How to Play Pokemon TCG Like A Pro

Last Update: August 9, 2023 8:31 PM


Pikchu Pokemon Card and the back of Pokemon Card

Pokemon TCG has been around since 1996, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to learn! We've previously covered how to determine Pokemon TCG card rarity, but if you’re trying to learn how to play Pokemon TCG, then you’ve come to the right place – this guide will teach you everything you need to know from start to finish.

How to Make A Deck in Pokemon TCG

Before you can begin playing Pokemon TCG, you’ll need to have a deck. A deck contains 60 cards, and there are three different kinds of cards included: Pokemon, Trainers, and Energy. 

There’s complete freedom in what cards go in a deck. However, there’s a specific breakdown of each card type and how many to include because of their use in the game – most decks include around 15 Pokemon cards, 30 Trainer cards, and 15 Energy cards.

Specific deck archetypes may use more or less of each card type, but everything has to balance out to 60 in the end.

Additionally, you can only have four copies of any card (except for Energy cards). 

Where to Get Decks to Start Playing Pokemon TCG

Venosaur Pokemon TCG deck and deck box
Decks like this Venosaur deck are available at most major retailers and on the official Pokemon site. 

If you’re just starting out, then buying a pre-made deck is a great place to start. The Pokemon Company releases new starter decks with each new expansion that’s released. Oftentimes, these can be great decks to use and improve on as you learn more about the game, such as the My First Battle Starter Sets.

There are also sites that can help you find a deck you may enjoy. For example, if your favorite Pokemon is Umbreon, you can find out which cards you should buy to use in a deck. 

Here are some popular sites to help find a deck you like:

You can buy individual cards at any of the sites:

Buying cards from your local card shop is also a great option. However, they may not always have what you’re looking for. Be wary of buying from places like eBay – while policies about card sales have changed for the better, it’s still not generally the best way to get Pokemon TCG cards. 

You can see the market value of any Pokemon TCG card on TCG Player by searching for the card. Using this tool can help you make sure you’re not getting scammed or overspending. 

If you’re looking to just buy a standard deck, most card shops will have some. Likewise, Pokemon TCG is popular enough that many super stores like Walmart and Target also carry recent decks you can use.

Types of Cards in Pokemon TCG

There are several important subcategories you need to know about among the three main kinds of Pokemon TCG cards, which are Pokemon Cards, Trainer Cards, and Energy Cards.

Pokemon Cards

Basic Pokemon TCG card Manaphy
Understanding the stages of Pokemon TCG cards is easy once you know to look in the upper left corner.

The most popular kinds of Pokemon TCG cards are the actual Pokemon themselves! These cards feature the creatures themselves, and you’ll use them to battle in Pokemon TCG games. Pokemon Cards have moves on them that can deal damage to your opponent. However, there are several different kinds of Pokemon cards you’ll need to know about.

The first is Basic Pokemon Cards. These Pokemon cards can immediately be played in a Pokemon TCG match. You’ll need several of these in each deck – you’ll need to have one in your opening hand of seven cards, so many of your Pokemon cards are generally Basic Pokemon.

A lot of the time, there are cards that haven’t evolved yet. However, there are some Basic Pokemon cards that are of evolved Pokemon. You can tell if a Pokemon is a Basic Pokemon by checking the top left-hand corner. It should say Basic Pokemon or have a Stage 1 or 2.

Pokemon TCG Bibarel Pokemon card
Bibarel's a handy card for his passive ability and his high-powered attack.

There are also Stage One and Stage Two Pokemon Cards (and sometimes even more stages). These have to be played on top of the previous stage of Pokemon in order to be on the field. The upper left-hand corner will show what Stage a Pokemon Card is in and what needs to be played first before playing that card.

The order from first to last is Basic Pokemon -> Stage One Pokemon -> Stage Two Pokemon -> so on and so on. Here’s an example:

After Stage Two, things can get tricky. There are a variety of different kinds of Pokemon mechanics that have been used over the years, such as Mega Pokemon, Pokemon EX, Pokemon GX, and VMax Pokemon. 

These new types of cards are special, stronger mechanics that are introduced and faded out of the game frequently. They have special rules, but they’ll always explain what needs to be played first in the top left-hand corner. 

Trainer Cards

Jacq Pokemon TCG Trainer card
Trainer cards can completely turn a game around and are one of the most distinguishing part of Pokemon TCG when compared to other trading card games.

Trainer cards are an essential part of Pokemon TCG. They allow you to do things like search your deck, give your Pokemon more attacking power, heal your Pokemon, and other useful things to help you win a game. These are broken down into four different types: tools, supporters, stadiums, and items.

The most important thing to note is that there are limits to how many Trainer Cards you can use. For example, Supporter Cards can only be used once per turn. These limits are printed on the card themselves, so make sure to read all the text on a card while you’re learning to play.

Energy Cards

Energy cards in Pokemon TCG
There are multiple kinds of Energy Cards in Pokemon TCG.

Energy Cards in Pokemon TCG are a necessity (even though no one likes pulling them from packs). These cards will give your Pokemon the power to use their attacks. 

You’ll notice that Pokemon moves have circles beside them. This indicates how many and what kind of Energy Cards needs to be attached to the Pokemon in order to use a move. The colors correspond to the same colors of Energy. White, or Normal, is a free Energy type that can be filled with any kind of Energy Card.

For example, if a move requires one Fire Energy and two Normal Energy, then you can use three Fire Energy instead. However, Normal Energy Cards only work as Normal Energy – you can’t use a Normal Energy to power a move that requires one Fire Energy. 

Every turn, players are allowed to put down (or attach) one Energy Card to any Pokemon Card they have on the field. There are special Energy Cards that do extra things, and these all have text on them that explains what they do. 

How to Set Up a Game of Pokemon TCG

Before being able to play Pokemon TCG, you have to know how to set up a game and what the playing field should look like. You can play with or without a mat. However, if you don’t have the mat, you’ll want to make sure you remember how everything should be set up.

Pokemon TCG Live game setup and zone locations
While this example is from Pokemon TCG Live, this is the same way a game would be set up in real life. 

On the left side is the Prize Card area. At the beginning of the game, you’ll put six cards face-down here. When you knock out the opponent’s Pokemon, you’ll be able to draw one of these Prize Cards to add to your hand. 

On the right side are your Deck and Discard Pile areas.  Any cards that you’ve already played that don’t stay on the field, like Trainer Cards or Energy Cards you’ve already used for an attack, go into the Discard Pile. Your Deck will go right above that.

On the middle of the playing field will be your Active Pokemon. This is the Pokemon that you’re using to attack with and that will be receiving damage from the enemy’s Pokemon.

Below that is your bench, which can include five other Pokemon Cards. These Pokemon are able to be swapped with your Active Pokemon during your turn, and you’ll always need to have Pokemon on your bench in case your Active Pokemon faints. 

Trainer Cards that you’re actively using generally go beside the Pokemon they’re attached to or near your Active Pokemon if it’s a card that stays on the field. 

Rules of Pokemon TCG

There are a lot of little rules in Pokemon TCG. Here’s a quick list of everything you need to know before jumping into a game:

  • You can attack one Energy Card per turn.
  • The player whose turn is first in a game isn’t able to attack their first turn.
  • Once a Pokemon has attacked, discard the Energy Cards used for that attack.
  • After a Pokemon attacks, it’s automatically the next player’s turn. 
  • Pokemon can only attack once per turn.
  • You start the game with seven cards.
  • There is a mulligan rule – if you don’t have a Basic Pokemon, you show your opponent your hand, reshuffle your deck, and draw seven cards again. For every mulligan you do, your opponent can choose to draw a card.
  • You automatically lose the game if you go to draw a card from your Deck and there are no cards to draw. 
  • Pokemon TCG Decks have to have 60 cards, no more, no less. 
  • Only Basic Pokemon Cards can be placed on the bench.
  • Each Pokemon can only evolve once per turn, and that turn can’t be either player’s first turn of the game. 
  • Only one Supporter Trainer Card can be played per turn.
  • Only one Stadium Trainer Card can be on the field at a time – by playing a Stadium card, the previous one will be discarded.
  • Pokemon often have strengths and weaknesses, which you can see in the bottom right area of the card. These are multipliers you’ll use when taking damage from that type.

There are other, niche rules that exist. However, anything that deals with these moves will be printed directly on the card in question itself. 

Don’t try to memorize every single rule immediately – these are helpful to go through before starting a game, but once you start playing, many of these will make sense. 

How to Win

There are a few different ways to win a Pokemon TCG game. The first way is to draw all six of your Prize Cards, which you can do by knocking out your opponent’s Pokemon. This is your main goal in any Pokemon TCG game.

However, you can win if your opponent’s Pokemon is knocked out and they have no Pokemon on their bench. In a similar manner, you can win if your opponent goes to draw a card and their deck is empty.

You can’t always control these win conditions though, so they’re more just things to watch out for – just as easily as you can win by one of these, you can lose by them, too. 

Steps to a Round in Pokemon TCG

A regular Pokemon TCG game will start with each player shuffling their 60-card deck. Then, they’ll use either a dice or coin (or some other method) that will end with a winner. The winner will choose whether they’d like to go first or second.

Whoever goes first can’t attack, but they do get a chance to attach Energy to their Pokemon first – this generally means they’ll always be ahead, which is almost always a good thing. The first player also can’t play Supporter Cards, and neither player can evolve Pokemon on their first turn. 

After that, players will set up their mats (or wherever they’re playing to start a game). They’ll each draw seven cards and then put down an Active Pokemon and/or Pokemon on the bench. 

From there, players can play their cards on their turn. However, once your Active Pokemon attacks, then your turn is over – there’s nothing you can do after a Pokemon attacks and before the next player's turn starts. 

Rounds continue in that manner until there’s a winner. It may feel clunky at first, but after playing a few rounds, the game starts to feel more smooth and has a flow to it. 

Where to Play Pokemon TCG

How Pokemon TCG Live looks
The interface of Pokemon TCG Live is easy to use.

There are a few ways to play Pokemon TCG. If you have the cards (or the budget to buy some), then playing in person can be a fun way to learn the game and interact with people. You can do this with friends and family, and local card shops generally have Pokemon TCG nights — it’s popular enough that you can find people to play with in most cases. 

There’s also the option to play the older version of Pokemon TCG via the Nintendo Switch Online subscription. This doesn’t have updated cards, but it’s a fun way to learn the basics of the original version of the game on the Switch. 

There’s also an app, Pokemon TCG Live, that lets you play the card game online. You can obtain cards for free through the app, and you can also buy premade decks and packs. This is another great way to learn the game between tutorials and always having someone to play with. 

Pokemon TCG Live also offers a competitive scene for those who enjoy it. There’s a ranked and casual play option, and players can even customize their own character. If you enjoy collecting cards in real life, you can use codes you get from packs to unlock packs in the game as well. 

Any card game has many rules to it, but Pokemon TCG is a beginner-friendly game that features a variety of play styles and a range of art styles to suit everyone’s likes. It may seem daunting at first, but learning how to play Pokemon TCG is easier than it seems.

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More Info About This Game
Learn more about Pokemon Trading Card Game
Release Date
October 1, 1996 (Calendar)