How to play Pokémon the TCG

How to play Pokémon the TCG

Posted by Oscar Lepe

Welcome to Pokémon the TCG

The world of Pokémon the Trading Card Game is filled with many mysteries. The biggest one millions of leagues ahead of the others however is “How do you play Pokémon the Trading Card Game?” What’s that? You didn’t know that you could PLAY with the cards that people collect and trade from the world of Pokémon? Besides being magnificent and beautiful pieces of cardboard, you can in fact play with the Pokémon cards that have possibly billions of people going bonkers for!  

Throughout my years of dealing and selling Pokémon cards, I finally gave in and taught myself how to play the Pokémon Trading Card Game a few years ago! Compared to other trading card games, realistically it is one of the simpler ones to pick up and play. However, I do tend to be a fan of it more than the others, because along with its super low entry level, it’s a game that seems like it’s super easy to learn but has a very high skill ceiling that definitely tends to separate the new players from the more experienced ones. Now with the knowledge I have gathered from multiple people and sources from all these years, that knowledge will be yours! 

Getting Started!

1st off, Pokémon does take 2 to tango. It’s a game like most others, that needs 2 people to participate. It cannot be played by a single person, if so, you will LITERALLY become your own worst enemy. Aside from that, it doesn’t make sense, you dislike yourself so much that you have to prove to yourself that you’re better than yourself? Like, c’mon. Also, just like any other card game, there is an exact number of cards that have to be present during play. No less and no more than “60” cards are required to play a fair match. With that being said, there are 3 “types” of cards that make up a deck's entirety; Pocket Monsters (Pokémon), Trainers and Energies. You are more than welcome to ratio them out as you see fit, but it is also a requirement that AT LEAST “1” Pocket Monster (Pokémon) is available in its “Basic” form. Without 1 basic Pokémon, the game is physically unable to continue.  

There are some exceptions to the “Basic Form Pokémon'' that give this rule a loophole, but this is “Pokémon TCG 101” not “How do I break the Pokémon rules but still don’t technically break the Pokémon rules 101?” Right? Right! So, as mentioned before, once a Basic Pokémon is inserted into your ideal deck, you are 130% capable of adding other cards that you like. BUT! Does adding all the cards you like necessarily mean that you are going to win? To that, I say “NOPE NOPE NOPE NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPEDY NOPE NOPE!!!!!!!!!!!” I for one am a HUGE fan of Swampert, it’s my most favorite Pokémon to ever exist. I also love Raichu and Giratina! HOWEVER, trying to put together a deck that consists of my 3 favorite Pokémon in the world is a BIG “NO NO.” Theoretically it IS possible, however it is not ideal. One reason that it is not ideal is because like many other games that consists of many pieces, players, or parts, the combined cards need to in some way, shape or form be cooperative with one another. They need to be able to support and help each other in a way that their combined efforts bring you victory! Because overall, that’s all we want, to defeat the other trainer who was foolish enough to want to “play” with you, we’re not here to play! We’re here to WIN!  

What you will need...

So, to give a better idea of how to make a deck, here are descriptions of what each group of cards are capable of doing and what they have to offer. Note: You are only allowed to have 4 of ANY cards in your deck. Only a few exceptions to this 4 card rule that requires certain specified cards to have fewer than 4. None have been or ever will be more than 4. 

Pokémon: Staple of the series, creatures that can inflict damage on one another or funny enough act as “Support cards” depending on what their ability is capable of allowing them to do. You are allowed up to 6 Pokémon in a normal occurrence of play 1 in the “active” and 5 in the “bench.” Your active Pokémon is the one you have the most intentions to battle with on the spot, the benched Pokémon if any are there for support or back up battlers. But depending on the Pokémon, you are even able to evolve some to give them more powerful states of being. You are allowed to insert as many different Pokémon as you’d like into your deck, but remember, you cannot and most often “will not” get to play all of your Pokémon. Only 4 of each Pokémon with the exact same name are allowed per deck. Example: Pikachu x4, Raichu x4, RaichuGX x4 and Alolan Raichu x4. You have 12 Raichus in total because each of their names do vary, but you are only permitted to have 4 Pikachu to evolve those 12 Raichus INTO. You are allowed to set as many Pokémon in your hand to the play area as long as it does not affect an undisrupted 6 Pokémon rule. You are not however allowed to evolve any Pokémon in your very 1st turn or the same turn any Pokémon is set down into regular play. 

Trainers: Support cards that are classified as “Items, Supporters, Stadiums or Tools.” But all fit under the “Trainer” category. Items can be used multiple times during 1 turn, but you are only allowed 1 Item per card. They have very minor effects that often rely on chance, give recoil in various ways or do so little in game that their impact is almost non-existent, that is not to say they are bad however, several even make or break matches, but there does come a risk when playing them. Supporter Trainer cards are by far the most powerful supporter cards in game, their effects are so strong that any recoil done is worth it for the reward, or any action done through them is so powerful, you are only allowed to use 1 Trainer Support of ANY KIND during your turn. Stadiums are as they say, Stadiums! Once set down on the field, each stadiums affect is permanent until it is removed or replaced by another stadium via yourself or during your opponent's next turn. Unlike other Trainer cards, both you and you opponent suffer the harm or reap the benefits of a stadium in play. The affects of a stadium are only allowed to be used once per each players turn though. Lastly, Tools are in a bit of a Limbo situation, they aren’t necessarily categorized any different than “Items” are but hold a different name because of the nature of their actions. Various Tools can be used in play, HOWEVER, unlike Items by nature, Tools are attached to Pokémon and have a permanent use until they are removed from play via knockout of said Pokémon holding items, or countered in play. Also, only 1 tool is allowed to be attached per Pokémon and it may not manually be removed as the user pleases. Any of these Support cards are capable of disrupting your opponent's playstyle or assisting yours in a way the support card in use sees fit. 

Energy: Everyone's favorite card when opening booster packs! Everyone loves them so much we have hundreds of them! It is also most often a staple in any deck, once attached to a Pokémon it’s used to initiate attacks or effects of the Pokémon card it’s attached to. There are 2 classes of energy but several types in those classes, 1st it’s everyone's favorite energy that can be found in 100% of Pokémon's new booster packs, "Basic energy." Basic energy exists for almost every typing on Pokémon that can be played in card form and vary by color and of course typing. The only exclusion being Dragons, who are actually adept in using specific typing of energies depending on the Pokémon itself. The 2nd type of energy being a Special Energy. Like the previous mentioned Tool Support cards, some Special Energy is activated only when the card remains attached to the Pokémon. Other special energy is activated the moment the energy is attached TO the Pokémon, which often lets the acting player perform an action explained on said energy. Unlike the previous rules, you are only allowed to set ONE energy of any class per turn of yours. Unless there is a Support card of any kind allowing the guidance of more energy into play. It’s recommended “but not mandatory” to keep the same typing of energy similar to the Pokémon whom you’re trying to base your deck around, since most Pokémon cards rely heavily on their own type of energy to perform their attacks. Each Pokémon that requires an energy to perform an attack has the variants of energy that is needed to perform said attack. Example: If Charizard needs 3 energy to perform its "Flamethrower" attack and 2 of those energy are "Fire Icons" and 1 "Colorless Icon" then Charizard is required to have 2 Fire and any other kind of energy to make up the 3rd and perform the attack. It can be; 2Fire+1Water, 2Fire+1Dark, 3Fire, etc. It CANNOT be 3Grass, 2Electric+1Fire, 2Metal+2Fighting, etc.

Time to Battle!

Once you have constructed a 60-card deck to your liking, consisting of your chosen groups, you can begin with the setup of the match. An actual coin or a competition legal coin die may be used to initiate the 1st step. For this Basics 101 example, we will discuss the coin. Both players will have to choose and agree on a side of the coin that they are comfortable taking. Once that is done, the coin is flipped and the person whose chosen side lands up right decides who takes the 1st turn and the other takes the 2nd. Once both players agree on the 1st and 2nd turns, both players shuffle their decks and put them on their right-hand side of the playing table. Both players then draw 7 cards and if “A” or several Basic Pokémon are in their hands, both players set a Basic Pokémon of their choosing face down in the near center of the playing table parallel to one another in what is called the “Active Spot.” Once their desired Pokémon are faced down facing each other, both players collect 6 more cards from the top of their deck and set those on the left side of the playing table faced down. Those are what are known as your “Prize cards.” Once all prized cards are claimed by a single player, that player is the victor! Note: A Basic Pokémon MUST be in the active spot before prize cards are set aside, if either player is incapable of setting a Basic Pokémon into play, because they did not draw one, said player(s) must throw their 7 drawn cards back into the deck, shuffle and try again, again or again until they do draw a Basic Pokémon. Every time a player has to shuffle and redraw, when the other player does not have to, that is what is considered a “Mulligan.” For every mulligan that one player performed that the opponent did not, the player that “did not” mulligan is allowed to draw that many cards worth of mulligans if they so choose. If they choose not to draw off the other players' mulligans, they may pass but CANNOT go back at any point of the game and claim they want them after all. 

After both players have set a Basic Pokémon in their respective active position and spot, faced down, and the 6 prize cards are set aside, they may then add any other basic Pokémon they have in hand to their bench if they so desire to. Once done so, on the count of 3, both players flip their active Pokémon simultaneously and reveal them to one another. The match has begun! Note: ALWAYS DRAW AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR TURN, TRY YOUR ABSOLUTE HARDEST TO REMEBER YOU NEED TO DRAW AT THE BEGINNING OF YOUR TURN EVERY TURN. It’s always confusing to remember a routine, especially in a card game when there’s pressure to not make mistakes that can cost you the match.

Path to the Peak

Continuing from where we left off, it’s ideal to have a Pokémon that most players dub “a main attacker” and build your deck around that ideal Pokémon. Of course, that does require that most if not all the cards in your deck exist solely to support and aid that Pokémon. Said chosen Pokémon will most often (but not always) have a set amount of energy that is required to initiate an attack on the card. Most attacks (but not all) do output a certain amount of damage to an opposing Pokémon. 

The point in committing so much to one Pokémon is pretty much summarized in 1 word and is also the main (but not only) objective to the game, which is to get a... “Knockout!”  

“Oh? What’s that Lv.3 Pidgey? I couldn’t hear you over my Lv.76 Blastoise Hydro Pumping your face!” Since the dawn of Pokémon, we are no strangers to knocking out our opposing Pokémon in battle. Just like the beloved video game, the trading card game is no different.  

Every Pokémon in play co-aligns with an HP count that can be found at the top right of all Pocket Monster cards. A player's objective is to knock out as many of your opponent's Pokémon as possible by inflicting enough damage that is equal to or greater to the opposing Pokémon's HP, via multiple turns worth of attacks or one giant strike! Doing so allows you to claim your own prize card at random that were set aside in the beginning of the game, as mentioned before and mentioned again, claiming all the prize cards set aside allows you to win the game and knocking out Pokémon allows you to claim said prize cards. To keep it plain, knocking out any Pokémon allows you to take a “single” prize card, however, nowadays most people are familiar with Pokémon terms like “EX, GX, Tag Team, V and VMax.” These cards were intended to tower above all the others with tremendous power and HP to match their beautiful designs, so much so that knocking out any of the previously mentioned cards allows you to take 2 or even up to 3 prize cards per knockout. It’s a bit of an incentive to knock out such an amazing card like these that the game quite literally allows you to take a bigger reward for doing so.

The road less traveled...

Repeating for clarification, once all 6 prize cards have been claimed by one player. Said player who claims them is the winner. The game is over. HOWEVER, that is not the only route to victory. Very few and rare instances of victory are brought upon via special cards with VERY special abilities, but that’s irregular. Another “common” path to victory brought upon often, possibly JUST AS OFTEN as claiming all 6 prize cards, is what most people in the Pokémon Trading Card Game community refer to as “decking out.” If one player is incapable of drawing cards, by the time their next turn comes around. The opposing player is by default, the winner! That is correct, if Player 1 has a single prize card remaining but just drew his last card last turn and is unable to claim that last said prize card, even if Player 2 has not claimed any prize cards and still has all 6 Prize cards set BUT has 10 cards in their deck and is CAPABLE of drawing more, by the time the turn loops back to Player 1 with zero cards to draw from their deck. Player 2 wins automictically. Personally, I see that the unofficial reason the game considers this is that it is punishing the player who “couldn’t get the job done.” Like I said, it’s not the official reason why, but it does sound cool right?

Jump in, the waters fine!

The thing that makes the Pokémon Trading Card Game so beautiful, is that there is such an array of ways that a deck can be constructed. 1 trainer card that is really amazing in 1 deck could be absolutely terrible in another. A Pokémon card that is famous for crushing other Pokémon cards and seems like it has no equal, can be easily countered by a single card that nobody even plays with EXCEPT to defeat the aforementioned Pokémon powerhouse. A Pokémon whose attack increases on every energy it holds during play can be defeated by a Pokémon that doesn’t even need an energy to attack. The possibilities are almost endless and the imagination can run wild! The Pokémon Company not only makes beautiful and amazing cards to look at but they’ve built an entire world that most people don’t even know about yet! 

Join the game that millions of people love playing, we'd love to have you! Also remember, several of these amazing cards as well as the new Pokémon sets can be found at Collection Affection! Your one stop collectibles shop!