Pokemon card (or Benched Pokemon with Abilities that can be used while Benched); Retreat your Active Pokemon to replace with another if desired.
  3. Phew, that's a lot, right? Just remember. You can do all the above in any order you wish without ending your turn. But now for what actually ends your turn. Use one of your Active Pokemon's attacks!

Once you have attacked, your turn automatically ends. Your opponent's turn will look just like yours. In between turns, any Special Conditions inflicted upon either player's Active Pokemon will be taken into account. Here's more on those:

Your First Victory

With all that being said, the goal of the Pokemon TCG is to beat the other player. Recall that you'll draw six of your opponent's Prize Cards before your opponent does the same from your own group of six. This is the primary form of victory.

Wait, hold on. Prize Cards. How do you establish your group of six? At the very beginning of the game, without looking at what they are, take the top six cards from your deck and place them face down together. Whenever you knock out a Pokemon worth one Prize Card, you can draw one from your pile. (If they're worth two or three, draw the equivalent number, of course.)

There are two other ways to win.

  • Your opponent runs out of Active and Benched Pokemon, therefore they don't have an Active Pokemon to place. This doesn't mean there aren't more Pokemon to place somewhere in their decks, mind you; it means they didn't have any in their hand to place on the Bench as backups.
  • Your opponent runs out of cards to draw. There's no reshuffling cards from your Discard Pile to avoid this fate. (The Discard Pile is where knocked-out Pokemon, any Energy that was attached to them when they were knocked out, and all used Trainer/Supporter cards are piled up.) This rule helps prevent people from stalling into eternity and offers a potential downside to trying to stuff one's hand with dozens of cards at once.

More often than not, you'll probably win by drawing all six Prize Cards. But the above deviations do happen, and they'll happen to you eventually. And, clearly, you'll lose if your opponent draws all six Prize Cards first, you run out of Pokemon to assign as Active, or you run out of cards to draw.

The First Few Rounds You'll Play

There's much more to the Pokemon TCG, but it all makes sense, and when it clicks in our brains, it clicks for good. It's hardly the most complicated popular trading card game around. Attacks can do all sorts of things, Trainer and Supporter cards are incredibly varied, sure… but once you've played a handful of times, you'll notice trends. There really aren't that many things to learn at all.

The reason we've left things out is, well, twofold. First, it's no fun being scared off from something with too detailed an explanation before giving it a try yourself. Second, you will likely learn best from playing. Find a friend who's just as new, or ideally, knows the game well and can help teach you. Turn by turn, you'll grow more confident, trust us.

We've included a few links along the way in this guide to ensure that you have a more thorough understanding of particulars like Special Conditions Weakness and Resistance if you'd prefer to read the particulars before your first duel.

As for deckbuilding, that's its own big barrel of fun. Do some research online, chat with friends about card synergy, and follow along with pro and semi-pro YouTube and Twitch folks for the especially expert-tier fare. Strongly consider beginning with a starter/theme deck, though, which will give you a pre-made 60-card deck so you don't have to worry about a thing.

Go forth and train. Your very own Pokemon TCG adventure is about to begin!

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