There are a million diverse approaches to building a Pokémon TCG deck. New players will likely find a specific Pokémon or Energy type that’s their favorite. This is always a great place to start when building your first (or fiftieth) deck. The expansive world of Pokémon encourages players to build decks around the Energy types, abilities and evolutions that they’re most excited about.
This guide is intended to walk beginner’s through the rules and process of building a Pokémon deck. Even more so than other trading card games, synergy is an important part of a Pokémon deck. Generally, this is accomplished by building around a type, theme or strategy.
When building a deck, you will inevitably need to choose the type or types of Pokémon you want to include. In the Standard format for 2022, there are 10 types of Pokémon. While the video games have more types, the trading card game Pokémon types are: Colorless, Dark, Psychic, Fighting, Water, Dragon, Metal, Fire, Lightning, Grass and Fairy (except in Standard format).
In relation to types, it’s smart to consider type effectiveness. Certain types of Pokémon have weakness or resistance to damage from other types – this is represented at the bottom of Pokémon cards. This is important to keep in mind when building a deck, as you will want to ensure you have the ability to win regardless of what Pokémon types you’re playing against.
Quick-Jump to Content
- Pokémon Deck Rules
- Standard vs. Expanded: Official Formats
- Pokémon Card Types
- Deck Ratio & Card Copy Balance
- How to Build a Pokémon Deck (Step-by-Step)
- Playtest Your Pokémon Deck
Pokémon Deck Rules
All Pokémon decks must have exactly 60 cards regardless of format. Aside from energy, a deck can have no more than four copies of any card – by name. In other words, a deck can have four Charizard alongside four Charizard VMAX. They are different cards (by name), even though both cards contain the same Pokémon.
When building a deck, it’s important to remember you start the game by placing six cards face down as your Prize Cards. If you only have one copy of a card, it may be locked away until you can draw it by taking a Knock Out on your opponent’s Pokemon.
Of course, obtaining all six of these cards is the most common way to win the game. A player will also lose the game if they have no Pokémon on their bench when their active Pokémon is knocked out. Lastly, if a player goes to draw a card and their deck is empty, they lose the game. These are important things to be aware of when building a deck.
Standard vs. Expanded: Official Pokémon Formats
When building any TCG deck, the first decision you need to make is what format you will play. There are four official Pokémon formats: Standard, Expanded, Vintage and Themed. However, Vintage and Themed are online-only formats. Therefore, for the purposes of this article, we will focus on Standard and Expanded.
Standard Format for 2022
The Standard format in Pokémon rotates. New expansion sets become legal two weeks after release. Older expansions are rotated out of the Standard format at the beginning of every Championship Series season (once a year).
The Standard format rotation for 2022 officially began on September 10, 2021. In prior seasons, card legality was determined by expansion release. Moving forward, legality is based on a regulation mark found on the bottom of cards.
For the 2022 season, “D” and “E” regulation marks indicate legal cards. This currently includes all cards from Sword & Shield (released November 15, 2019) forward. The Pokémon Company has already stated that the 2023 season rotation will remove all cards with the “D” regulation mark from Standard.
It’s also worth noting that the Fairy type is no longer supported in the Standard format; therefore basic Fairy energy is no longer legal either.
Note: Older versions of a card that is currently legal can be used within a deck. For example, Potion is printed in Sword & Shield, making it legal in the 2022 Standard format. However, players are free to use older prints of the card in their decks, such as a Potion from Sun & Moon. The deck will still be legal because the card itself is currently legal. However, player’s must abide by the current card’s text.
Expanded is the official non-rotating format in Pokémon TCG. Cards from the Black & White set forward are legal in the Expanded format. In order to ensure in-game balance, the Pokémon company maintains a list of banned cards.
Since its introduction in 2014, the Expanded format has remained unchanged. However, the Pokémon Company publishes an update for the format alongside Standard, suggesting that it could be updated in the future.
Which Format Should I Build a Deck In?
The Standard format is the original format. As the OG, it is used for almost all Premier events on the Pokemon tournament circuit. Compared to Expanded, Standard gameplay is slower but more balanced. Strategy wise, Standard play is going to mimic the video games more closely, which will greatly add to the enjoyment factor for some players. Keep in mind that a Standard deck will need to be updated each year as old cards rotate out.
Players returning to the game who already have a large collection of Pokémon cards will probably be drawn to the Expanded format. Expanded is generally more fast-paced with weirder, colorful decks. With fewer limitations, Expanded players are able to craft some extreme combos. Furthermore, some players’ favorite Pokémon simply aren’t currently legal in Standard; therefore, they prefer to build their decks around the Expanded format.
Standard is probably more ideal for new players and those seeking the original Pokémon experience. However, as a collector of Pokémon TCG cards, there will inevitably come a time when Standard fails to include a Pokémon you want to build a deck around. Whichever format you start with, it’s worth trying others as you continue to play – including casual formats.
Pokémon Card Types & Deck Ratio
A Pokémon deck is made of three types of cards: Pokémon, Trainer, and Energy cards. Basic Energy is the only type of card that players can have unlimited amounts of inside a deck.
Synergy is a key aspect of building a Pokémon deck. For this reason, decks generally have two or fewer Energy card types (i.e. Water and Steel; Fire and Grass), even when there are more than two Energy types amongst the deck’s Pokémon.
Energy is used to pay for a Pokémon’s attacks. Only one energy can be played per turn – unless a card ability permits otherwise. Therefore, it’s important to consider how much energy you will need when building your deck.
Remember that the Energy you include in a deck must match the Energy requirements of your Pokémon. For example, Fire Pokémon generally have abilities that require Fire Energy. However, some abilities are colorless. In this case, any Energy type can be used to activate the abilities. This is a major reason deck synergy is important.
Special Energy either increases the number of Energy or provides an added ability, usually relating to Energy. A Special energy card might provide one Energy of any type to the Pokémon it’s attached to (Aurora Energy) or place damage counters on a Pokémon that attacks the one it’s attached to (Horror Psychic Energy). Special Energy cards should be included strategically.
As mentioned, there are 10 types of Pokémon you can include in your deck. Most decks will focus on one or two types of Pokémon, while including other types that have useful utility or colorless abilities. Striking a synergistic balance of types and Energy availability is a major component of building a Pokémon deck.
During the game, each player must have one active Pokémon and up to five benched Pokémon. As mentioned, a player loses the game if their active Pokémon is knocked out when there are no benched Pokémon ready to take its place. Therefore, it is important to craft a deck with the intent of always having Pokémon on the bench.
Players can add as many Pokémon to their bench as they want in any single turn. There are five bench spaces unless a card effect changes this number.
Pokémon Types & Weakness
Weakness and resistance are represented at the bottom of Pokémon cards. Therefore, it is not important to memorize the following information. However, it’s helpful to consider type weakness when choosing which Pokémon to include in a deck.
- Grass Pokémon are weak against Fire Pokémon
- Water Pokémon are weak against either Grass or Lightning Pokémon
- Fire Pokémon are weak against Water Pokémon
- Lightning and Dark Pokémon are weak against Fighting Pokémon
- Fighting Pokémon are weak against Psychic Pokémon
- Metal Pokémon are weak against Fire Pokémon
- Psychic Pokémon are weak against Dark or Psychic Pokémon
- Dragon Pokémon are weak against Fairy Pokémon
- Fairy Pokémon are weak against Metal Pokémon
- Colorless Pokémon are weak against Fighting or Lightning Pokémon
When a Pokémon’s type is weak to another type, it will receive twice as much damage when attacked by the type it is weak to. For example, a Fire Pokémon takes twice as much damage from Water Pokémon.
Pokémon are also sometimes resistant to a Pokémon type. This is also represented at the bottom of Pokémon cards. When a Pokémon has resistance to a type, it receives 20 or 30 less damage to its HP when attacked by that type.
Basic Pokémon can be evolved into Stage 1 Pokémon, and Stage 1 Pokémon can be evolved into Stage 2 Pokémon. Pokémon cannot evolve the turn they are played (whether active or on the bench). Additionally, Pokémon can only evolve once per turn. If able, however, the player can evolve multiple Pokémon in a single turn, but each Pokémon can only evolve once. When a Pokémon evolves, the Pokémon card is placed on top of the previous card.
Keep in mind that if you want to use a specific Stage 2 Pokémon, there are often multiple different versions of that Stage 2 Pokémon, as well as the Stage 1 and Basic Pokémon it evolves from. Their attacks, abilities, and even HP will differ, so consider the different options that are legal in your format.
There are exceptions to the usual Basic, Stage 1, Stage 2 evolution sequence. For the 2022 Standard format, this is the V and VMAX Pokémon. In the evolution sequence, V Pokémon are considered Basic and can be played without evolution. These are powerful Pokémon with higher HP than usual. When a V Pokémon is knocked out, the player’s opponent gets two Prize cards, instead of the usual one.
VMAX Pokémon, on the other hand, are played as an evolution and the card must be placed on top of the V Pokémon version. For example, a Charizard VMAX must be played as an evolution over top of a Charizard V.
VMAX Pokémon have even higher HP and often include incredible abilities. However, when the VMAX Pokémon is knocked out, the player’s opponent gets to take three Prize cards.
Past series had similar Pokémon, such as EX, GX and Tag Team. While these are no longer Standard legal, they are still insanely powerful in Expanded and other casual formats.
There are three different types of Trainer cards: Supporter, Item and Stadium cards. Supporter and Stadium cards can only be played once per turn, while Items have no limits. Trainer cards are hugely important to executing your deck’s strategy. They are so important that they generally make up half of the deck.
These are the true “trainer” cards in that they feature people who you may recognize from the video games. Functionally, these cards are often used to draw into your deck or swap an active and benched Pokémon.
Stadium cards are the only Trainer cards that remain on the mat when played. They can only be played once per turn and often benefit both players. Since Stadium cards represent a venue, only one can be in play at a time; therefore, the old Stadium card is discarded when a new one is played.
Of the Trainer card subtypes, you will include the fewest amount of Stadium cards in a deck. Popular Stadium cards in the 2022 Standard format include Training Court, Path to the Peak, Shopping Center and Rose Tower.
Item cards are the miscellaneous category of Trainer cards. Items perform a wide range of effects, everything from recovering Pokémon and searching for cards to playing cards from your discard pile and skipping evolution lines. There is no limit to the number of Item cards that can be played on a turn. This is important to keep in mind when choosing between a Supporter card and Item card that performs the same function.
Pokémon Deck Ratio & Card Copy Balance
Since your deck can only contain 60 cards, the balance of card types is essential. The following ratio is a guideline. Created by JustInBasil, it is a fantastic outline to start with and build upon:
- Main Attacker
- Secondary Attackers
- Utility Pokémon
Trainer Cards: 30
- 6-12 Supporter Cards
- 4-9 Draw Supporters
- 2-4 Boss’s Orders
- 15-20 Item Cards
- 8-10 Pokémon Search Cards
- 3-4 Stadium Cards
- All Basic Energy Cards
- Any Special Energy Cards
This structure will make the deck building process easier to manage, especially for beginners. Feel free to test other ratios within your deck and see what works best.
Also, keep in mind that you will include up to four copies of each card – for example: the Stadium cards you include might be two different Stadium cards with two copies of each.
Note for parents: When playing and building with younger children, increasing the Energy cards by five and decreasing the number of Pokémon by five will often create gameplay that’s more satisfying for kiddos who are building confidence.
How Many Copies of Each Card Should Be Included in a Deck?
The number of copies of each card you include in your deck depends on your winning strategy and how important it is that you’re able to draw that specific card.
For example, you will likely want to include four copies of your main attacker. If that attacker is the final Pokémon in an evolution sequence, you will need to include four copies of each previous evolution stage, unless your deck includes evolution acceleration, like Rare Candy.
Don’t expect to perfect this balance when you first build your deck. Choose a number of copies for each card that you think will be sufficient. When you play, if you find yourself wanting for a certain card, simply adjust the number of copies and continue to test the deck through play.
The same is true if you find that you are unable to consistently pull off your deck strategy.
If adjusting the number of copies does not fix the issue of consistency, this may be a sign to include different cards and test the deck in other ways.
How to Build a Pokémon Deck (Step-by-Step)
Each of the following steps will ask you to consider an important aspect of the deck you’re building, from choosing a win condition and main attackers to the Trainer and Energy cards that will support your deck’s strategy.
Deck Strategies: How Will You Win?
There are three ways to win a game of Pokémon:
- Knock out your opponent’s Pokémon until you’ve collected all six of your Prize cards.
- Knock out an opponent’s Pokémon when they have none on their bench.
- Win by Deck Out when your opponent cannot draw a card to start their turn.
The vast majority of Pokémon decks follow the first strategy of winning. While there are many more, these are the four main deck strategies – some of which are built around alternative win conditions. They are:
- Aggression. There are many strategies within the broad category of aggression, but the goal is the same: knock out Pokémon as quickly as possible. In short, this strategy requires having attackers at the ready and enough Energy to fuel consistent damage.
- Mill. This strategy focuses on the third win condition by forcing your opponent to draw and discard cards from both hand and deck until they have none left. A typical mill deck denies access to resources by removing them from the field or preventing them from being drawn. This type of deck is not recommended for Trainers just starting out.
- Control. In Pokémon, this strategy slows the game down, exhausting your opponent’s resources while setting up whatever win condition the deck is otherwise built around. This strategy is often employed to stall for time in decks while setting up massive threats meant to end the game.
- Stall. Instead of forcing an opponent to draw all of their cards, you can simply deny their ability to take their Prize cards until their deck runs out anyway. Regardless of the win condition, the goal is to prevent your opponent from collecting Prize cards by using high HP Pokémon and strategic Trainer cards.
Your main attacker is the star of your Pokémon deck. There are two main things your main attacker needs:
- This Pokémon must be quick to set up.
- It must be able to do significant damage before being knocked out, so as to be worth the Prize cards your opponent will gain.
First, the importance of quick setup cannot be undervalued in Pokémon. Players can attach only one Energy to a Pokémon per turn and a Pokémon can only evolve once per turn. This means that it is essential to consider the number of turns it will take to set up your main attacker.
This consideration includes not only the energy attachments (aka the energy cost of an attack) but the line of evolution that must be followed. Often, players will attempt to reduce the number of turns it takes to set up their main attacker by using another Pokémon’s Ability or Trainer cards.
Second, Pokémon cards that are able to skip an evolution line (V and VMAX cards, for example) also award your opponent with two or three Prize cards, instead of the usual one. Therefore, it is crucial that they are able to land significant damage before getting knocked out.
Finally, it’s important to consider how many copies of each card you need. If your main attacker is the final evolution of a Pokémon, you need to include the entire evolution line. You will likely want to include four copies of your main attacker.
Unless you are using cards to accelerate evolution, you will likely want to include four copies of each previous stage as well. But there are always exceptions to this, especially with a well-honed strategy that utilizes Trainer cards effectively.
Inteleon VMAX has 320 HP and two attack abilities. The first attack ability only needs one Energy for 60 damage (and includes a bonus ability). The second ability requires two Water Energy and one Colorless Energy for 160 damage to your opponent’s active Pokémon and 60 to one of their benched Pokémon. However, when Inteleon VMAX is knocked out, the opponent receives three Prize cards.
How many turns (assuming other abilities and Trainer cards aren’t being utilized) will it take to set up this main attacker?
Assuming you’re able to bring out Inteleon V and attach an Energy to it that turn, then evolve it into Inteleon VMAX on your next turn; it will only take two turns to set up Inteleon VMAX. Furthermore, in this scenario, it will be ready to do damage the same turn that it evolves. The risk of your opponent gaining three Prize cards is well off-set by Inteleon VMAX’s quick setup and powerful damage potential.
Not every deck will include secondary attackers. However, secondary attackers can also be essential to the success of a deck. They are used to cover the weaknesses of a main attacker, buy a player time to set up combos or cover for the main attacker, and deal damage while costing the player only one Prize card if it’s knocked out.
No matter what, the secondary attackers should lend to the deck’s overall synergy. This doesn’t necessarily mean the Pokémon should be the same type. Rather, they should support each other in abilities and the balance of Energy attachments.
Decks generally include one to three copies of each secondary attacker, depending on how important it is for the player to draw the specific Pokemon.
In a deck with Inteleon VMAX as the main attacker, a player might include a Grass or Lightning Pokémon with colorless attack abilities. This would allow the player to cover their main attacker’s weakness without needing multiple Energy types in the deck. Alternatively, they might include the evolution line of Sobble, Drizzile, and Intelon.
The last category of Pokémon to consider including in your deck are those Pokémon that function mainly as utility. In many cases, these Pokémon are not included for their attacks. Therefore, the deck may not even include Energy to activate its attacks. These types of Pokémon generally have abilities that are activated when they are played.
Snom, and its evolution, Frosmoth, for example. Frosmoth’s Ability allows the player to attach an unlimited amount of Water Energy from their hand to benched Pokémon each turn. This is fantastic Energy acceleration that can be used while Frosmoth is in play.
Trainer Cards: Supporting the Strategy
Here, it’s important to reflect on your deck strategy in order to determine what Trainer cards you will include. There are many aspects of gameplay to consider when selecting Trainer cards. The following are some aspects to consider, as well as the Trainer cards that are commonly used.
Keep in mind, however, that many Pokémon have abilities that also perform the following functions. This is important to consider when balancing the number of copies included.
The following list of supporting strategies is by no means exhaustive, but it covers many facets of gameplay that you might consider when building your deck.
Search & Draw Cards. These cards, generally, are meant to ensure you have access to the cards you need. Search cards allow players to search for a specific type of card within their deck. Draw cards allow players to draw into their deck. Regardless of your deck’s strategy, you will want to include search and draw cards.
Gusting and Repulsion. Gusting allows you to switch your opponent’s Active Pokémon with a Benched Pokémon of your choosing. While Repulsion forces your opponent to switch their active Pokémon with a benched Pokémon of their choosing.
Energy and Acceleration. Energy acceleration is a common strategy to employ in a deck. Whether with a Pokémon’s ability or Trainer card, acceleration allows you to play more than the usual one-per-turn. Within this category, you might also consider cards that allow you redistribute energy among your Pokémon or search for Energy within your deck.
Consistency and Setup. These are cards, whether Trainer or a Pokémon ability, that allows a player to search their deck for a specific card or card type. This category includes cards that accelerate evolution as well.
Switching. Cards that allow you to switch your own active Pokémon with one on the bench are great utility to include in most, if not all, decks. Trainer cards that reduce retreat cost also fit this category.
Healing and Recovery. Healing cards remove damage on your Pokémon. Recovery cards allow a player or players to return cards from their discard pile to their hand or deck.
More to Consider. Other strategies you might consider include Prize denial, rebound, hand disruption, ability lock, resource removal and HP boost, damage reduction and protection – but, of course, there are more.
Keep in mind that most decks will want to focus on a few of these strategies to help execute the overall winning strategy. It would be impossible to incorporate all of them. Instead, consider the weakness of your deck.
As you play, think about what supporting strategies would make winning easier. And remember that Trainer cards don’t need to do it all – Pokémon also often have abilities that can be used to support your deck.
Adding Energy Cards
While the majority of your Energy cards will likely be Basic Energy, many decks include Special Energy cards as well. The main thing here is to ensure you have the Energy you need to activate your Pokémon’s abilities.
By now, your final 10 to 15 spots in the deck should be reserved for these Energy cards. Simply add the necessary Energy types and whatever Special Energy you’ve chosen.
You’re officially ready to playtest your deck.
Playtest Your Pokémon Deck
Once you have completed an initial deck list, you will want to test the deck by playing with it.
In order to save time and money as you test your deck, players often use proxies. Proxies are paper print-outs of cards that are not tournament legal. They are meant for use in casual groups with the explicit knowledge that they are being used to test cards within a deck.
Before you enlist the help of some friends, it’s smart to play without an opponent. This is called goldfishing. Of course, without an opponent, nothing can get in your way. But goldfishing is a great way to test the consistency of a deck.
If able, test your deck with friends. This will give you the opportunity to fine-tune it. Once you feel confident that your deck is ready to play against others, local game store events and tournaments are a fantastic way to see how your deck stands up to the competition.
What kind of deck are you planning to create? What Pokémon is your favorite main attacker? We want to know in the comments below.