With online services and real-life events resuming after the pandemic, the Pokémon TCG scene has been booming with players and fans across the globe. As a result, if you have been looking to start your adventure as a Pokémon TCG trainer, there could not be a better time! Lets take a look at how to play the Pokémon TCG.
The Pokémon TCG is full of players from all ages and all walks of life, Pokémon as a brand being something for everyone in the world. Whether you are brand new or a veteran, Pokémon has something to offer you and there is always more to learn or brush up on!
How to Play the Pokemon TCG
One of the first things to note for those new or invested in Pokémon, is that the TCG actually loosely bases itself off of the gameplay style of the video game series. The TCG follows similar aspects such as Evolutions, trainers, shiny cards, battles, status effects and more!
The first thing a player needs is a deck consisting of exactly 60 cards. These decks will contain Pokémon cards, item and trainer cards, energy cards and tool cards. It is important to note that each player may only have a maximum of four copies of a single card in the deck with the same name.
When starting out in the TCG, it can be easy starting off with buying pre-built decks that are available in stores for the game. Such as the Mew League Battle Deck. Once you understand the basics and know which Pokémon you like the most, you can begin building your own fully customized deck!
(Decklist credit and congratulations to @Azul_GG)
Starting and setting up a game
At the beginning of each match, players will decide who will be going first. This is usually decided by a coinflip however players in the modern game prefer to roll a transparent dice, using even numbers as heads and odd as tails to determine the outcome. Following the outcome, players should proceed with the following:
- Both players shuffle their decks, offering a cut of the deck to their opponent after
- Draw an initial hand of seven cards
- Select a Basic Pokémon from your hand and place it face-down in the Active Spot
- Lay out the top 6 cards of your deck face-down without looking at them into your Prize spots
- Both players decide if they wish to play any more Basic Pokémon to their benches
- Offer your opponent a sportsmanlike wishing of luck and begin by flipping your Basic Pokémon face-up!
- Players draw a card from their deck each time it is their turn
You now have your game set-up and ready to go! However, something to remember is the rules behind performing a Mulligan. A Mulligan in the Pokémon TCG is required when either player does not have a Basic Pokémon in their initial starting hand to place down. Should this occur, the player(s) must reveal their hand to show the lack of a Basic Pokémon, shuffle the hand back into the deck and re-draw a new hand of seven cards. This process must be repeated until a Basic Pokémon is found. For every Mulligan a player takes, the opponent may draw a card for each.
Each player can have a total of five benched Pokémon and one up in the Active Spot. Only the Active Pokémon can attack each turn, however most other functions are allowed on the bench, such as certain abilities, attaching energy and tools and more. If your Active Pokémon is knocked out, replace it with one Pokémon from your bench! If you have no benched Pokémon however, you will automatically lose!
How to play out a turn
When a player’s turn begins, the turn player will draw a card from the top of their deck, however should you attempt to draw with no cards left in deck – you will lose via “deck-out”. A turn in the Pokémon TCG consists of three key functions; draw, take actions and attack. The player that chooses to go first will have access to all mechanics available to them apart from two major actions – Evolving a Pokémon and playing a Supporter card (both players cannot Evolve on their first turn of the match).
After drawing, each player may perform the following:
- Play any number of Basic Pokémon from the hand to the bench
- Play any number of Item cards
- Play any number of Trainer cards except Supporter and Stadium cards, which are once per turn
- Use any number of applicable Pokémon abilities
- Pay a retreat cost to manually retreat a Pokémon from the Active Spot, replacing it with one from the bench once per turn
- Attach one energy card manually to a Pokémon from the hand either Active or benched
- Evolve a Pokémon by placing a Stage 1 or 2 Pokémon on top of a Basic or Stage 1 Pokémon. As previously mentioned a Pokémon cannot evolve the same turn it’s played and can only be evolved once per turn, with exception to item cards like Rare Candy
How to attack
After you have performed all actions you wish to take, you can move on to attacking! Your active Pokémon is the only Pokémon that can attack each turn. On each Pokémon card you can see several pieces of information such as HP and attacks. The attack printed on the card will display the name of the attack, the damage the attack does, the effect it may have and finally, the energy cost of the attack.
Providing you have the correct energy cost and type that is listed attached to your active Pokémon, you can attack! Damage that is dealt by your Pokémon is assigned to whichever of your opponents Pokémon that takes damage in the form of damage counters. Once a Pokémon receives enough damage counters to match the HP assigned to it – the Pokémon is knocked out!
A knocked out Pokémon has to be replaced with a benched Pokémon, and the player that successfully scores a knock out, claims prize cards to their hand! As soon as a player collects six prizes, they win! Once this portion of the turn is over, the attacking players turn ends and it is the opponents turn!
Evolution is a mechanic that everyone that enjoys the Pokémon universe will know and love. As such this mechanic remains true in the Pokémon TCG too! However, there are some slight differences within a TCG match compared to the video game or anime series, such as Evolving mid-battle which typically isn’t such much if at all in other aspects of the Pokémon franchise.
Evolving Pokémon however does carry over the same traits as you would expect – bigger and much stronger attacks, powerful effects and much bigger HP pools. Evolution in the Pokémon TCG is done in stages and typically you cannot skip any step with the exception of cards that allow you to do so. To evolve a Pokémon in the TCG:
- Take a Pokémon that is one stage above the current Pokémon that is on the bench or in the active spot that you wish to Evolve and place it on the current Pokémon
- The Pokémon you wish to play over the top of the previous Pokémon via Evolution has to be from the same Evolution line – as is standard in Pokémon lore
- Players can only Evolve a specific Pokémon once per turn and cannot skip stages without effects that allow it
- Evolving cures any special conditions on the Pokémon, all damage and attached energy however remains
- The newly Evolved Pokémon cannot use the previous stages attacks or abilities
It should be noted too that VSTAR and VMAX Pokémon also count as Evolutions. We recommend building up Pokémon that need to evolve in your bench, to protect them as much as possible until they’re ready!
Status Conditions and how they work
Similarly to the Pokémon video games, the Trading Card Game has a fair few special conditions that affect your Pokémon:
- Asleep (Pokémon is placed counterclockwise 90 degrees on the board), if a Pokémon is asleep, you cannot attack nor retreat with it. At the end of the turn, the player flips a coin, if heads – the Pokémon wakes up from sleep
- Confused (Pokémon is placed upside-down), when attacking with a confused Pokémon, flip a coin. If heads, the attack proceeds as normal, however if the coin lands on tails, the attack fails and the Pokémon hits itself for three damage counters – which is 30HP
- Paralyzed (Pokémon is placed clockwise 90 degrees on the board), a paralyzed Pokémon cannot attack or retreat on the next turn. At the end of the player’s next turn, the Pokémon will no longer be paralyzed
- Poisoned (a special poison counter is placed on the Pokémon), a poisoned Pokémon will take one damage counter – 10HP at the end of each turn, this can be magnified by other cards effects
- Burned (a special burn counter is placed on the Pokémon), a burned Pokémon receives two damage counters – 20HP at the end of every turn. Each time a Pokémon receives burn damage, the player flips a coin – if heads, the burn is cured
There can only be one special condition active at a time in the TCG, with the most recent condition being the applied. Secondly, special conditions can also be cured through Evolution or retreating the Pokémon to the bench, which cures all current special conditions. The majority of special condition checks are conducted in a “Pokémon Check-up” phase between turns.
How to win a game of Pokémon TCG
Various Trading Card Games in the spirit of competition have many win conditions. In the Pokémon TCG, you can win in a number of ways:
- The most common and iconic victory is to knock out up to six of your opponent’s Pokémon and claim all six prize cards by taking them from the Prize Cards and adding them to your hand!
- If your opponent reaches zero cards total in their deck, the next time they attempt to draw a card at the beginning of their turn, you win! This is called a “deck-out”
- If you knock-out an opponent’s active Pokémon and they have no benched Pokémon to replace it, you win! This is also known as “donking” in the community
Prize cards and Pokémon risk for reward
In the Pokémon TCG, you have various forms and versions of existing Pokémon. Different form types have a different level of power and HP and as a result of this, give out more prize cards when knocked out!
As seen above, this is what is called a “single prize” Pokémon. These types of Pokémon that sport no tagline such as “V” or “VSTAR” when knocked out give one prize card to the player that knocks it out. These Pokémon as a result are fairly low risk, but can still be powerful in their own right.
Pokémon with a tagline such as “V” or “VSTAR” or even EX and GX in the TCG are a much more powerful version of what otherwise would be a single prize Pokémon. However with power comes risk, this is due to the fact that if a V Pokémon for example is knocked out, the player that knocked out the Pokémon will be able to claim two prize cards for one knock out! It should be noted however that it is almost always worth the risk to run these types of cards in the TCG.
Pokémon that have the “VMAX” tagline or the slightly older “TAG TEAM” Pokémon TCG cards are the biggest and beefiest of them all when it comes to Evolution Pokémon. However as a result of this, to balance the power of these cards – the player that knocks out these types of Pokémon will net themselves three prize cards!
It is important to note the differences of these cards and knowing the risks you are taking when forming your own deck strategies. When in doubt of how many prize cards a Pokémon gives away, always look out for the Rule box that is located in the bottom right of a Pokémon that has a Rule box to begin with.
VSTAR Powers are a once-per-game ability or attack that certain VSTAR Pokémon or tool cards such as Sky Seal Stone. These Powers are usually shown in the bottom half of the Pokémon card or tool. The VSTAR Powers or older generation once-per-game mechanics such as GX-Attack have a variety of effects, some instantly knocking out Pokémon, others fully healing the Pokémon that has the Power.
During gameplay, once a VSTAR Power is declared for usage, the player will flip over the VSTAR counter on the board to signal this move. When creating a strategy for your deck, picking the right VSTAR Power if any, is important – as a result of only being able to use one per game, you cannot afford to pick more than one in most cases.
Weakness and Resistance
Another mechanic that translates over from the video games to the TCG is the weakness and resistance mechanics. Simply put in the Trading Card Game, a Pokémon being hit by their type weakness will receive double damage – making type coverage especially powerful. Resistance on the other hand makes the attacking Pokémon’s attack you are resistant to do 30 less damage.
As it seems, resistance is currently not as powerful as weakness in the TCG but still holds merit to being useful! You can find the weakness and resistance types a Pokémon has by examining the bottom left line on any Pokémon card. If no type is shown – the Pokémon has no weakness or resistance in that case.
Additional notes and tips
- Some Pokémon have regional versions of themselves such as “Galarian”, “Hisuian” and “Alolan”, you can only have four copies of a regional version Pokémon as it is part of the Pokémon’s name in this case
- Pokémon have the following types: Fire, Water, Psychic, Metal, Dark, Grass, Colorless, Dragon, Fighting, Fairy and Lightning
- While Basic energy exists, Special energy also exist! Special energy provides energy as usual but also provides an additional, powerful effect. For example, some special energy can provide even two energy at one time! Other energy might be specific to Pokémon V or archetype based Pokémon but provide multiple energy types, additional damage, reduced damage and more!
- Abilities can be used anywhere on the board providing the ability does not specify the location
- Remember to remain positive and show sportsmanship to your opponent in the TCG!
- Putting protective sleeves on your cards is recommended to keep them safe!
- Additionally, learn in your spare time by watching professional players live streaming or even on Youtube, ask questions, check deck lists online and learn from as many sources as possible!
- Wherever you go to play the TCG, make sure to bring with you items such as: a playmat, a bag with dice, a VSTAR counter if you use a VSTAR power, counters or a way to show abilities used and of course your deck in a secure deck box!
And that just about covers it! There’s many nuances to the Pokémon TCG but hopefully you are now well on your way to becoming a Pokémon Master! For information on where to buy Pokémon TCG product to start your journey, click here.