Card Advantage in the Pokémon TCG: A Brief Introduction

Card advantage is one of the most fundamental and important aspects of trading card games. While most players of other card games will understand the phrase, I have not seen it discussed much in the Pokémon TCG. This spurred me to write this article so that new players and players who play the Pokémon TCG exclusively will have a better understanding of the topic.

To start off, what is card advantage? A basic definition may be as follow:

A play or sequence of plays that lead to a player having more cards than the other player.

A straightforward example would be playing the Supporter Cheren. You gain a card advantage of +2 as you drew 3 cards with the cost of playing one, leading to a net gain of 2 cards.

The Importance of Card Advantage

>cheren-full-art-boundaries-crossed-bcr-148While knowledge of the term varies, any player who has played a trading card game for long enough will know that the person who has the most access to his cards (i.e. can draw the most cards) will usually gain the upper hand in any game.

Let’s say two players of equal skill are running the exact same deck. The player more likely to win would then be the one who is able to use their draw and search cards in a timely fashion. If you are able to use Professor Juniper consecutively while you opponent is stuck drawing a card per turn, you will have a huge card advantage simply because you have more resources to use.

Once you understand card advantage, you can make better decisions in games. The intrinsic value of the quantity and quality of the cards in your hand can be consciously understood. In fact, most experienced players would have internalized that thought process as “intuition” or “gut feeling.”

Being able to understand and explain why certain plays should be made will also lead to a fuller enjoyment of the game whether playing or spectating.

Of course, card advantage is not the game by itself. There are other factors that can determine a game, such as coin flips. After all, it doesn’t matter if you have the best hand in the world when your Active Pokémon is stuck Asleep because of your opponent’s Hypnotoxic Laser.

Forms of Card Advantage

There are a few ways card advantage can arise in a game.

Draw Cards/Effects

When you play down a Trainer card or use an Ability to draw cards from your deck, you generate a card advantage if you drew more cards than you used. The advantage comes from the larger hand size, which equates to having more resources and a larger variety of choices available to you.

Discard Cards/Effects

ghetsis-full-art-plasma-freeze-plf-115Cards that can discard or otherwise remove cards from your opponent’s hand can also generate card advantage by putting your opponent at a net loss of cards.

Most recently we have the Supporter Ghetsis which not only removes Item cards from your opponent’s hand, but allows you to draw the same amount of cards. This allows you to generate a card advantage of 2X – 1, where X is the amount of Item cards in your opponent’s hand.

Historically, Gengar Prime‘s Hurl Into Darkness is also a example of a powerful discard-type effect. By sending your opponent’s Pokémon into the Lost Zone, those cards are completely removed from play. This gives you an absolute card advantage as you literally have more cards to play than your opponent.

Lastly, cards like Tool Scrapper also generate card advantage by removing cards from your opponent’s playing field. The value of your opponent’s Float Stone and Eviolite being played disappears and he experiences a net loss of -1 card.

Unfavorable Exchanges

An unfavorable exchange is when your opponent has to use more resources than you in order to prevent a game loss. Forcing your opponent to use more resources to Knock Out your Pokémon is a significant form of card advantage as they have to deplete their resources while you can conserve yours.

Bouffalant DRX exemplifies the unfavorable exchange. Most Pokémon-EX will have to invest a great deal of resources, either in Energy or Trainers like Dark Claw or Hypnotoxic Laser to Knock it Out for a measly Prize. Conversely, Bouffalant can deal 120 damage to an EX for 3 C Energy, possibly netting you 2 Prizes.

On the other hand, when the defending Pokémon is an Empoleon DEX or a Zekrom BLW then the unfavorable exchange is against you.

Virtual Card Advantage

A different type of card advantage, the content of which tends to become quite contentious among players as the theory gets more complicated. In any case, it is still a fundamental part of card advantage and I will also briefly introduce with some examples that I hope will not cause any riots.

Virtual card advantage is created when the value of a card in the game is increased or diminished.

Bringing up a common example, the use of Garbodor BCR’s Garbotoxin creates a virtual card advantage by nullifying all abilities in play. Suddenly, your opponent’s Eelektrik NVI or Blastoise BRC’s raison d’être disappears. Your opponent might as well have not played them. See what I mean?

blastoise plasma storm pls

Speaking of Eelektrik and Blastoise, the two provide a virtual card advantage by having recurring effects. Let’s say you spent 3 cards in order to bring Blastoise into play; a Squirtle, Rare Candy, and the Blastoise itself.

By using Deluge to bring 3 Water Energy into play, you have already accrued the benefits of 3 turns of manual Energy attachment. Every time you use Deluge you gain more utility than you had from the 3 cards you invested.

As you can see, setup and control decks like Blastoise and Eelektrik tend to manipulate virtual card advantage. By rendering your cards more useful or your opponent’s useless, a disparity in card advantage is created. That is the key to being ahead of your opponent.

Beatdown decks like Darkrai and Landorus, on the other hand, work mainly on raw card advantage. The cornerstone of speed Darkrai decks, Sableye DEX’s Junk Hunt, recycles 2 Items cards to your hand which is a solid +2 to your hand size.

Moreover, manipulating both is what both good lists and players can do as shown by the Garbodor/Landorus decks that did very well during Regionals. A player’s flexibility is recognizing and utilizing both forms of advantage is what makes them outstanding.

It is not just Pokémon that can provide a virtual card advantage. The contents of the deck can even generate a virtual advantage before the game begins.

Say you are playing a deck with 2 Enhanced Hammer and you go up against a Rayquaza EX/Eelektrik deck that runs only basic Fire and Lightning Energy. Right off the bat, you are at a disadvantage as you are virtually playing a 58 card deck against an opponent with 60 cards that still might come in useful.

This type of virtual advantage is where reading the metagame comes in highly useful. A player will need to judge the amount of utility of their cards in each matchup and decide how many copies of a card one should run.


gengar vs nidorinopokemon.theirstar.comWhile the importance of card advantage cannot be understated, it is as I’ve mentioned before, only part of the game. Luck still plays a part, especially in today’s format. What is colloquially known as “board position” and how you use your resources is also important. There is no use in having a large hand if your Pokémon are constantly destroyed by Black Kyurem EX.

Likewise if you squander away vital Trainers and Pokémon with Professor Juniper in order to “dig deep,” your card advantage will be for naught as you have did not exercise the full value of the cards in your hand.

I hope this article has excited your brain and whet your appetite on the theory of playing the game!

Further Reading

Most of the information here came from the Wikipedia entry on card advantage as well as Magic’s own introduction to card advantage. Those interested in learning more about card advantage can check out those pages as well.

Reader Interactions

14 replies

  1. James Tan

    As player coming from yugioh, I can say that in pokemon, the concept of card advantage is nowhere near as important as in other card games. In yugioh for example your starting hand consists of only 5 cards, and there is no such thing as a supporter than can let you refresh your hand easily. As such every play and use of the card is incredibly important, and the only resource added to your hand is the once a turn draw.
    Not saying that card advantage should not be given attention, but rather the design of the pokemon TCG is such that it is more forgiving.

  2. Mark Hanson

    Though the discussion is valid, and I enjoyed the quick read, it is true that Card advantage is unimportant in Pokemon.

    Like… you can just make it a blanket term by including “virtual” card advantage, where everything you do is a construct of card advantage…

    But Pokemon is the only card game I know of that has significant and easy draw cards. In Magic you’d likely have to play a Blue deck to draw/scry cards. And even then, you use up a lot of mana to draw 1-2 cards. In Vanguard, card advantage is huge because of the nature of your resource use. And both players draw approximately the same number of cards each turn through their attacks. In Yugioh, you have search effects, but nothing major like Graceful Charity or Pot of Greed, because that generates too much card advantage.

    In Pokemon? Just draw 3-7 cards per turn. No worries. And the nature of the game dictates that you don’t NEED to draw major cards per turn, as Pokemon decks have such amazing access to their tools that resource conservation is important. You don’t want to discard resources if you don’t actually need to draw cards. “Just using Hammerhead will suffice this turn” etc… It’s why I love Pokemon :) Though we complain about drawing dead etc…, we at least have a game where you can effectively access every tool in your deck, allowing 1-of techs to play big roles in matchups. It’s a deckbuilder’s paradise of a game!

    • Jake T  → Mark

      Hey Crawdaunt! Jake here. I enjoyed reading your reply. It was well written and really deserved the up-votes. (One of them is mine (: )

      I did mention that the virtual card advantage is contentious even in Magic but I hoped to illustrate the point of cards fetching or bringing utility to more cards in a plain and easy to understand way.

      Think of it as a model of comprehending the game. Just like how scientists use formulas and ratios to describe the universe, this phrase is a convenient way to lay out the way the game is played.

      I disagree that card advantage is unimportant. It is not as important as the other factors thanks to what you’ve said, the large draw we have. However, cards like Team Rocket’s Admin, Judge and N still hurt. They hurt because they reduce your hand size.

      Discard effects can still devastate. You might want to look up Absol from Secret Wonders and the reaction of players who went “I lost because my opponent started Absol”

  3. Joseph Lee

    Sorry “Jake T”, I have to agree with Crawdaunt and James Joseph Tan. You make some good points and you write well enough, but your article lacks a firm foundation. Something to ask yourself is “Why is this concept unknown or at least unspoken of in most Pokémon discussions?”

    The most important thing about a trading card game is having fun; that is why people play the games. “Fun” might be proving yourself by winning tournaments, it might be pulling off plays no one else has succeeded with, or it may be purely experienced based such as the actual bonding with a friend over the game.

    If you are a player who is “in it to win it”, then we need to speak of advantage, and true advantage is always relative to winning the game and thus is based on game states. Whatever else it compromises, it is advantage when it moves you closer to winning… and remember you can’t win if you’ve already lost so plays to avoid losing are a part of advantage as well, provided they are properly executed.

    Card Advantage is a “thing” in TCGs. When it comes to “advantage”, it is perhaps the most basic common form of advantage. While common, it isn’t universal or uniform; one card of “card advantage” in Pokémon is a small thing, while it is much more significant in a game like Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh. It is important to examine what a single card of advantage costs and what it can accomplish to get an idea of how relative the value is.

    Your article seems to miss this, as well as other resources in the game. Resource advantage is huge, and that includes cards in hand, deck, in play, even in the discard pile (dependent upon other effects) and of course your Prizes in a game of Pokémon… but there is more as well. There are the intangibles, the resources that aren’t physical but are crucial to winning. These are based upon game specific mechanics… like Supporter usage for the turn.

    To top it all off, “card advantage” is often in a state of flux; you lose if you deck out in Pokémon and I don’t believe there are any cards currently legal you can play from your hand on your own turn. Thus I would love a card that forced my opponent to draw a significant amount of cards (7+) even if it cost me.

    • Jake T  → Joseph

      Thank you for the reply!

      I could have padded my article with a lot of words on resource conservation. However if you read my title it does say a “brief introduction”. I do believe that new players who read Sixprizes will already be well-informed of the myriad of things they have to keep in mind as they play – thanks to all the wonderful articles on

      Card advantage just forms one small but important part of the whole game as I’ve tried to say in my conclusion. Maybe I didn’t come off too strongly. Perhaps I should have added “While it is a fundamental part of TCGs, its role is diminished in the Pokemon TCG”.

      • Joseph Lee  → Jake

        Thank you for receiving criticism well.

        You did say you wished to keep your article brief; just another paragraph emphasizing how card advantage can be a matter of scale in TCGs would have been useful. I think the “virtual card advantage” section is where your article really breaks down, because it works better to just recognize it as a completely separate kind of advantage.

        Again, you stated you wished to be brief; did you consider just making this the first of a multi-part article? Even as a single article, I would have just left out the “virtual card advantage” (as it really strikes me as forcing a square peg into a round whole to stay on theme) and explained how card advantage in Pokémon was less crucial (but still important!) than in some other games due to Pokémon’s much more generous draw, search, and recursion effects.

        Just my thoughts on the matter. Best of luck.

  4. Piplup_isPimp

    If you were to fully take in the card advantage of each player, as in mathematical odds/percentages, you would need to to take in not only the obvious things such as playing draw supporters and running energy acceleration cards, but the deck to deck matchups as well as player to player matchups. This would mean taking note of a variety of players, there decks, their style of playing their decks all the way down to how they shuffle thier decks as well. While this may seemvery unimportant and even appear as a waste of time, i think that without players taking time to do accurate testing and determing of how good or bad one’s hand is and how it may change in the future and how they prepared to act on such an occassion (suc h as an N, or ghetsis even), I feel that we can’t even touch to surface of how to manipulate the game in our favor. That being said, I feel that every article that is written that attempts to do this is mispleading and can cause players to think things that aren’t possible, for example being able to win games based off of having a positive attitude every game. While it may help, it is mathemically incorrect when people say that being happy wins you games. Your article does not take that specific aproach, however, but it does falter with other games mentioned. All the same, it was a nice, but unimportant article.

    • Jake T  → Piplup_isPimp

      Thank you for the reply, piplup but you seem to be very tangential and the lack of paragraph is impeding my reading comprehension.

      You do raise valid points though.

      • Piplup_isPimp  → Jake

        Which was the point to my reply. I apologize if I did’t write a whole article about it, because then i would only be contridicting myself in the sense that no one person who plays pokemon or any other card game would have the time or resources to conduct such an expirement. I repeat myself by saying this, but just so you know what I’m talking about, that was the point to my reply.

  5. Christopher David

    While I agree the article could have been more pointed, it is important for players to learn to think in these kind of terms regardless of whether the pokemon TCG is more forgiving than other tcg’s. This kind of article helps younger players to conceptualize the many approaches to strategy that are necessary to consider in order to become a winning player. Good job.

    • Joseph Lee  → Christopher

      The reason some of us are less pleased with the article is that it presents an incomplete, inaccurate view of what it is trying to explain. “Card Advantage” is a pretty basic concept, and unfortunately a lot of players end up with about the level of understanding as the article above before they quit.

      That is part of the concern; novice players that haven’t realized how card advantage work (a tool for pursuing a victory condition) are easy to mislead into believing that card advantage is all they need to worry about. Because card advantage is usually a good tool, they will even have some measure of success… but eventually their ignorance will become their own undoing. =/

  6. daniel ervin

    i have to say I enjoyed the article this was my first intro into this topic and a nice starting point thanks for starting a new avenue of discussion

    • Jake T  → daniel

      Thank you. My intended audience were players like you who didn’t know the term before. Please do read into the topic as my article is only a simplified explanation :)

  7. Jake T

    Just a general thank you to all those who replied. If you are a new player and this article opened your eyes then I think my work here is done.

    Just to let everybody know, I am aware of the diminished importance of card advantage, yet to put it forthright and at the start of the article would not seem very persuasive or informative. “You have to know this but it’s not very important” doesn’t make for a very good headline, does it?

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