Battle of Wittz: How to Dominate the Pokémon Trading Card Game Online

Last night, I played against a Reshiphlosion, two different Gothitelle variants, Ross’ deck, two Zekrom/Tornadus, and the Megazone mirror. Plenty of great games, a few blowouts, and I got donked once. All of the builds were really solid and tuned, and I even recognized the names of a few players that I played, too.

I didn’t pick up a single deck, and I didn’t type a single keystroke in order to do it. All I needed was my mouse, and I was able to test a sea of great decks over the course of the night.

The Pokémon Trading Card Game Online program is legit. This is just the beginning.

For those of you who have been either living under a rock or just ignoring the program because it doesn’t seem like it’s worth the trouble, the Pokémon Trading Card Game Online (I’m just going to call it PTCGO for now) just went from closed to open beta now, leaving it open for anybody to join and try.

There was a card wipe from the original beta moving into the open version of everyone’s card collections, and for the past few weeks people have been scrambling to get new decks ready to compete.

This program is huge, has a lot of functionality, and can be a little daunting for the new player. It’s my goal to help those of you interested in this awesome program get your desired decks together ASAP and ready for tournament play.

Normally, I wouldn’t consider such an article as Underground Material (I have an episode centered around the topic of PTCGO this week), but in my time with the program I’ve found that there is a definite science to getting your deck as cheaply and quickly as possible.

First thing’s first though! If you aren’t even interested in the program, then this article is a not the best use of your paid subscription. Let me do my best to explain to you why this program is worth your additional investment into the game.

PTCGO: Why should I play it?

1. It’s the official program. This is kind of a dumb argument, but being official just means that the program will have the most support, the biggest team modifying it, and it’ll ultimately run the best. Yes, there are still kinks to iron out and the program is still in beta, but for the most part the program itself runs extremely smoothly.

You don’t have to fiddle through connection problems, you play against a HUGE pool of random players, and you don’t have to type a single keystroke to attack. Mouse clicks are all you need!

2. It’s the best-looking program. Goes without saying. You’ve got official artwork on every card, holographic effects (if you really want them), and a very well-designed and aesthetically pleasing background to boot. It’s a very exciting and immersive experience that can’t be matched.

3. You can get paired up with great players. As someone who has recently clawed his way into a group of “top” players that I can test with online, I know how frustrating and difficult it is to finally get a strong enough testing group going. And even then, when you have strong players to test against, you have to worry about having both of you online at the same time.

With PTCGO, you can log into ranked games and get paired with someone at around your level (MOST of the time once you’ve won enough games). For example: I played a game against Michael Pramawat (TheTopCut member, 2nd at Worlds 2010). Pramawat is a great player that I am not in the same testing circle as.

The official program opens your circle to a full spectrum of players, and as the program itself moves forward toward open release, it will be filled with the best of the best. Testing is important, but testing with the highest quality opponents is even more important.

4. There is rumored support for prizes. We haven’t gotten anything official yet, but I’ve heard from many a person that there are plans for tournaments, prizes, and POSSIBLY invites based on the online program. I know this sounds absurd now, but I believe it.

The program is going to be HUGE, and I am SURE that Pokémon is planning some kind of support in return for heavy users. The sky is the limit, really. While I wouldn’t expect much, there should be some kind of prizes on the line in the future, and that alone is pretty exciting.

5. You’re going to be a part of one of the biggest things to ever happen in this game.

This is more of a sentimental point than an actual physical reason to invest in the product, but I think it is one of the most important. Pokémon, for the longest time, has not been fully invested in catering to the competitive player.

The interest is there, but Pokémon has always been targeting its card marketing toward the light user. Its sales in actual hobby shops are extremely low compared to other games, but its sales in the big retail stores are the highest most of the time. 95+% of users who buy Pokémon cards are not interested in the actual game itself at all.

Those users are usually children buying some cards because they like Pokémon. Or they are collectors. Us actual players are very few in the grand scheme of things, and we haven’t been taken nearly as seriously as other competitive games, such as MTG and Yugioh!

gatheringmagic.comIt’s a frustrating fact, considering that Pokémon has the best community of any card game out there. We all love Pokémon itself for some reason or another, and all love competitive gaming. Combining the two makes for a great cast of people to meet, and for some absolutely intense and rewarding games.

There is a demand for being a competitive player. If there weren’t, Underground wouldn’t even exist. However, we all see Magic and want to reach that level. We’re competitive, we love gaming, and we want the same coverage and reach that Magic gets, or at least something close.

I honestly believe that the PTCGO is the first giant step in that direction. Magic has had incredible success with their own program for years, and now we’re on our way to getting our own version out. Pokémon wouldn’t have marketed it in the way they they’ve done if they haven’t anticipated a wild growth in participation for the game.

They could have made the online program a paid subscription. They could have made currency strictly online for buying packs. But instead, they have a code card for a pack online in EVERY SINGLE new set on the shelves. Every time that random kid or collector buys that random pack, they get an advertisement, and effectively product, toward helping them understand that there is a game behind these cards. Interest in the game inevitably leads to interest in leagues, tournaments, etc.

If the game expands enough, Pokémon is forced to step up their game and provide better prize support, coverage, etc. We might not see this support this year. But I guarantee that if things explode the way I foresee, the season after this one should have a huge increase in support. Who knows? With no announcement yet this year, maybe they already plan on making things bigger. Split Regionals is just the start.

Is this all wishful thinking? Sure, but I honestly believe in a lot of it too. Being part of the online program gives Pokémon statistics and numbers that prove there is a huge interest in their competitive card game. With enough interest, I really feel the higher-ups will do what they can to cater to the competitive players, and we’ll have even more reason to play in this amazing game.

6. It’s not very expensive to get started, if you have the right strategy. Which leads me to my next point!

Assembling your Collection

pokegym.netThis is the main focus of today’s article, and it’ll be by far the largest focus. The program itself is there—all you need is the cards to work with and you’re set! Sure, you could open packs until you ‘re set with the tier 1 deck that you want, but can you imagine how long, and how expensive, that would be?

You have to approach it the same way you would in real life, starting fresh as a new player with literally nothing to your name. While ultimately getting your deck costs a little money, I honestly enjoy completing card collections very much, and am admittedly very good at it now. Here’s the scoop on every way to get cards!

The Starter Deck

When you start, you get nothing more to your name than “The Starter Deck”. It’s a 60 card absolutely mediocre to poor deck that’s there for every beginner to get a grasp for how to play Pokémon. You can’t trade anything you get in the starter deck, and they’re all the same. Ampharos (not Prime) with Lanturn (not Prime) and Blissey (not Prime). You will encounter a sea of these decks when you first begin playing.

Trust me, you do not want to be the guy with the starter deck. It’s fun at first when you’re finally using the program and testing things out, but once you encounter your first “real” deck, you’ll get embarrassed and want to step up your game. There is only one way into the world of competitive deckbuilding, and that is booster codes.

Booster Packs (Opened)

This method is the same as one that you would go through in real life when you first build a collection. You buy some booster packs, open them up, and see what you get. Booster codes currently come in specially marked packs of Black and White (usually from your local Hobby Shop), or EVERY pack of Emerging Powers.

If you were already planning on buying one of these two, then that’s great! You get free packs as a bonus to a product that you were already intending to buy! However, if you don’t intend on buying a sea of Emerging Powers boosters (I don’t blame you if you don’t), it’s much more economic to obtain the codes on their own.

A good price for a single code card (both the Black and White BETA codes and the official Emerging Powers Codes work) is under a dollar. The prices fluctuate a lot depending on demand. I was able to get Troll and Toad codes for 59 cents each, but now they’re at 79 cents. Anything around this range is a solid price for code cards.

Currently I’m working with my advertiser Stop2Shop to get decent prices on the code cards (I finally got Emerging Powers to reasonable prices with them), but until then under a dollar is a decent deal if you’re interested in investing straight into the game itself.

Another solid way to get code cards is to trade for them in real life. I value the codes at around 50-60 cents a code in trade value, and have gotten a stockpile of them from people all over. Some players just aren’t interested in the codes at all, particularly collectors and kids at league, and trading decently for them is another great way to get a collection.

To be honest, most kids will give you them for little to nothing depending on your reputation in the league. They just don’t need them and wouldn’t be doing anything with the codes otherwise.

Despite the code cards being from Black and White boosters only, one code card=one pack of your choice from HGSS-On. If you want to start your route via pack opening (it’s by far the most fun and exciting way to start your collection, even if it isn’t the most economical), then consider what sets you want. Here’s a short list of all the important cards featured in each set:

HGSS: Cleffa, Tyrogue, Jumpluff, Ninetales, Pichu, Pokémon Collector, Pokémon Communication, Professor Oak’s New Theory, Copycat, Rainbow Energy, Double Colorless Energy, Donphan Prime, Typhlosion Prime, Blissey Prime

UL: Rare Candy, Jirachi, Suicune/Entei Legend, Shaymin, Kingdra Prime, Tyranitar Prime, Lanturn Prime, Judge

UD: Sage’s Training, Vileplume, Weavile, Rayquaza/Deoxys Legend, Muk, Sage’s Training

TM: Junk Arm, Seeker, Twins, Rescue Energy, Almost Every Single Prime (Magnezone, Mew, Yanmega, Gengar, etc.)

CoL: Jirachi, Pachirisu, Cleffa, Tyrogue, Ninetales, Sage’s Training, Professor Oak’s New Theory

BW: Emboar, Reshiram, Zekrom, Cinccino, Reuniclus, Zoroark, Pokémon Communication, Professor Juniper

EP: Pokémon Catcher, Tornadus, Gothitelle, Cheren

This is just an introductory list, but I’m sure just by looking at it it’s easy to see how tough it can be to build a deck. Most decks run on pieces spread over a lot of different kinds of sets, making it hard to complete a set on pack openings alone.

While you can trade for pieces of cards you didn’t pull, if you plan on opening cards you should focus your packs to the most profitable ones. Personally, I think HGSS, Triumphant, and Black/White are the most valuable packs.

In fact, if you plan on getting started with a new deck by opening a lot of packs, go for Reshiphlosion. HGSS and Black/White alone give you almost everything you need (Ninetales, Reshiram, Typhlosion, Collector, Juniper, even Emboar if you want to try it that way). The only real cards you’ll need to trade for are Catchers, Junk Arms, and Rare Candy.

Opening packs is fun, gives you trade fodder for card to card trades, and isn’t so bad. If you manage your pack selection well and only pick packs you think you’ll need, you’ll save a lot of resources. It’s not the best way to get cards, but who can’t resist opening packs!

Theme Decks

One last brief note I figured I’d make before I get to explaining trading is the Theme deck codes. One theme deck gives you 60 cards the exact same as the theme deck the code came from. While this isn’t really economic, and I’m not 100% sure you can even trade the cards you get from the theme deck, the one theme deck worth getting is the Emboar one.

It comes with one Cinccino, one Bad Boar, 2 Communication, and 2 Juniper—not bad! All other theme deck codes aren’t really worth the investment.


Trading in the PTCGO is a very complex and thorough process now. There’s a distinct economy of wants/haves that can be explained only by being involved in the system itself, but I’ll try my best to get you clued in before you feel lost.

Here is a picture of the trade lobby. Trades can be made from person to person, or be put up for offer publicly. Person to person trades are a little glitchy because you can’t see another person’s haves most of the time, so I’d ignore it unless you have another friend you know is online and want to send cards to them as they send cards to you.

The real deal in trading with PTCGO is the public trade section. It’s the bread and butter of obtaining new cards, and I highly recommend you familiarize yourself with it.

BulbapediaHere’s how it works. If you want to make a new trade, click New Trade, and select Public when deciding what you want to trade. In your section, select the cards that you are wanting to trade away. In the other side, select the cards that you want to receive (I highly recommend searching for the cards you want in the top left box instead of searching through your full collection).

Before you finish, type up a description of your trade in the top right and click submit. Be SURE to include what you wanted to give and what you wanted to get before clicking submit—I almost gave away 5 packs for free once because I forgot to include the card I wanted to get from the public!

The cards you select that you want from the public will determine who sees your “ad”. Only people who have the cards you actually want will see your offer in the public section, so it’ll only fall onto the eyes of the people you want to see it!

From here, you wait. If your trade is accepted while you’re still online, you’ll get a notification—yay! If not, you’ll just have to keep waiting. Trades stay up “forever” in the system, but after a long enough time you’ll be pushed farther and farther down people’s lists. Sometimes relisting is a good idea, but if you relist enough times and get no bites, it’s time to rethink your approach!

Also, if you log off and then back on, you won’t get a notification if your trade was accepted while you were away. Instead, check the “closed” tab to see if your trades were completed or not. If they weren’t, they’ll still be viewable in the “I made” tab.

Public offers are ones that you can view and accept immediately if you like the deal. BE SURE TO READ THE OFFER CAREFULLY BEFORE HITTING ACCEPT. There are an unfortunate amount of scammers trying to pry off your stuff by requesting free trades.

I hate that this is an option and suspect it will be fixed soon, but keep your eyes peeled. Cards in the bottom box for public trades are the ones YOU are giving away. If the title of the trade is “Free cards”, I’d pin it at around 0% that the cards are actually free. Protect your collection from the scammers!

So, now that you know how to make an offer, it’s time to learn how to make good offers.

The Booster Pack Economy

The economy keeps changing, so this might become obsolete as different cards are wanted more, but one thing remains true—the booster pack always has value. It’s the one thing that doesn’t really fluctuate in the economy, and is worth around a consistent 4 to 5 figurative dollars.

Because of this, I have found trading your unopened booster packs to be THE BEST way to get all of the cards that you need. On one hand, they’re a solid form of currency. On the other, packs are exciting. New users will want to dump their rare cards for a chance to open more cards, if anything because it’s fun. People bite on booster pack trades around 3-5 times as much for me, and with good reason.

So, what’s the best way to make a trade using Boosters? Here’s a general list right now of value:

1 Booster Pack: 1 fairly playable rare, 1 bad Prime (or Legend piece), or one strong staple Trainer.

Cards like Reuniclus, Vileplume, and even Ninetales are sure-fire hits for one unopened pack. Strong Trainers that usually hit for 1 pack are Pokémon Collector or Pokémon Catcher (Catcher sometimes goes for 2). Bad Primes that easily go for 1 pack include just about everything other than Donphan, Mew, Magnezone, Yanmega, Gengar, Typhlosion, and maybe Kingdra.

Intrigued by the Electrode+Goth idea from Fulop’s last article, I was able to get 4× Electrodes in 4 straight 1 pack for 1 Electrode Prime trades. These were by far the fastest trades I’ve ever completed, each completing immediately after starting. Nice!

1 pack trades are the best way to understand the value of trading an unopened pack. Think about it in real life. If you’re trying to save the most money in building your deck, would you rather get a pack with a guaranteed playable card in it, or risk it trying to get a highly sought after prime? I like the guaranteed odds.

2-3 Booster Packs: Rare Candy, Full Art Zekrom/Reshiram, very strong/needed rare cards (Emboar Ability usually goes for 2 more often than 1), all Prime Cards other than ‘Zone, Mega, and Donphan.

2-3 Boosters lets you grab some really prime stuff. Rare Candy is a very desirable Trainer because of its high usefulness, and low supply. Not too many people want Unleashed, making it a tough card to grab, and possibly the most requested card in public trades.

For 2-3 packs you can also score any intermediate level Prime, namely Mew and Typhlosion. Think about it in real life—for 10 to 15 bucks, you can get almost every single card aside from the top-tier Primes.

4-6 Boosters: Donphan Prime and Magnezone Prime

This is where the market tends to fluctuate. Donphan can usually be gotten for 4, almost always for 5. Magnezone can sometimes be obtained for 5, always for 6. It’s all about trial and error!

7 (more?) boosters: Yanmega Prime

The holy grail of Pokémon right now, Yanmega is by far the most requested and wanted Pokémon right now. When I first started trading I got a few 5 packs for Yanmega to work. Then just one 6 pack offer worked. Currently, the gold standard is 7 packs, and even THEN sometimes you might have to wait or relist to get one.

Yanmega drives a hard bargain, and sometimes is best off traded for in a combination of packs and sought-after cards. Once you have them, I probably wouldn’t trade them away!

Using this list as a guide should help you immensely in pricing both your pack for card offers, and your card for card offers. Want a specific card? Well, price it up to it’s worth in packs, and try and create your public offer with that price in mind.

VERY RARELY will you get a deal to work where you get the better end of the deal, and that requires a lot of patience and waiting. If you want an immediate deal, trade fairly and you’ll get much better odds.

Final Tips

Here’s a list of final tips for trading to help you get the deals you want as quickly as possible!

  • When trading unopened booster packs, it does NOT MATTER (as far as I’ve seen) which packs you trade. Because of this, I suggest that you get Emerging Powers packs. People are most excited at the newest set, it seems.
  • Another bonus tip if you’re getting Emerging Powers—get the Pansage blister pack! It’s the only “special” item in the store you can get, and it comes with 3 boosters at the price of 3 redeemed codes. In addition, you get one Pansage promo card and a neat copper Zekrom/Reshiram coin! The coin and promo make great throw-ins for turning a trade in your favor, and it’s a free bonus!
  • If a trade doesn’t work out, try adding throw ins. A few bulk rares will usually do the trick. Be patient if you want a good offer. If you want a trade ASAP, try stepping up your deal. Add another pack, or maybe a bad prime that you don’t want. Things like that will be visible to traders and will help you succeed.
  • The best time to make offers is around after school time to midnight. After school to get the attention of kids, and around late to midnight to get the attention of college/teens playing.
  • Bulk rares can occasionally work for trades by themselves. I value bulk rares virtually from 75 cents to a dollar. I’m usually able to get trades like 5 bulk rares for one good rare/trainer. It’s a good way to clear out your extra inventory for something useful!
  • Don’t try and trade for everything all at once. People only see offers that own the cards you want. You’re much better off trading for 1 Candy at a time (any average kid could have pulled a Rare Candy), than trying to trade for 4× Rare Candy (the only people with this many likely aren’t trading theirs).Same goes for Primes, or even rares. The only thing that you can safely trade for in bulk are commons/uncommons for decks (Yanma, Magnemite, Phanpy, etc), or average Trainer cards like Switch, Energy Retrieval, etc.
  • Observe the trade offers being made by others. That’s another good way to know what offers are considered standard, and what offers you can beat to get your own offer more attention.

All in all, trading and collecting is really exciting and fun to do in your free time. If you’re serious about the online game, I’d buy/ trade for a supply of code cards and get started!

Actually Playing

One important thing to note—when you build multiple decks, you only need 4-of every card! This is great when you want multiple decks, and means you only need 4 total Candy, Collector, Catcher, etc. at once! Once you complete your first deck, the next just get easier and easier.

Once you finally have your deck together, you should be good to go for some online games! If you want to get the hang of it, you can play both practice games vs. the CPU and live people that don’t want to play serious ranked games.

To be honest, you’re going to be playing against the starter deck a LOT before dealing with the bigger stuff, so you don’t even have to have a completed amazing tier 1 deck to start. When you feel comfortable with the interface, jump into some ranked games!

One thing you might notice is that the interface CAN be really slow. Lag is punishing, and is the number one thing that Pokémon needs to work on in future releases of the program. There are a few things I’ve learned to prevent lag. The first is that lag is punishing for Macs for unknown reasons, and I suggest using a PC or emulating a PC on your mac to play the program when you can.

The second is that Chrome seems to run the program far better than any browser. And third is that you can increase your performance dramatically by clicking on the menu in the bottom left of your games. Turn off animations, holo effects, any other kind of effect you can.

pokegym.netIt’ll decrease the time it takes to play, while also increasing the fluidity of animations. As cool as it is to see fire and water and other exciting effects, they just aren’t needed when they slow your experience so much.

Right now pairings in your ranked games work like this. They pair you with a player of similar win count. This would be great, except the program will also pair you within a minute of other players waiting for a game. If only noobs are waiting to play along with you, you’ll be paired with a noob.

What I’ve found in my own personal experience is that once I passed the 100 win mark (currently 145-4 right now!) I started facing much higher quality opponents. This could also just be that there weren’t as many players with strong decks when I first had mine though.

Either way, you’ll get better decks to play against as you play more, and once the program gets out of beta, it’ll have exact ratings to pair people by their rating tier. It’s unknown whether your wins will factor into your rating when the program goes out of Beta, but even if it doesn’t, the benefit of playing better players NOW at the cost of playing and winning more games is well worth it.

One thing to note is that time works differently in the Beta for the sake of easier programming: time. Time works in a “chess clock” style, giving both players 20 minutes to their own actions. If your 20 minutes are up, you get to finish your last turn, and then you lose if you don’t win the game on that turn.

I’ve never ended on time a single time, but if you run too many things that cause your program to lag (or you’re just running a slower deck) it could hurt you. Honestly, I like the system. 20 minutes is PLENTY of time to play a full game when it’s just your time, and even using very slow cards like Reuniclus I haven’t run out of time yet.

As Chris already mentioned, there are a few kinks needed to be worked out with gameplay right now. Reuniclus is painfully slow because you need to use the power every single damage counter that you move. The same, to some extent, goes to Emboar.

For the sake of helping you guys out with compiled information, check out this thread to see all of the errors recorded so far. The program is still in Beta, and there’s still things needed to be fixed, but with it’s flaws the program has still been amazing for me.

In Conclusion

pokegym.netI know that at around 5,000 words this article is much shorter than my usual, but I have another article back on “regular subjects” soon next week, and really felt this subject was one that deserved Underground info.

I really think that trading unopened packs and understanding the trade values of cards is really valuable information that could save you a lot of money, and I thought I’d share it as soon as possible (hopefully before you’ve gotten into the online program itself!).

As I’ve said, the program is an amazing resource, and with all of the best players in the game right now owning more and more extensive decks, it could prove to be THE place to test. This game is constantly evolving to give players quicker and quicker resources to becoming good at the game right away.

Underground is one of those resources, and understanding the Pokémon Trading Card Game Online is another huge step in my opinion. I’ve already gotten way more from the program than I thought I’d ever get, and with more players growing interested, it’s soon going to replace every program out there.

Yes, it does cost money to get invested, but with the right tactics, it’s not so bad! Hopefully, with a little help from my next article, you’ll win Battle Roads and earn yourself a few more code cards.

Until next time, good luck with your online Pokémon careers! Hopefully I see you online (I’m JWittz there too).


PS—I’ll be answering ANY questions involving the PTCGO below! Ask anything you want if you felt it wasn’t covered in the article itself, and I’ll do my best to help you out!

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