A Grizzled Veteran’s Guide to the Pokémon TCG

Hello, I’m Michael “Rokman” Weldon and this is my first article on SixPrizes.com as a Staff Writer. Hopefully you, the reader, enjoys this article and I can continue to bring enjoyable content to the site. Before I get into the article I’d like to let you know a little bit about me. I collected the Pokémon Trading Cards like every other kid in Elementary school back in the late 90’s, I just never stopped.

When I started playing competitively about when Nintendo took over, I’ve had the opportunity to be apart of a great community in Fort Worth, Texas, with great teachers like John “Calchexas” Kettler, Ryan Soles, Clay Carney, and Danny Fish. If it wasn’t for these guys I probably would have abandoned the game a long time ago. Everything I’ve learned about the game is a direct result of their tutelage and/or playing against them competitively for years. I haven’t had much of a chance to invest myself into the game like I want to.

The one year I did have the time to play extensively was the 2006-2007 year where I was in the top 20 of the United States Master rankings, missed top cut at Nationals because of resistance, while also beating Alex “BigChuck01” Brosseau in swiss with a rogue deck; Flygon ex/Delcatty, made top sixteen at Southern Plains Regionals, made top eight in Texas States, and placed second in Oklahoma States. Hopefully I can have some success like that this year!

I’m currently writing a few feature length screenplays and I plan to one day become writer/director of film. Anyway, that’s enough about me! Let’s get into the article!

I. Explanation

The Pokémon Trading Card Game is a very popular game that was introduced to the United States back in December of 1998. For many children and fans of the television show and/or video games, it was the first Trading Card Game they had become acquainted with, myself included; I was infatuated with the cards. I think what made them so popular was that it was something tangible you could hold in your hand. Watching the television show didn’t give us anything real to hold, but finally, you could collect the actual Pokémon in real life!

I can remember back in those days, to judge one’s skill as a Pokémon trainer, it all came down to how many holographic cards they had. While many of my friends were just naive collectors, I actually tried my hand at playing the game as it was intended, a competitive game of wits, knowledge, understanding of the game as a whole and deck building skills. Much like chess, it was a battle of the mind, and in a fun theme such as Pokémon, I was addicted.

Luckily, the Pokémon TCG has grown, evolved, and stayed strong all these years. Statistically, Pokémon TCG is bigger than it has ever been, and that’s a good thing. Hopefully the game continues to have a healthy long life. I know most of the readers of SixPrizes don’t want to see the game coming to an end any time soon and I’m pretty confident in Nintendo/PUI/POP/TPCi to keep the game fresh and new. Anyway, this article is about everything Pokémon TCG. I’m going to briefly touch on a lot of subjects and save some of the more complex subjects for later articles!

II. The History

The Pokémon TCG can be broken down into two specific segments in its lifespan: The beginning (when it was run by Wizards of the Coast) and the present phase (currently run by Nintendo). The original developing team for Pokémon has never changed, just the owner/distributor/whatever of the TCG franchise has. It wasn’t exactly in the middle of this shift that Supporter cards were introduced, but it was close enough to say that’s the breaking point. Supporter cards really changed the game as a whole and for the better.

Finally, you could slow down the freakish drawing ability of cards like Professor Oak, Misty’s Wrath, and (the old) Bill. Since the game had slowed down in raw drawing ability, you had to build decks that could consistently grab specific cards to allow you access to your deck. Instead of drawing mad crazy, it became a game of who can search for more things, who can recover cards at the right time, and who can gain board control.

Board control is a very loose term that can mean a lot of things. But the way I see it, it basically means who is in control of the match as a whole. While you may have lost your active Pokémon who was fully powered up and beefy, you might think you lose control. But if you have a benched Pokémon who is an equally powerful monster or you have recover cards to get back that Pokémon, you’re perfectly alright.

III. How to Play

To begin, you need to collect cards with which you will compile a sixty card deck, consisting of Pokémon Cards, Trainer Cards, and Energy Cards. With these sixty cards, you battle another person who also has a sixty card deck, and the first person to knockout six of the other’s Pokémon, wins.

Seems simple enough? Wrong. There are numerous amounts of things you as a player need to constantly stay aware of during a match that at times it can get very distressing.

You need to pay attention to what is in your deck, what is prized, and what has already been played. You need to watch for the correct timing of using a specific Pokémon Card or a Trainer Card. You need to constantly be in a situation where you are ahead of your opponent and so on and so forth. I’m going to try my best to describe in detail everything about the game in sort of a manuscript covering all aspects.

I’m going to skip all the basic rules and all that because you can just buy a starter deck at Wal-Mart or Target and read the instruction pamphlet. I’ll begin to talk about some of the more strategic elements of the game and what some of Pokémon TCG’s terminology really means.

A match in Pokémon TCG can be broken down into three simple sections, much like a story. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Each stage’s success transitions into the next.

In the beginning act of the match, you try to set up your board. You want to get Pokémon out and build a hefty force that is powered up with Energy and ready to go. If you have a difficult time in the beginning stage, it can be an uphill battle all game long.

In the middle act of the match, you trade knockouts with your opponent and hopefully can keep renewing your fighting force to eventually win. Depending on how the beginning stage went, it can determine your success in this stage. Just like this stage’s success determines the final act.

In the final act of the match, when resources are low on both sides, you have to play carefully. If you had a good beginning and middle, it’ll be an easy ending. If you had a rough beginning and middle and are lucky enough to make it to the end stage of the game, it can be challenging.

The difficulty in each of the three acts of a Pokémon match isn’t entirely determined by how well you are doing, but also how your opponent is doing. Sometimes if you are having a difficult time setting up, you’re opponent might be having a harder time, in which case you are still ahead.

A. The Field

This is how I set up my field. I’ve seen playmates that have the discard beneath the deck, but I’ve grown so accustomed to having the discard above it that I just can’t seem to switch. But mostly, I feel that having the discard below the deck can sometimes confuse players after a Pokémon has been Knocked Out, it still looks like it is on your bench just on the far right of it.

At the beginning of the game, you draw a hand of 7, place down a basic, and then set your prizes. This is the one aspect of the Pokémon TCG that is completely and entirely out of your control. I can’t even count on my fingers and toes the number of games I have lost because of what had been prized. How can you set-up when 3 or even 4 of your beefy Stage 2 Pokémon are prized? You just can’t!

Each part of the field is very important. They all have something to offer you as a player, especially your opponent’s field. What is in their discard are things you know aren’t in their hand or their deck. This may seem obvious, but it’s something to remember. If you play long enough, you can learn some things about decks. Like how many of a certain card most people run. For example, in most SP decks, it is a staple to run four Poké Turns. So, each time your opponent plays a Poké Turn, you know that’s one less they have available to them.

What is on someone’s bench and in the Active Spot is an indication of what they have the potential to do. But more importantly than what they CAN do is what is in their hand, which is the key to knowing what they WILL do. Unfortunately, you aren’t capable of knowing what is in your opponent’s hand at all times. But you can make some educated guesses, which is something veteran players are great at doing.

When a player uses a card like Bebe’s Search, often times they play the Pokémon they got immediately, but in rare cases they save that Pokémon to be used later. It is a good idea to take a mental note of the Pokémon they got so you know what one of the cards in their hand is, potentially limiting the number of surprise cards they might have.

Another important thing to remember, is everything that’s on the field is public knowledge. You are allowed to know how many prizes your opponent has, what is in their discard, how many cards are remaining in their deck, how many cards are in their hand, what Pokémon they have out, what the evolution lines are, how many energy, tools, TMs, etc are attached to their Pokémon. And you are allowed to know these things at ALL times of your match.

B. Cards

pokebeach.comSetup cards are cards which allow you to get board control. Cards like Dunsparce from Sandstorm, whose “Strike and Run” ability allows it to search the deck for three basics to go to the bench, and then you can switch Dunsparce with any benched Pokémon if you like. Back in that era, almost every deck ran four Dunsparce just because it was the prime starting Pokémon. Another Early game Pokémon would be something like Spiritomb from Platinum: Arceus. Spiritomb slows down your opponent from playing Trainers with his Poké-Body “Keystone Seal” while also evolving your benched Pokémon with Darkness Grace. Most Stage 2 decks in today’s format run one or two of these guys, just because it is such a great card to speed up your setup.

Something that has been apart of the Nintendo era for quite a while are supporters used to get a bunch of Basic Pokémon. Cards like Holon Mentor, Roseanne’s Research, Pokémon Collector, and Lanette’s Net Search, just to name a few. Another great card in today’s format is Call Energy, which allows you to grab two basic Pokémon from your deck in replace of an attack. What I find most interesting about Call Energy is, since it isn’t an attack, you can use it while asleep, paralyzed, or confused, with out any drawback.

Consistency cards are cards which allow you to keep board control. Keeping board control can be done in numerous ways but the most simplest way is to keep renewing your Pokémon by searching your deck or drawing. Before Supporter cards existed, Pokémon was a raw drawing game. Eventually the game shifted, into a contest of who can search for cards more frequently.

pokebeach.comClaydol from Great Encounters is probably the most consistent card to have ever existed. Each turn you could cycle out cards you don’t need at that particular time and refresh your hand with often times, a healthy number of cards. Pidgeot from Fire Red Leaf Green was Claydol before Claydol. It was the support Pokémon in almost every deck during it’s time in the modified format because each turn you could search your deck for any card you wanted. That allowed to you to respond to any situation in a match.

You could get a Warp Point when you needed it, you could get a Mr. Briney’s Compassion, or whatever you needed. It was such a great card, Nintendo responded to it with the stadium Battle Frontier.

Azelf from Legends Awakened is probably my second favorite card to ever come out (Dark Slowking from Team Rocket Returns is number one) mostly because of how incredible its Poké-Power is. Like I said earlier, what is prized at the beginning of a game is completely out of the player’s control. Azelf allowed you access to that and occasionally when I play Azelf before I’ve had an opportunity to search my deck, sometimes I HOPE cards I need are prized. Azelf made the inconsistent, often times game crippling, roll-of-the-dice chances of important cards being prized a non issue. I will be the first person to grieve when Azelf is rotated out.

Cards like Bebe’s Search, Pokémon Communication, Celio’s Network, and Professor Elm’s Training Method will probably always be apart of Pokémon. Most decks run four copies of a search-for-a-Pokémon Supporter Card. Some decks can get away with one, two, or three, but mostly you see it in fours. The reason the card is so popular is because of how great it is at any stage of the game. It isn’t a dead card ever and is applicable in almost all situations of a match.

pokebeach.comResource cards are cards which allow you to prevent your opponent from taking board control. These are cards you need to pay attention to during all stages of a match. For example, most SP decks run four Poké Turns. So, in the final act of a match, you can check their discard pile to see how many Poké Turns they potentially have left in their deck. Resource cards are things you as a player use as “surprise” cards. It’s something unexpected that can disrupt your opponent or continue to give you a lead.

Warp Point is something I hope is never out of the modified format. I love the card because of how good it is. It’s a simple card with a simple effect that can be very devastating. In a deck with free retreat Pokémon, it’s essentially a Cyclone Energy. PlusPower is another really great Resource card. With PlusPower it’s unpredictable and can be devastating if used properly. Your opponent won’t expect it so they aren’t preparing their board for it and when you do play it for a knockout, they often times could struggle recovering from it.

Pow! Hand Extension is probably one of the best come back cards besides Rocket’s Admin. The card had so many potential uses that often times what you would do with it can change from turn to turn. Rare Candy is another Resource card for the sheer fact it allows you to skip a stage in an evolution line. Most stage 2 decks runs four copies so you can keep a count in your head of how many are remaining. The way Rare Candy applies to preventing your opponent from taking board control, you can continue to speedily get out stage 2 Pokémon while they have to evolve normally (if they don’t have Rare Candies in their hand, that is).

pokebeach.comRecover cards are cards which allow you to take back board control if you happened to have lost it. These are cards that let you get Pokémon out of your discard pile and into your hand or deck. Aaron’s Collection is one of the better Recover cards to have come out because it allows you to instantly respond to a knockout by sending it to your hand and allows you to get a basic energy if needed. Other recover cards are Palmer’s Contribution and Flower Show Lady. Both let you shuffle in Pokémon from your discard pile. Regular trainers that can do this are Pokémon Rescue, Night Maintenance, and Time-Space Distortion.

One more Recover card I’d like to mention is Pokémon Retriever from Team Rocket Returns. This is my favorite Recover card because it gives you an option to shuffle in or take to your hand. It’s like a Pokémon Rescue and a Night Maintenance rolled into one!

C. Building your deck

Building a deck can be a daunting task. Many players abandon the entire endeavor and just copy a decklist from a website like Pokégym.net or SixPrizes.com. While doing that isn’t something I would recommend, I think it’s better to look at those lists as inspiration or possibly an indication of the current metagame.

The first step to building a deck is find a card you want to build a deck around. After you’ve decided on a good card, think of what the deck’s purpose is. Is it a lock-type deck? A quick deck that gets cheap knockouts? Or is it a different kind? Once you figure out your decks purpose, you need to build the deck around the central card and the purpose of the deck. Every single card you put in, think to yourself how it is helping your deck achieve it’s purpose.

You need to have a good balance of Setup cards, Consistency cards, Resource cards, and Recover cards. Like being a Potion maker, you need to find the right balance of each chemical for your decklist. Most decks don’t need a ton of recover cards, but some do. Decks like Gyarados need to run a few more with things like Pokémon Rescue so they can recover a Magikarp because they’ll probably have all four in there after only one Gyarados has been Knocked Out.

Some decks use a lot more Resource cards. SP decks are chock-full of Resources like Energy Gain, Poké Turn, and Power Spray mostly because Cyrus’s Conspiracy gives them easy access to these cards. It all comes down to the type of deck you are building and what type of cards you need to compliment your strategy.

Once you’ve settled on a list, all you need to do now is practice, practice, and practice. One, you want to practice to learn how to use the deck to the best of your ability. Two, you want to make tweaks to your list. Trimming out what you end up not needing and adding in the little things the deck is missing.

Eventually, after many seasons of playing, you’ll have something called a playstyle. This is basically a fancy term for how you build your decks and what cards you use and when. A simple explanation would be something like in certain situations, there could be multiple things you can do during your turn. Neither is better or worse than the other, they could potentially have the same outcome, but some players choose option A while others choose option B.

Over time, you’ll become conscious of yourself as a player and will stop playing based on what is in your hand, but playing based on situations on the board.

IV. Conclusion

In conclusion, the Pokémon Trading Card Game is extremely vast in complexity even though overall it seems simple. Basically Pokémon is all about momentum and keeping it throughout the match. While it can get deeper than that, that’s the simplest way to describe it. I’ve only covered a fraction of the TCG and hopefully in future articles I write I can cover other portions of the game that are specific and would be best fitted as their own article. Things like teching, metagame, clock management, etc. Hope you enjoyed the article!

– Michael “rokman” Weldon

Reader Interactions

28 replies

  1. Rocket Prof

    As a judge, professor and league leader i have to admit that this is a good resource for new players and poke-moms and poke-dads. Thanks a lot for writing this!

  2. Joshua Pikka

    Thanks for the good article, it didn’t help me, but it is a good resource for new players.

    I did find it interesting that you put your discard pile above your deck, no one I know has ever did anything other then the discard pile below the deck. It would be weird for me to start that, and I don’t know how legal it is, but it does make sense. There were times that i put knocked out pokemon in the discard pile and thought for a second that they were on the bench.

    • Anonymous  → Joshua

      That’s the way it is for Yu-Gi-Oh, and I’m pretty sure the really old Pokemon, too. I used to do that until I figured it’d be easier to put it above my discard pile for deck-cutting pruposes.

    • Anonymous  → Joshua

      That’s the way it is for Yu-Gi-Oh, and I’m pretty sure the really old Pokemon, too. I used to do that until I figured it’d be easier to put it above my discard pile for deck-cutting pruposes.

      • Jonathan Anderson  → Anonymous

        The rule for Pokemon is and always has been that the discard pile goes below the deck. I believe proper table setup is outlined in every rulebook: Deck above discard on the RIGHT side of the table. Prizes on the LEFT side. Active in the middle and the bench behind.

        That being said, it’s rare that I’ve seen a judge object to swapping the deck and discard, or swapping the left and right sides of the board, as long as they’re both straight and tidy. What a judge should object to is if you have either the deck or discard pile on the same side as the prizes.

        • Rokman  → Jonathan

          The only official rule to board layout is prizes have to be on the opposite side of deck/discard.

        • Jonathan Anderson  → Rokman

          I suppose I should have said ‘recommended setup’ as opposed to ‘rule’. The recommended setup has always been as I described (as far as I know, and according to all playmats that I have seen.)
          As far as ‘rules’, the only things they really care about are that your prizes are opposite your deck/discard, your prizes are all clearly visible and your deck/discard are oriented north-south.

  3. John Rea

    Great article.

    Can someone give me some advice on witch deck to play. PS. I don’t want to play SP.

  4. John Rea

    Great article.

    Can someone give me some advice on witch deck to play. PS. I don’t want to play SP.

  5. venny kid

    According to POP, where in the play area is the Lost Zone?? Is it above/below your deck, far far away from the play area? I’ve never seen it played so…

  6. Will Beers

    Great article, but if you really plan to become a writer someday, you’re going to need to stop using “apart” (separate) when you mean “a part” (a component or piece)…

      • Will Beers  → Rokman

        It’s alright, it takes time to adjust.

        I really do like the article, by the way :) I just got back into the game, having been absent since Gym Heroes / Challenge. I liked seeing how the game has evolved over time with your quick summaries of what popular cards were used in each category. (I would never have known about Sandstorm Dunsparce, for example.)

        • Rokman  → Will

          Luckily with Screenwriting, little mistakes don’t really matter. You don’t have to be a literature major to be a good screenwriter, you just have to have a clear vision and be capable of describing that vision fully.

          But yeah, thanks for letting me know about the “apart/a part” lolz

  7. Javier Villavicencio

    What i starting to like about this game is that gives player the freedom to build the deck they want, yes is true that you have to try to keep up with the meta game using some must have cards, but thats only depends on the type of deck you are aiming to build and still is like the 10% of the deck. Whereas yugioh now have become like “konami decides how you play” and the only choose you do is which deck you buy but thats it the rest is just about the deck and not the player.

  8. Adam Maggard

    fast forward to 2017, jhon kettler (yes, your teacher) got secont at us nationals

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