Playing Pokémon for Less

Mark A. HicksI’ve never been able to put a lot of money into Pokémon. I don’t get a huge allowance and I’m not yet old enough to try to get a job at Wal-Mart or anything. When your family struggles to make ends meet, there’s not a ton of money available to spend on painted pieces of paper. One of the most disappointing effects of my financial situation is I’ve never been able to go to “travel” events like Regionals or Nationals.

However, despite these hurdles, I’ve been able to perform well at local tournaments pretty consistently. I’m currently on a seven year “top cut” streak. That is, I haven’t missed top cut at a Battle Road or City Championship in 7+ years. Keeping my record intact has not been easy and it has certainly come close to ending more than once.

I can say for a fact that I never would have done as well competitively as I have if I hadn’t learned how to stretch a dollar and really make my money go farther. I would be willing to bet that there are a lot of other players out there whose biggest hindrance in doing well at tournaments is they simply can’t afford all the cards to build their ideal deck.

This article won’t be about making cheap decks that aren’t really competitive. Instead, I’m gearing this article to players of all financial situations. Whether you plan to spend $20 or $300 this month on Pokémon, I’m sure you’d be interested in saving money without sacrificing tournament performance. I’ve included many of the tips and tricks that I use to build top tier, tournament winning lists.

I’ll readily admit that this piece won’t include every money saving Pokémon-related tip out there, but I feel like this will help get everyone on the right track. If you know of any other tricks that I haven’t included, I urge you to post them in the comments. With your help, I’m hoping this article can serve as a reference guide for players who want or need to save money on Pokémon.

Online Resources

Playing Pokémon online is by far the most cost efficient way to test out new concepts or decks. Playing solely against your team can be damaging to your game. Eventually, you get to know how they function. Do they take too many unnecessary risks, or do they miss out on a lot of opportunities because they play it too safe? Are their lists sacrificing match ups by not running enough techs, or do they undervalue consistency by running too many?

No matter how good of a player they are, each player has their own play style. If you only test against a few players over and over, you get an inaccurate sampling of how the Pokémon community in general plays and builds decks, often causing you to go into tournaments with wacky results.

While playing online has its downsides, like you have no idea the skill level of your opponents as well, this is no different than when you go to tournaments. In general, it just gives you better, less biased testing results.

By using Apprentice, Redshark, PlayTCG, etc., you’re able to build and test out entirely new decks without having to acquire all of the cards. This helps you be sure that all the cards you purchase actually have tournament potential.

Proxies can serve a similar purpose, but they’re not as user friendly. Unless if you print them off of, which does become a hassle after a while (not to mention ink isn’t cheap), you’ll be stuck writing the names on a piece of paper. While this technically works, it does take a lot of fun out of playing the game.

Also, I’ve noticed a psychological hindrance on not actually seeing the card. You tend to only remember the important parts of the card. Take Magneton TM, for example. We all know it’s HP, element, Retreat Cost, Weakness, etc. However, we tend to forget about its attacks when we aren’t seeing them, sometimes causing us to miss opportunities.

One of the biggest benefits of playing online is there’s almost always an opponent available. If you wake up at 2:00 am and get the sudden urge to test out a new concept that came to you in a dream, you’ll have to wait. But with online play, you can start building your deck and find an opponent to play against within a couple of minutes.

I’m sure that most of you already have your favorites when it comes to what program you play online. But in case you don’t, my favorite is definitely PlayTCG. You get to see actual images instead of just words, you can play private or random games, and it just overall runs the smoothest for me.

The Art of the Trade

pokebeach.comTrading with others for what you need is a great way to get the cards you need. A great place to find others who would like to trade with you can be at your local league. It’s generally a pretty relaxed environment, and you often know a lot of the people there, so initiating some trades is pretty easy. Smaller tournaments, like Battle Roads or City Championships, are solid places to try and get what you need as well.

Be careful when trading at larger tournaments with people you don’t know, especially if it’s before the tournament starts. Often times, they’ll think you desperately need the card for the tournament, so they’ll try getting you to accept less than fair deals. If you know the person somewhat well, this is far less of an issue, but if you don’t, be very careful before accepting any trades. Think it over and make sure you’re getting a fair deal.

I’ve seen people accepting deals like “a box of 300 random cards for two Magnezone Prime”. More often than not, most of what you get will be junk not nearly worth what you gave up. You might think that you’re getting a deal, but keep in mind that the person you’re trading with probably knows exactly what’s in that box and is confident it’s worth less than your Magnezone. You should especially be worried if they refuse to let you look at the box of cards before you make your decision.

Also, I strongly recommend that you don’t try to rip people off or do unfair deals, especially with Juniors or new players. It’s sure to give you a bad reputation, which will make it much harder to trade with others.

I can remember one particular example. A new kid came to league, he was nine or ten years old (we’ll call him Jimmy). He came into the store and asked the owner what products would best help him get into the game. He had about $35 to spend, so he bought two Starter decks and a tin that was on sale. His packs were pretty sub-par, but he did manage to pull a Luxray GL LV.X (he got a Luxray GL as well).

One particular person at the store (we’ll call him Ralph) offered to help him get started. He helped him understand the basic rules, get set up, build a better deck, etc. Ralph spent about four league meets helping him out, but then he did something nasty. He managed to convince Jimmy to trade his Luxray GL LV.X for a few worthless holos.

pokemon-paradijs.comIt didn’t take long for news of the trade to get around. When a few other players confronted Ralph about this, he said the card was his fee for helping Timmy get started. Most of the players at league now refuse to do any trades with him whatsoever.

Anyway, what you should take away from the story is your reputation is important. When other people are looking for a fair trade, they’re going to go to the person who’s known for making good trades. A good, honest reputation pays for itself many times over.

Another way you can trade with people is online, using sites like Pokégym. However, you want to be careful of people who try to scam valuable cards out of you. While there’s not really a way to be 100% confident you aren’t being scammed, there’s a few tell-tale signs that you should recognize.

Again, the classic “if it’s too good to be true…” comes into play here. If someone offers you two Magnezone, two Eelectric, and a full-art Zekrom for a Cobalion and want you to send your card first, it’s likely that they aren’t intending to go through with the trade.

The other thing you want to be wary of is traders with little to no trade history. I won’t tell you never to trade with these people, but do so with caution. My general rule is I don’t do large, high value trades with traders who don’t have a lot of history. The better feedback they’ve collected, the larger trades you can safely do with the person.

Some websites have the rule that the trader with the least good history sends the cards first, but not all of them do, so be careful with the ones that don’t.

Exchanging Cards for Cash

pokemon-paradijs.comPurchasing cards from other players isn’t much different than trading cards, so most of the same rules apply. Keep your reputation in tact by making fair purchases and be careful of people who you do business with.

The only real difference between trading and buy cards is there’s the chance you’re getting fake cards. Technically, you could be trading for a fake card too, but it seems most of the time, people try to unload fake cards for money, not cards. The biggest warning sign is if someone tries to sell you cards far below their value (booster boxes for $35, packs for $1.50, Tropical Beaches for $35, etc.)

If you’re trading for single cards, you’ll need to know how to spot fakes. I learned a most of what I know about spotting fake cards from this Pokégym page, so instead of just repeating everything it said, check it out!

I would also like to touch upon one other aspect of buying cards. The absolute worst time to try and get a hold of them is at a large tournament, right before it begins. Everyone you try to buy cards from will know that you desperately need the card(s) right then and there, which gives them a huge amount of leverage over the price.

What is a $30 card, you can easily find yourself paying $40+ for. A good example of this is Yanmega Prime, which was going for $70 at Nationals. While there were a lot of other circumstances contributed to this price, like the mid-season rotation and whatnot, it was not a $70 card. However, like a 7/11 charges for convenience, anyone who’s buying high value cards at these big tournaments will be forced to pay an extra 10-25% to get what they need. Be smart and get the cards ahead of time.

Mass Market Shopping

Buying cards online can be a great way to purchase Pokémon cards. First off, if you’re planning to buy Booster Packs, always buy in bulk. When I played the Naruto CCG, there were a limited amount of products to choose from. But since Pokémon is a more popular game, they’ve got tons of other product sets that you can buy, which are almost always a better value than just buying individual packs.

One good example are the Prime Challenge Boxes. Many are upset that Yanmega (and to a much lesser extent, Machamp, Umbreon and Espeon) are being reprinted so far after their release, but since they are, I definitely recommend picking up a few.

Bonus Tip: If you’ve got your play set of Yanmega, try nabbing a few Machamp boxes. You never know when you’ll get the urge to try out a Machamp deck :P

Next I’d like to talk about the pros and cons of the different places that you can buy cards.

Mass merchants like Wal-Mart and Target will be the place to go if you’re looking for solid, consistent pricing. They’re also one of the best places to go for things like tins and promo boxes (like Legends or Prime Challenge boxes) because their pricing is usually the lowest and you won’t pay shipping on these larger/heavier items. They usually don’t carry booster boxes or older products, though.

I actually haven’t bought a ton of cards from hobby shops, but in my experience, their booster packs are usually .25-.50 cents more than Target. However, they help make up for this with their usually large supply including booster boxes and products that came out 6+ months ago.

I really like buying cards online. Because of the number of sites that sell cards, there’s always a wide variety of products to choose from and you can really compare prices (all from the comfort of your own home). In addition, virtual stores, in my experience, are the most common places that have sales on their products and online shopping is definitely the place to go if you’re looking for a deal.

However, unlike a store or hobby shop where you buy it and take it home, you’ll have to wait quite a while before you get the cards. Also, you’ll have to pay shipping costs. If you’re buying bulkier or heavier things like tins or Promo Boxes, this can add $5-10+ on to your order, depending on the number of items you buy.

Investing in Pokémon

pokebeach.comNext I’d like to talk about a surprisingly underused way that anyone can make money off of Pokémon. When you think about it, Pokémon cards are a lot like the stock market in that their values can go up and down. Sometimes, they’ll keep climbing higher and higher for months and then the next day, they’ll drop 80%.

There are a lot of things that can affect a card’s value. This can be anything from a bad tournament performance to the card being reprinted to a new powerful deck utilizing the card being discovered. When the BW rules took effect earlier this year, the value of Sableye SF soared.

If you’re good at predicting the metagame, investing in Pokémon can make you some real money. However, just like investments, it is a high risk, high reward situation. If you buy 15 copies of a super rare only to have its value plummet, you’re going to take a major loss. On the other hand, if its value skyrockets, you stand to make a lot of money.

The best time for a Pokémon investor is when new sets are released. Often times, people aren’t aware yet of exactly how good a card will be, so sometimes the value of a card will be completely off. A great example of this is Chandelure NVI, which is now going for around $3-4 a piece.

However, just a month ago, before Cities started and before Chandelure was shown to be an actually viable card, it was selling for much less. Predicting this, I purchased a large quantity of Chandelure for around $1.50 each. Then, when their value increased, I sold them off at my league. Since I bought them for much cheaper, I was able to sell them for less than most other places wanted for them, thus ensuring that each copy sold and for a profit.

I only bought about 15 copies of Chandelure, so I didn’t exactly make a killing, but keep in mind that this is only one transaction. If you can make a few of these each time a new set comes you, you can easily make $100 every year.

The biggest risk I took when investing in Pokémon was with Tropical Beach. Once I read the card (and learned it was in one of the Finalist’s decks), I knew that it would be a big, hotly desired card. Over the next month or so, I bought or traded for 15 copies of Tropical Beach.

pokemon-paradijs.comAt the time, they were considered to be little more than promos, (rare promos, but not very playable) so many people were willing to trade or sell them. However, I was still trading about $60-70 worth of cards (or cash) for each copy. I had literally traded away 75% of my collection and I was completely out of money. If these cards didn’t take off in value, I was screwed.

Thankfully, Tropical Beach has consistently gone up in value and is now worth $150+ a card. I ended up selling five copies of Beach pretty quickly for about $100 each because at that point, I didn’t have even enough cards to build a solid deck. I am currently in possession of 10 copies that are worth far more than what I bought them for.

To go into a bit more detail about choosing cards to invest in, there are a few things you should consider. You first need to determine how many, if any, decks could possibly use the card. How prominent are those decks in the format? Finally, how important is this new card in those decks? Is it just a tech option or an instant 4-of staple?

Another good sign that a card is a good investment is if it’s a reprint. Take N for example, which is a reprint of Rocket’s Admin. Admin was a staple in 80% decks in the format for years and it had the ability to completely turn a game around. After close examination, it’s apparent that power will carry over to this format as well, making N a very safe investment.

When purchasing cards from new sets, it’s crucial that you aren’t letting the hype influence your decision. There have been many instances where a card was hyped as being the new BDIF only to fizzle out or never amount to much at all. Your decisions should never be based on theory. Test out cards before you buy them. Then, if they perform well in your testing, you can consider investing in some copies of that card.

It requires a lot of luck and even more experience at predicting the metagame to make money on Pokémon, but you’ll get better at it with practice. Start small and as you gain more confidence in your ability, gradually transition to making larger “investments”.

Pooling Resources

The next idea I’d like to discuss is having a card pool with one or more other players. A card pool is when a group of players will buy cards together and share them. This can be great for cards like Gengar Prime, Machamp Prime, Conkeldurr, etc. Each of us maintain our own collection of staple cards like Zekrom, Pokémon Collector, Rare Candy, Pokémon Catcher, Reshiram, etc.

However, there are often times when one of us will want to try out a new deck, like LostGar or LockChamp. So instead of us each buying these cards individually, we save a lot of money by purchasing these cards together and sharing them.

Let me stop right here and say one quick thing before I continue. You need to be very careful who you’re sharing cards with. It’s not a good idea to do so with someone you barely know. Complications can easily arise from a card pool, so you need to 100% trust that the other people in the card pool. I’ve been with in my team for many years and 100% trust each and every one of them. We’ve had this card pool for about three years and haven’t had any significant problems with it.

Again, the best cards to include in this pool are the “Tier 2” cards. Each person should have their own staples and components of the Tier 1 decks. Since these cards are going to be the ones you use the most often, it’s just more efficient for everyone to have their own. But for those cards that belong in lower tier decks, such as Scizor, Steelix, Gengar, Machamp, Darkrai & Cresselia LEGEND, etc., having one or two play sets in the pool is more than enough.

Pokémon TCGO

The final topic I’d like to talk about is Pokémon TCG Online. I will start by saying that I actually don’t even have an account on there. Since they don’t have Premier events on there yet, I don’t really have the money to start building up another collection. However, it’s only a matter of time before they start having tournaments on PTCGO. Once they do, you can expect the cost of booster codes (and any codes, for that matter), to explode.

I haven’t checked too recently, but I think the booster codes are going for a little under $1 each. When they start doing online tournaments, expect that to price to jump closer to $2 a pack. As of writing this article, I’ve collected about 300 unused booster codes as well as codes for other things like Prime Challenge Boxes, Starter decks, Starter Kits, etc.

I still haven’t decided whether or not I’ll eventually use these codes myself if/when they start having virtual tournaments or if I’ll sell them for (hopefully) a nice profit.

Whenever you buy booster packs, starter decks or pretty much any other Pokémon TCG product that came out after Black & White, you’ll get a code that allows you to redeem that product online. Even if you have no intention of ever playing TCGO, do not throw them away. You can either sell/trade these codes in person or sell them to websites like T&T.

On the flip side, if you do play the online game, you definitely want to get a hold of as many of these codes as you can before the start doing online tournaments. Like I said, once they do, their values will are sure to increase and you’ll have to dish out a lot more cash to get these codes (outside of the physical cards that you buy yourself that come with codes).

In Conclusion

Mark A. HicksI’m hoping that everyone who read article this learned a little something one how to play Pokémon for less. Utilizing these methods, I’ve been able to keep playing Pokémon for years and it’s pretty much been self-sustaining for quite some time. It took a lot of time, patience and hard work, but it’s all been worth it. I get to keep playing the game I love without breaking the bank. What more can I ask for?

I will readily admit that there are many more ways to save money on Pokémon that I haven’t included or that I don’t even know about. With your help, by posting your suggestions and ideas in the comments below, this page can serve as a fundamental tool to help others who can’t afford to spend much on Pokémon do well competitively and have fun. If even one person is able to benefit from our work, then writing this article becomes 110% worth it.

Thanks for reading everybody!
Dakota Streck

Reader Interactions

24 replies

  1. Anonymous

    Not a bad article, it’s pretty well-written to be fair, but it falls into the category of general knowledge that is unnecessary to write about. I do believe that whoever knows what 6P is, knows how to buy/trade cards. Would be better off posted at Pokebeach.


    “I’ve never been able to put a lot of money into Pokemon.”
    “Over the next month or so, I bought or traded for 15 copies of Tropical Beach. However, I was still trading about $60-70 worth of cards (or cash) for each copy.”

    My friend, our definitions for “a lot of money” are really, really different.

    • Dakota Streck  → Anonymous

      Oh yeah, lol. I guess it does sound like a bit of a contradiction. To clarify, I only spent about $15 altogether to get those Beaches, most of what I traded away were cards (some older cards like Mew Ex, but mostly block legal). Altogether, I ended up trading away $60-70 of cards to get each of those beaches.

  2. Aaron Light Walker

    Great article for the players without unlimited sources of income or parents who spend willy nilly for their kids on a “card game.”

    PlayTCG has been kicked to the curb with the official PokemonTCGO out now. 

    I see the appeal of PTCGO; the PTCGO is nicer looking and easier to use, however, like you said, you still need to buy real packs (or trade) using real money and then open the packs hoping you get what you want/need. PlayTCG doesn’t have that problem for testing a deck idea and then knowing exactly what cards you want/need to build which deck.

    The other thing I think was great you brought up is Card Pools. If you are a regular attendee at League, there is no reason not to loan/lend cards back and forth to each other for tournaments or play testing with the friends you have met/made there (notice I said people you know ;)

    I’ve found as long as you are sincere about them as people (not trying to use them for their cards) and willing to be just as generous as they are, it’s the best way to go. League can be a great help for players on a budget.

    But Dakota, just as Card Pools work, so do “car pools” for rides to tournaments. I’ve found, at every league I have been part of, there is a core competitive group that will drive to any tournament within a reasonable distance.

    It’s so much cheaper if everyone contributes $10 for gas to the driver and there are 4 other people interested in going. The driver is happy and you get to hang out with your friends from league and talk Pokemon (or whatever) there and back. We’ve packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when times were really tough just to be able to help with gas :)

    You should try it.

    • Dakota Streck  → Aaron

      Hmm, that’s an interesting idea. Car pooling for rides to tournaments is sure to be a lot cheaper than flying. Thanks for the tip!

      I’m definitely going to try and get to a Regional or National tournament someday. From what I’ve heard, they’re a ton of fun. Plus, I’d love the chance to try my hand at a larger tournament. I’ve only been to states once, but I had to drop out due to a family emergency (I was 5-0 in Swiss :S)

  3. Mike v

    nice article yea i hope they have an online tourny if  any one is looking for codes i have alot and im stuck with them

  4. theo Seeds

    Great article, I’ve been wanting to see one like this because the economy isn’t very good for Pokemon players right now.

    I don’t know how many english Tropical Beaches even exist but it seems like there just aren’t enough. Even playing Gothitelle/Ross doesn’t make me want to spend that much on it.

    As for pokevesting (as I like to call it), I think you did a good job explaining that. A mistake I made doing that is buying 3 Gengar Prime for $20 two weeks before Call of Legends came out. I managed to trade them all back for a couple Blaziken FB Lv.X and some other small stuff.

    I also think that you should have pointed out that selling your new cards and then buying them back when they go down is wise, as all new cards are worth more because not as many packs of that set have been opened yet, therefore they are harder to find. I think Eviolites were $5 a week ago, now they are a mere $2. A non fullart N was $7 a week ago, they are 99 cents now. Selling them and buying them back for less later is a pro thing to do.

  5. Pokémon 31337

    So much this. I do kind of have this problem. I’m looking forward to earn my own money. For now, all I can do is save my allowance and buy a few single cards I need. I have a few friends at the local league who have jobs, they manage to build the best decks possible in no time.
    I really do have a problem with staples. The only Pokémon Communication I ever got was from a booster I bought, nobody has a spare one to trade or sell. Only recently I learned that they have been coming in starter decks, so gotta save for those, since fortunately I have vacations now so now bus tickets.
    I remember some friends had a pool at the league I played, it was kind of interesting, but seemed really hard to do. Anyways, liked the article a lot, nice to know there are many people who also face this situation.

    • Johnny Y  → Pokémon

      Collectors are also so annoying to get. I would try to buy them online but they’d jump up to over $10 for a single one. I recently find out they have two already in the HS trainer kit, that comes with a booster pack as well and those are only $12. So I just bought two of those.

  6. Anonymous

    I thought that Vileplume was going to go up in price, so I bought some and now I am upset that they didn’t (They actual dropped about 50%).

  7. Anonymous

    “I am currently in possession of 10 copies that are worth far more than what I bought them for.”

    What the? How the?

    I also think investing is important. Me selling my Uxies and Azelfs to buy 7 Donphans and 3 Magnezone worked really well :P.

  8. Anonymous

    Just a note, good article overall, but codes are currently averaging 50 cents a pop per booster code. 

  9. Anonymous

    That investing section is legit stuff if you know when to buy/sell/trade and can predict what will be good.

    Trading, however, can turn $5 of cards into $10 of cards rather quickly if you find the right people and know what you’re doing. Useful commons and uncommons can be great for this: Durant is priced at $1 for a set of 4, but many people during a trade would have their own mental value set higher than that. They might also have their value for, say, some staple cards lower than online prices because maybe they have spares.

  10. tiftonhotchild

    Great article. The only thing that I have to add is that once we find out what cards are in the new set then i might try to sell/trade my Tropical Beaches. The reason why Tropical beach cost so much because there arent any good stadiums being in top tier decks. But once we get SKY Arrow bridge I am pretty sure that the prices will drop. Also I also will see if I can get some copies of Smergale for the same reason. He probably be the Best starter in the format once/if we get SKY Arrow

    • Dakota Streck  → tiftonhotchild

      Yeah, I think that’s apart of it, but there’s also the fact that TB is a great card in a lot of decks. Like in Goth, TB is definitely stronger than Skyarrow Bridge.

      Glad you liked the article!

    • Jak Stewart-Armstead  → tiftonhotchild

      Reason TB was popular/expensive is because it was/is a great card for decks that set up, rather than attack early game (Ross variants, Gothi, Chandy). As long as that type of deck is viable in the future, TB will likely be their Stadium of choice.

      Price of TB won’t be affected at all by S-A-B, just by the decline of the decks that run it.

  11. William Hawkins

    I had to say, this article really helped me. I was paying $5 for a booster pack in Toys R us and then I bought another at Wal-mart and it was $2.50 less.

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