Pokémon TCG: How to get started!

If you’re looking to delve into the Pokémon Trading Card Game, then look no further than this article!

Something you see across the Internet is the age old question: Where do I start with the Pokémon TCG (Trading Card Game)? This is a somewhat hard and multi-leveled question to answer, because of the many variables involved.

  • Do you want to play competitive or casual?
  • What format would you like to play?
  • What kind of deck are you looking for?

In this PokéCommunity Daily article, I’m going to answer some of the more common questions and share a few resources for new players. Something to note is that I’m talking exclusively about the physical game and not the PTCGO (Pokémon Trading Card Game – Online), although many of the same principles apply. This article is intended for people who have a basic to intermediate understanding of the game’s rules and core mechanics. If you would like to learn how to play the TCG there is an excellent article already on the site written by ddrox13 that you should check out first.

One of the possible rewards for playing competitively in 2012.

Competitive or Casual?

The first big question is do you actually want to play? What I mean by that is: do you want to play at officially organized tournaments, events and leagues (the official Pokémon website has a League/Event finder based on region), or at a casual level against friends/family with no restrictions in place? If you’re just planning on playing casually at home or at a local club with a few friends or family, then honestly any cards from any set are fine. You really do not have to worry too much about formats, legality, or banned cards in this context.

However, if you want to play at a competitive level, then you will need to find out what your local league plays. Some play the Expanded Format year round, whereas most will play the Standard Format. There is also the Legacy Format which covers the HGSS sets all the way to the final B/W set, but that’s a lot less common, so for this article we will gloss over the Legacy Format. What are these formats, I hear you ask? The Standard and Expanded Formats are as follows:

  • The Standard Format until further notice (likely September 2017) is Primal Clash onward. As PRC was the first set of 2014, this means anything released in 2013 or earlier are not Standard legal and therefore cards from those sets (unless they have received a reprint in a current set) will not be playable at Standard Format events.
  • The Expanded Format is any expansion set from Black & White onward. This means any set that came out after the initial BW set (and including said set) is legal for this format, that is, with the exception of certain banned cards which are Lysandre’s Trump Card and Shiftry from the Next Destinies expansion set.

More information regarding both formats can be found at the below link. Please note that newer sets are not mentioned on here, for reference any set that is released between now and next September will be legal for Standard Format play three weeks after that expansion is released.

Pick your poison: Which deck is best for you?

An effective tool for picking who gets Poisoned in Expanded.

When you have an idea of what format you want to play you will then want to know how and where to get started. This is the most daunting question really because even if you’re just playing Standard that still leaves ten current sets in rotation and at least two more to come.

Your first port of call should be to look at some decks online via YouTube or attend a local event as an observer and see how things are played. Most Leagues are friendly and there will be plenty of experienced players around to help you out.

Something you will also want to consider after doing a little research is the kind of deck you want to build. For instance, do you want a fast deck that hits quick and sets up quicker, or do you want a deck that is a bit more bulky, is a slower burner and provides a lot of late game control? Maybe you want a fairly technical deck that runs unconventional combos, or you might even want a rogue deck that goes against the current meta of the game and as such, has very few designated counters knocking around.

Knowing the style of deck and/or the archetype you intend to play will help you identify what cards you need and by extension, what sets you want to buy/trade from. If you know exactly what you want it might be cheaper in the long run to buy singles than packs. Good sites for singles are everywhere; some notable ones are:



Alternatively to these, eBay (any region) is often a good place to go for playset purchases or harder to find cards, although it’s a far more volatile market than the dedicated stores and sometimes you could end up in a situation where prices skyrocket to silly amounts.

Almost as good as Professor Oak’s New Theory. Almost.

Something worth thinking about – regardless of what deck you want – is staples. Staples are cards that are pretty much essential in most, if not every deck. Below is a very finite list of Trainer staples in the current format (please note, these are staples that fit into virtually every deck as opposed to deck-specific staples):

  • Professor Sycamore
  • N
  • Ultra Ball (Dive Ball if you are running a Water deck)
  • Hex Maniac
  • Lysandre
  • Switch (or Float Stone, Escape Rope or another card that allows free retreats/swaps)
  • Pokémon Ranger
  • VS Seeker
  • Max Elixir
  • Trainer’s Mail
Only the Colorless Shaymin-EX is overpowered. Any Grass type Shaymin is not the one you want.

Pokémon-wise, Shaymin EX is about the only thing considered staple. However, Shaymin is wildly expensive these days and as such I would personally avoid calling it a staple to new players. Octillery from BREAKThrough does roughly the same thing and is a fraction of the cost. If you are running an EX heavy deck it would benefit you to invest in a Hoopa EX. It had a reprint as a promo so you can often pick it up for quite cheap.

One thing I can’t stress enough for new players is to avoid the theme decks. The theme decks nearly always have weird and clunky combinations and unfinished evolution lines and far more energy than you’ll ever need in a deck. Basically they’re pretty bad and not remotely playable competitively. A great place to start is the Keldeo Vs Rayquaza Battle Arena kit (see below) which contains a massive stack of current staples and a lot of great expanded cards.

This is a far better way to start than any Theme Deck.

Now that you have a solid foundation to start with in the form of an idea of what kind of deck you want; a grasp on what to buy; where to buy it; and a scope of what cards are essential to most decks, the only thing left for me to tell you to do is for you to get out there and play! Chances are you’ll lose a lot at first, but treat every loss with grace and as a valuable lesson and you’ll soon be bringing home those wins.

Edited by ddrox13, Nick Wilde, Rivvon, Dragon and Z25.