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How to Play the Pokemon Trading Card Game
How to Play the Pokemon Trading Card Game
Published by Aether_Fenris
How to Play the Pokemon Trading Card Game

I'm writing this guide mostly for Brandyn, but if someone else reads it and decides to get into this game, then so be it!

The History of the Pokemon Trading Card Game

If you grew up in the 90's, Pokemon itself needs no introduction. It was a phenomenon! considering this is a Nintendo website, you've more than likely played a Pokemon game in your life, and while you likely had some Pokemon cards is a kid, you might have never played the trading card game (from hereon called the TCG). Pokemon is often taken for a childrens' franchise, and while they certainly are a target audience it goes without saying that the majority of us never quite outgrew Pokemon. And why would we? It's awesome! While many adults enjoy the videogames, some people seem to thing that rule can't apply to the TCG, and that is simply not true.

The Pokemon TCG was introduced in Japan in 1996, but it didn't make it to North America until 1999, translated and printed by Wizards of the Coast, who you may know from another TCG that is extremely popular and which I also play - Magic the Gathering. I'm not entirely sure of the reasoning, but starting with the Ruby and Saphire sets, Nintendo began handling the translation and production of Pokemon cards themselves.

Currently, Nintendo is still handling the TCG themselves and while it isn't quite as popular as it was in the 90's, it's still played and enjoyed by many children, teenagers and even adults like myself.


Q: I have a box of old Pokemon cards. Can I use them?
A: That depends on your definition of old. If your cards are pre-Nintendo production, I must regrettably inform you that they are outdated. the Wizards of the Coast era cards are significantly weaker than the cards currently in circulation. While there are still plenty of collectors of the Wizards era cards, you cannot use them in modern decks, and attempted to do such at an official event may be cause for disqualification.

Q: I used to play, but I'm scared it has changed too much. Has it?
A: Surprisingly, the answer is not really. While Yu-Gi-Oh has effectively become a totally different card game, and Magic gains new and changed rules with each expansion, Pokemon has remain relatively the same. There have been additions through the years, such as active abilities and pokebodies, but these changes rarely come about and are easy to follow.

Q: I'm not sure how to build a deck. Where do I start?
A: You're probably best off to buy a starter deck as well as a collector's tin, and just play around with that to start with, however deck builing will be covered in more detail later.

Basic Definitions

here are some terms used in the Pokemon TCG. It will do you well to familiarize yourself with them. While many share definitions from the videogame, some are terms exclusive to the TCG. These terms are in alphabetical order. If a definition includes a term you do not understand, use ctrl+f to search for the definition of the term you don't understand.

Active Pokemon:The Active Pokémon is the Pokémon that the player has chosen as their main lead. During the player's turn, they are able to attach Energy cards, Pokémon Tools and Technical Machines to their Active Pokémon, evolve it, use a Level Up card on it, attack with it or retreat it. The Active Pokémon is also sometimes referred to by the opponent as the Attacking Pokémon or, if affected by an opponent's attack, the Defending Pokémon.(from Bulbapedia)

Asleep: If a Pokémon is Asleep, it cannot attack or retreat by itself. It must also be turned sideways (usually counterclockwise). After each turn, if a player's Pokémon is Asleep, the player must flip a coin: if heads, the Asleep Pokémon "wakes up" and is no longer affected by the Special Condition. However, if the coin lands on tails, the Pokémon is still asleep. (from Bulbapedia)

Baby Pokemon:A Baby Pokémon is a type of Pokémon card introduced in Neo Genesis to be treated as a Basic Pokémon. Baby Pokémon are pre-evolved forms of existing Basic Pokémon, such as Pichu is to Pikachu, and thus are able to evolve into their respective Basic Pokémon (which are then treated as Evolved Pokémon). Up to Skyridge, the opponent was also forced to flip a coin when attacking a Baby Pokémon: if tails, the attack would fail. As of EX Sandstorm, Baby Pokémon are officially Basic Pokémon, and instead have a Baby Evolution Poké-Power to allow them to evolve into their respective evolutions.(from Bulbapedia)

Basic Energy Card:A basic Energy card is one unit of Energy required for a Pokémon to use an attack. There are eight types of basic Energy card: Grass; Fire; Water; Lightning; Psychic; Fighting; Darkness; and Metal. The exact unit of Energy is required in order to use the attack, unless any Colorless Energy are required for the attack, as any type of Energy can be used in place of Colorless Energy. For example, if an attack requires one Lightning Energy to be used, a Grass Energy will not allow the player to use that attack, but it will allow the player to use any attacks that require Colorless Energy. In Diamond & Pearl, basic Darkness Energy and basic Metal Energy were introduced, as well as attacks which require no Energy to be used. (from Bulbapedia)

Basic Pokemon:A Basic Pokémon is a form of Pokémon which does not evolve from any other Pokémon. A Basic Pokémon can be placed directly into play, either as the Active Pokémon at the start of the game or as a Benched Pokémon any time during play. Some Basic Pokémon, such as Mewtwo, do not evolve; some, such as Bulbasaur, do; and some, such as Pikachu can evolve from Baby Pokémon, either classified as a Baby Pokémon or with the Baby Evolution Poké-Power. In these cases, Basic Pokémon that are evolved from Baby Pokémon or other Basic Pokémon are considered to be Evolved Pokémon. (from Bulbapedia)

Bench: During play, any Pokémon that are not considered to be the Active Pokémon are put onto the Bench. These are classed as Benched Pokémon. They cannot attack or retreat, but they may be able to use Poké-Powers and Poké-Bodies if they do not state that the Pokémon must be Active to use them, and they can also be switched out into the Active position if the current Active Pokémon retreats. Some attacks allow a Pokémon to deal damage to the opponent's Benched Pokémon (and some even deal damage to the player's own Benched Pokémon): in these cases, Weakness and Resistance are not applied to the Benched Pokémon. Unlike Active Pokémon, a Pokémon LV.X card cannot be played in order to Level Up a Benched Pokémon. (from Bulbapedia)

Booster Pack: a Booster Pack is a pack of 10 cards (as of this writing). Each booster contains 1 Rare or Super Rare, 3 Uncommons, and 6 Commons.

Burned: The Burned Special Condition is the newest Special Condition, officially recognized in 2002 upon the release of the Expedition Base Set. The Burned Special Condition is seen as an advanced version of the Poisoned Special Condition: once a Pokémon is burned, a Burn marker is placed on it, and the player must flip a coin in between turns. If the coin lands on tails, two damage counters are placed on the Pokémon; though, in some conditions, the burn's damage may be increased by the effect of an attack, an Ability, or a Stadium card (i.e. Volcarona's Scorching Scales Ability causes the afflicted Pokémon to suffer 40 damage.) If heads, the Pokémon does not receive any damage, but is still Burned.
The Burned Special Condition is derived from Neo Genesis, in which Quilava's Char attack caused a condition exactly like Burned. Char was not recognized as a Special Condition. (from Bulbapedia)

Burn Counter: a token sued to indicate that a Pokemon is affected by the Special Condition "Burned". While you may use anything you like, an official Burn Counter is preferred. One is included with all starter decks.

Coin: A simple 2 sided coin used to determine 50/50 chances. You may use a quarter or any other two sided coin, though most use official Pokemon TCG coins included with starter decks. It is preferred to catch the coin, and place it on the back of your wrist, however if you fail to catch the coin, it may be read as it lands.

Common: The cards of lowest monetary and trade value. Six are included in each Booster Pack, and they are represented by a black Circle.

Confused: The Confusion Special Condition is one of the most commonly seen conditions alongside Poisoned. If a Pokémon is Confused, its card must be turned upside-down. If it tries to attack, the player must flip a coin. If the coin is heads, the attack proceeds as planned. However, if the coin lands on tails, three damage counters are placed on the Pokémon and the turn ends. Unless replaced by Asleep or Paralyzed, the Pokémon remains Confused unless retreat or other action is taken (such as the use of a Trainer card).
The current description of Confusion was introduced in 2003 with the release of EX Ruby & Sapphire. Originally, the Confused Pokémon would attack itself for 20 damage on a tails. As well as that, if a Pokémon tried to retreat, the required Energy had to be discarded first, before flipping a coin to see if the retreat was successful. If it was not, the Pokémon could not retrieve the Energy cards. As of the current revision of the condition, any Confused Pokémon can retreat without having to take any additional action. (from Bulbapedia)

Damage: When an Active Pokémon attacks, the attack they use may specify an amount of damage to be done to the Pokémon being attacked. Damage is tallied up, by way of damage counters, in order to Knock Out an opponent's Pokémon. Each damage counter counts as 10 damage, so, for example, if a Pokémon had 120 Hit Points and had twelve or more damage counters on it, it would be Knocked Out. Damage done by attacks may also be affected by the Weakness or Resistance of the Pokémon being attacked. (from Bulbapedia)

Damage: How much damage has been done to a Pokemon's Hit Points. Represented by Damage Counters.

Damage Counters: Damage Counters are small tokens with a value of 10, and occasionally 50. They are placed on Pokemon cards as that Pokemon is damaged in order to track how many Hit Points that Pokemon has left. You may use almost anything as Damage Counters as long as you give the object a definite value, however it is preferred to simply use official damage counters, included with Starter Decks.

Deck: A collection of 60 cards used to play the TCG.

Defending Pokemon: When attacking, the effect of an attack may mention the Defending Pokémon in the event that is being affected by a Special Condition or other effect. The Defending Pokémon is the opponent's Active Pokémon at the time that the attack is used. (from Bulbapedia)

Discard Pile: When cards are taken out of play, they are moved into the discard pile. Either player can look at the cards in their own discard pile, as well as those in their opponent's. When a Pokémon is Knocked Out, it, along with all cards attached to it, is moved to the discard pile. When a Trainer card is used, it is immediately moved to the discard pile after being used. Similarly, a Supporter card is moved into the discard pile at the end of the turn in which is was used. Some cards also allow the player to recollect cards from their discard pile. (from Bulbapedia) *this is also referred to as a Graveyard in many other TCGs

Evolution Card: Evolution cards, split into Stage 1 Pokémon and Stage 2 Pokémon, are types of Pokémon which evolve from other Pokémon. Both the player's Active Pokémon and their Benched Pokémon can be evolved during their turn. Stage 1 Pokémon are placed onto Basic Pokémon (including those evolved from Baby Pokémon) and Stage 2 Pokémon are placed onto Stage 1 Pokémon. A Pokémon cannot be evolved more than once during a turn. Pokémon that are resurrected from Fossils, such as Omanyte and Kabuto, are Stage 1 Pokémon, as their respective Fossil Trainer cards, Helix Fossil and Dome Fossil, are classed as Basic Pokémon. Some cards, such as Rare Candy, even allow the player to bypass a Stage 1 Pokémon by evolving a Basic Pokémon directly into a Stage 2 Pokémon. (from Bulbapedia)

Foil: A form of Super Rares. Also called "Holofoil" or "Holographic". Represented by shiny artwork.

Hit Points: Hit Points, shown on a Pokémon card as HP, represents the health of each Pokémon card and the amount of damage it can take before being Knocked Out. Most Pokémon in the Trading Card Game have between 30 and 140 HP, and some, such as Pokémon-ex and Pokémon LV.X, usually have between 100 and 200 HP. Some Poké-Bodies and Pokémon Tool cards will increase the number of Hit Points a Pokémon has, although these effects are usually temporary and only give an extra 10-20 HP. The lowest used HP value on Pokémon is 30 HP, cards like Magikarp, Baby Pokémon, and other 'lower level' Pokémon; while Wailord ex, Wailord and Wailord are tied with the highest Hit Points - 200 HP. Certain Trainer cards also have HP, like Clefairy Doll and Mysterious Fossil having only 10 HP while Dance! Neo Imakuni? has the highest value - 2000 HP. (from Bulbapedia)

Lost Zone: The Lost Zone is an area considered to be a more advanced form of the discard pile. Unlike cards in the discard pile, cards moved to the Lost Zone are kept face-up and are considered to be "outside" the play area due to the fact they are not kept on the playmat if one is used. As such, cards moved to the Lost Zone are no longer considered to be in play, and cannot be retrieved at any time, or by any means, during gameplay. (from Bulbapedia) *also called Exile pile in other TCGs such as Magic

Paralyzed: If a Pokémon is Paralyzed, it will be unable to attack or retreat for one turn after it becomes Paralyzed. After the end of the turn, the Pokémon's condition returns to normal. A Paralyzed Pokémon is turned sideways (usually clockwise). (from Bulbapedia)

Poison Counter: A token used to indicate that a Pokemon is afflicted by the Poisoned Special Condition. Anything may be used, though an official Poison Counter, included with starter decks, is preferred.

Poisoned: The Poisoned Special Condition is one of the most commonly seen conditions alongside Confused. When a Pokémon is Poisoned, one damage counter must be put on the Pokémon in between each turn. On rare occasions, a Pokémon will cause a Poisoned Special Condition that requires the player to put two, three, or even four damage counters on a Pokémon between turns. (from Bulbapedia)

Poke-Body: A Poké-Body is a type of Pokémon Power that is active for as long as the Pokémon which has it is in play. A Poké-Body is sometimes reminiscent of that Pokémon's in-game Ability, such as Ludicolo's Rain Dish Ability. Poké-Bodies have a vast amount of different effects and can affect almost any aspect of gameplay. (from Bulbapedia)

Poke-Power: A Poké-Power is a type of Pokémon Power that the player is able to use during their turn. In a similar fashion to Poké-Bodies, Poké-Powers can affect almost any aspect of gameplay, and can often be used once during the player's turn, before their attack. Some can be used multiple times and some are designed to cause an after-effect to the Pokémon with it being Knocked Out. (from Bulbapedia)

Pokemon Power: Pokémon Powers are additional effects that the card's player can trigger once or multiple times during their turn, before they attack. However, before the Expedition Base Set, some cards, such as Base Set Charizard, had Pokémon Powers that were always active. After the release of Expedition, Pokémon Powers were split into two groups: Poké-Powers and Poké-Bodies. Poké-Powers are special effects that the player must trigger or announce using. A Poké-Body's effect is one that is in effect regardless. Both, however, are still officially considered to be Pokémon Powers. (from Bulbapedia)

Prize Card: A Prize card is a card taken by a player for Knocking Out one of their opponent's Pokémon. When using the regular 60-card deck, six prizes are put down at the start of the game: however, three are put down if using a 30-card half deck, and four are put down if using a 40-card prerelease deck. The first player to take all of their Prize cards wins the game. When a player Knocks Out one of their opponent's Pokémon-ex, however, they take two Prize cards instead of one. (from Bulbapedia)

Public Information: Public information is information related to match that is readily accessible by either player at any time, as long as such requests are not used for stalling. Public information includes all cards in play, such as: Pokémon cards, including any evolutionary stages underneath Active and Benched Pokémon; Energy cards and Trainer cards attached to Pokémon and in the play area; the cards in each player's discard pile; the number of cards in a player's hand; and the number of remaining prize cards of each player. (from Bulbapedia)

Rare: The second most valuable cards in monetary and trade value. Only one may be found in each Booster Pack, though you may receive a Super Rare instead. Represented by a black star.

Resistance: If a Pokémon has Resistance to a certain type, it means that if it is attacked by a Pokémon of that type, it will receive less damage. While not exceedingly rare, Resistance isn't very common either - most Pokémon don't have any. An example of a Pokémon with Resistance is Ditto in the Fossil set. An example a Pokémon without is Grimer in the Aquapolis set. The EX Dragon set introduced some Pokémon-ex with two different Resistances on the same card, such as Rayquaza ex. Resistances were initially fixed at -30 damage, meaning the Pokémon would take 30 less damage from an attack. Unlike Weakness, this rule was always printed on the card, either to the left of or above the Resistance-type in the form of "-30". As of the Diamond & Pearl set, Resistances are officially variables, though are always -20 (also printed on the cards) damage unless on a reprint of a Pokémon card that originally had a -30 Resistance. (from Bulbapedia)

Retreat Cost:When a player wants to move his or her Active Pokémon to the Bench, that player can retreat that Pokémon. Then, a Pokémon on the Bench must replace the previous Active Pokémon. Each Pokémon has a Retreat Cost: a specific number of Energy that must be discarded from the Pokémon being retreated in order to move it back to the Bench. Retreating can only be done once per turn. If the player doesn't have the required amount of Energy attached to discard or doesn't have any Benched Pokémon, his or her Pokémon is unable to retreat. Some Pokémon have no Retreat Cost and thus can retreat for free; others have a Retreat Cost of between one and five Colorless Energy inclusive. Any type of Energy can be used for retreating, as any Energy can count as Colorless. (from Bulbapedia)

Restored Pokemon: A Restored Pokémon (known in Japan as Revived Pokémon) is a form of Pokémon that in the Pokémon games, is revived to life from a Fossil. As with the games, only nine Pokémon can be classified as Restored Pokémon; however, only Tirtouga, Archen, and Aerodactyl have appeared so far. In order to play a Restored Pokémon, the player must first play the respective Fossil card, search the bottom seven cards of their deck for the corresponding Pokémon, and then place into onto his or her Bench. This type of card was introduced in the Noble Victories expansion. (from Bulbapedia)

Reverse Foil: Also called "reverse Holographic" or "Reverse Holofoil". these cards are Super Rares in which the portion of the card surrounding the artwork is shiny.

Special Conditions: A Special Condition is a result that some attacks have. Specific attacks may cause the Defending Pokémon to be affected by at least one of the five Special Conditions: Asleep, Burned, Confused, Paralyzed and Poisoned. Unlike status ailments in the video games, Special Conditions are not necessarily mutually exclusive due to the Poisoned and Burned Special Conditions being recognized by the placing of a marker on the afflicted Pokémon. However, between the other three, a Pokémon can only be affected by one at once. (from Bulbapedia)

Stadium Card: A Stadium card is one of three types of "Trainer" card and is designed to change an aspect of gameplay for both players. Unlike Trainer cards and Supporter cards, Stadium cards cause a long-term change in gameplay which affects both players. Being competitive cards, they are often played in order to hugely help the player or hinder the opponent. For example, the Battle Frontier Stadium card would not be used by players whose decks included Colorless-type, Darkness-type or Metal-type Evolved Pokémon. (from Bulbapedia)

Supporter Card: A Supporter card is one of three types of "Trainer" cards. Supporter cards are based on characters who are, more often than not, included in the Pokémon games, such as Scott, Professor Rowan and Bebe. A player can only play one Supporter card each turn, this is because they are usually very helpful to the player. They stay in play until the end of the player's turn—they are then discarded. (from Bulbapedia)

Super Rare: The cards of the highest monetary and trade value. One may be included in each Booster Pack, though you may simply get a Rare instead. May be represented by a white star as well as simply the card contain "*", "EX", "Legend", or being Foil.

Trainer Card: The Trainer card is the main type of "Trainer" card, was the first to be introduced, and was the only type of "Trainer" card until Supporter cards and Stadium cards were split into their own categories in Diamond & Pearl. Unlike these two, Trainer cards have subtypes, and thus have a wide range of effects. The two main subtypes of Trainer card are Pokémon Tools, which act very much like held items in the games, and Technical Machines, which include one additional attack usable by the Pokémon the card is attached to. Other set-specific types, such as Goldenrod Game Corner and Rocket's Secret Machine, also exist. (from Bulbapedia)

Weakness: If a Pokémon has Weakness to a certain type, it means that if it is attacked by a Pokémon of that type, it will receive more damage. Most Pokémon have one Weakness, such as Diglett in the Base Set, but some have none, such as Togepi in the Neo Destiny set. The EX Sandstorm set introduced some Pokémon-ex with two different Weaknesses on the same card, such as Aggron ex. Weaknesses were initially fixed at ×2 damage, meaning the Pokémon would take twice the amount of damage dealt by an attack. Variable Weaknesses were later introduced in the Diamond & Pearl set, with Weaknesses of +10, +20, +30, +40 and ×2. Generally, Basic Pokémon will have a Weakness of +10, Stage 1 Pokémon one of +20, and Stage 2 Pokémon one of +30, with a select few having one of +40. There is no general pattern (except perhaps legendary Pokémon) of Pokémon with a ×2 Weakness; although, Pokémon SP always have a weakness of ×2. From HeartGold & SoulSilver onwards, Weaknesses return to ×2. (from Bulbapedia)

Uncommon: The cards of the second least monetary and trade value. 3 are included in each Booster Pack, and they are represented by a black diamond.

Turn Structure and How to Win

At the start of each game, both players shuffle their decks, place 6 cards to their left as Prize Cards, and draw 7 cards into their hand. Before beginning play, a coin flip decides who will go first.

To begin the game, each player simultaneously puts as many Basic Pokemon as he or she can onto their bench (as well as 1 as their Active Pokemon) face down. When both players are ready to begin play, the cards are flipped.

To begin your turn (unless you are the starting player) draw 1 card. You may place 1 Energy Card on any of your Active Pokemon. After this, play any Trainer Cards or Supporter Cards you would like to play.

If you have enough energy on your Active Pokemon to attack, do so. Before ending your turn, make sure all effects from Poke-Bodies, Poke-Abilities, and Pokemon Abilities were taken into account.

When you knock out an opponents Pokemon, you pick up one of your Prize Cards and place it in your hand. When you claim all 6 Prize Cards, you win the game.

How to Build a Deck

There are 2 basic rules to building a deck that absolutely must be followed.

-Your deck MUST consist of exactly 60 cards.
-Only 4 of any card with the exception of Energy Cards may be included. If the cards are from different sets, and share the same name, they count towards the 4 that may be used.

If you are really confident, your best bet is to pick up a Starter Deck and some Booster Packs. Starter Decks are already balanced and ready for play, but lack the tactics of a personalized deck - That is where the Booster Packs come in. The best possible deal you can get when purchasing Boosters from a store is to get a Collectors Tin, which comes with 4 packs. If you are shopping online however and don't mind spending a lot at once, the absolute best value comes from buying Booster Boxes wholesale.

The first thing you need to do when making a deck is decide what types will be included. Most decks consist of 2 types that counterbalance one another, such as Fire and Grass or Water and Electric, but only one can also be used or even more if you prefer.

Your deck may vary, but in general should consist of:

12-20 Pokemon (at least 12 basic for beginners)
20-24 Energy Cards. If you are using 2 types, try to balance them (12 of each)
Fill the remaining space with support and Trainer Cards

These are just basic guidelines, and your deck may need more Pokemon, less Pokemon, more Energy, Less Energy,etc depending on your personal tastes and strategies.

I hope my guide was helpful to you.
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