Pokémon TCG Tips for Beginners

With the recent release of Pokémon Sword and Shield on the Nintendo Switch, the Pokémon Trading Card Game is back in the spotlight – if it ever was. From learning the basic rules of attacking and status effects to understanding how evolutions work, this beginner’s guide will get you started learning how to play the Pokémon Trading Card Game.

Whether you’ve recently discovered the Pokémon series for the first time, rediscovered it through the latest video games or Pokémon Go, or have been a fan since Red and Blue (or Green) debuted on the original Game Boy, now is the ideal time to learn how to play the Pokémon Trading Card Game, the nearly 30-year-old series’ table top counterpart.

Even better, if you already have a basic understanding of how Pokémon battles work, you’ll find it rather simple to enter the world of Pokémon cards.

The ability of the Pokémon Trading Card Game to preserve all of the familiar characteristics of the video games included without having to tone it down is one of the reasons it has stayed so successful over its history.

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Evolutions, shinies, trainers, battles, and status illnesses have all made an appearance in the trading card game, whether from the animated TV show or the video games.

That’s not to mention the strong sense of nostalgia many players experience when returning to a world and series of games they loved as a kid. With millions of people familiar with Pokémon in some form or another, learning how to play the Pokémon TCG is simple – it’s essentially the same as the video games you’re already familiar with.

Even so, for total newcomers, learning to play a competitive collectible card game of any kind can be a difficult task. So, to help you get started on your journey to discovering what has been a lifelong hobby for some and an old friend worth reuniting with for others, we’ve put together this handy step-by-step guide on how to play the Pokémon Trading Card Game.

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Pokémon TCG Beginners Guide

To determine who plays first at the start of a game, players can flip a coin. The decks are then shuffled, players are dealt a seven-card hand, and the top six cards are set aside as prize cards; you add one to your hand each time you defeat an opponent’s Pokémon, and you win if you collect all six before your opponent.

Both players can use one basic Pokémon card as their active Pokémon and up to five additional basic Pokémon on their bench. If you don’t have any basic Pokémon cards in your hand after drawing your first seven, reveal your hand to your opponent and draw seven more. You can do this as many times as you want until you have at least one basic Pokémon, but you’ll lose the opportunity if you don’t.

A player can have up to six Pokémon in play at the same time, but only one of them, the active Pokémon, can attack during each turn. The rest of your Pokémon are kept on your bench, which is a row of cards behind your active Pokémon where you keep five other Pokémon who are ready to battle your opponent, similar to your party in the Pokémon video games.

Pokémon that are both active and benched can be evolved and have energy attached to them. You must replace your active Pokémon with one from your bench if it is defeated; if you have no Pokémon on the field at all, you lose.


After you’ve completed the preceding steps, you can use your active Pokémon to attack the opponent. As long as the correct amount and type of energy is attached to the card, the Pokémon can perform one of the attacks listed on the card. (Unless otherwise specified, the energy is not discarded.)

Damage counters are assigned to the opponent’s active Pokémon, and it faints once it has taken as much damage as it has hit points. When a Pokémon is knocked out, it must be replaced with a Pokémon from the bench (if no Pokémon are available, the player loses), and the player who knocked it out receives a prize card to add to their hand. They win if they claim their sixth and final prize card.

Your turn ends once you’ve attacked and assigned any damage and/or status effects, and it’s now your opponent’s turn. The game continues in this manner until one player wins!


The Pokémon Trading Card Game and the Pokémon video games share a lot of similarities. One of the most striking similarities is that your basic Pokémon can evolve into powerful Stage 1 and Stage 2 Pokémon, allowing you to use more powerful attacks and abilities to knock out your opponent’s Pokémon.

Evolution occurs in stages, and unless otherwise stated on a card in play, you cannot skip or jump any stages. This means that evolution must follow the basic, Stage 1, and Stage 2 patterns, and a single Pokémon can only be evolved once per turn.

GX and EX Pokémon, on the other hand, can be played right away and do not require evolution.

Simply place the evolved form on top of your active Pokémon or a Pokémon on your bench to evolve a Pokémon.

Any current special conditions will be cured, but any attached energy and damage will remain. Once a Pokémon has evolved, you can only use the current evolution’s attacks and abilities, not those from previous stages.

Evolution can take place in the bench area of your play area, allowing you to create stronger Pokémon in advance of your current one being knocked out – and it’s highly recommended.

Status conditions work in the Pokémon TCG

  • Asleep
  • Paralyzed
  • Burned
  • Confused
  • Poisoned
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