Rules of the Pokémon TCG

The beautiful thing about the Pokémon Trading Card Game (abbreviated Pokémon TCG or PTCG) is that it one can play it on many different levels. One can make a deck that is so simple a 6-year-old can play and enjoy it. On the other hand, older players can make advanced decks using intricate strategies and tactics. Whatever your level, the basic rules of the game are constant. The Pokémon TCG is based on the Pokémon battle concept. Players engage other players in one-on-one battles, leading their Pokémon into battle. Each player uses one Pokémon at a time; the Pokémon (refered to as the Active Pokémon) do battle directly with each other. Each player also develops a Bench of Pokémon waiting to go into battle. When an Active Pokémon is Knocked Out, it is removed from play and another Pokémon from the Bench takes its place as the new Active Pokémon. Players use attacks, one per turn, until one player Knocks Out a certain number of his opponent's Pokémon. This multipart article tells you the rules for playing the Pokémon TCG. If you are new to the game, read these articles first. If you are familiar with the game, use these articles to clarify rules and help teach new players. It assumes that the reader is familiar with Pokémon in general.

Types of Pokémon Cards

There are three types of PTCG cards: Pokémon cards, Trainer cards, and Energy cards.

Pokémon cards

Each Pokémon card corresponds to a particular Pokémon. A Pokémon card is in play when it is the Active Pokémon or is on the Bench. It has a picture of the Pokémon and basic statistical information about it. Most importantly, the card defines several attributes that are relevant to the PTCG. These attributes include:

  • The attacks that the Pokémon has.
  • The Pokémon's Pokémon Power, if it has one. A Pokémon Power modifies the rules of the game as long as its Pokémon is in play.
  • The color, or Energy type, of the Pokémon.
  • The Pokémon's maxmium health points (HP). This is the total amount of damage that the Pokémon can take before it is Knocked Out.
  • The Energy type that is the Weakness of the Pokémon. When a Pokémon of the Weakness color attacks the Pokémon, the amount of damage done by the attack is doubled.
  • The Energy type that is the Resistance of the Pokémon. When a Pokémon of the Resistance color attacks the Pokémon, the amount of damage done by the attack is reduced by 30.
  • The Retreat Cost of the Pokémon. This is the number of Energy units that must be discarded from the Pokémon in order to retreat it, or move it to the Bench.

You may have up to four Pokémon cards with the same name in your deck. The name of the card is listed at the top of the card. Many Pokémon have multiple cards, and this rule applies even if the cards are different cards with the same name. Some Pokémon cards have names that include additional words in addition to the name of the Pokémon. These include "Dark" Pokémon, Gym Leader's Pokémon and some promo cards such as Cool Porygon and Surfing Pikachu.

Trainer cards

Trainer cards provide special actions that go beyond the basic cycle of game play (described below). Many Trainer cards do something simple, such as allowing you to draw cards immediately, switch your Active Pokémon with one on your Bench, or searching your deck for a particular card. As with Pokémon, you may include no more than four of any one Trainer card in your deck.

Energy cards

These cards provide Energy to your Pokémon that they need to do their attacks. A Pokémon can use an attack only if it has the right quantity and type of Energy specified by the attack. There are six basic Energy cards, corresponding to the Fire, Water, Grass, Lightning, Fighting and Psychic Energy types. All other energy cards are special Energy cards. You may have no more than four of any one special Energy card in your deck.

Essential Items needed

The Deck

Each player uses his deck of Pokémon TCG cards. PTCG decks must contain exactly 60 cards. Inexperienced players may use a simplified 30-card deck. The decks must be the same size. The section Types of PTCG Cards goes into more detail on the kinds of cards used in a PTCG deck.

The "Arena"

The PTCG is played with a certain layout. Each player will have one Active Pokémon and up to five Benched Pokémon. Each player has his deck and a discard pile. Also, each player will have six prizes. Prizes are cards that are dealt from the deck face-down at the beginning of the game and taken when one of your opponent's Pokémon is Knocked Out. The discard pile includes cards that have been removed from play, including Pokémon that have been Knocked Out and Trainer cards that have been played. You do not need a placemat to play the PTCG, but one will help new players familiarize themselves with the layout of the game.

Damage Counters

Damage counters keep track of the amount of damage a Pokémon has taken. The theme decks sold by Wizards of the Coast contain damage counters. Any small token (such as pennies, stones) will suffice, as long as it is understood that each counter represents 10 damage. Using counters to represent other damage values (such as 20 or 50 damage) is discouraged unless it is obvious what the value of the counter is. (For example, if pennies are 10 damage, then it is logical that nickels are 50 damage.) Some players like to use a die to indicate the amount of damage. This is acceptible.


Many attacks and effects in the PTCG require you to toss a coin. Some require tossing more than one coin. Theme decks come with a coin. Any unbiased coin will do. Some players prefer to toss something other than a coin, such as a die. I personaly prefer to have 4-6 as heads and 1-3 as tails--those numbers look more like heads, and the others look like tails. Others use evens as heads and odds as tails. Whatever convention is used, both players should decide and agree on what constitutes heads and tails before the game begins.
The coin should rotate completely at least once while it is in the air. The coin should land within an agreed-upon area. If you are playing on a table, and the coin falls off the table, reflip it.

Other Counters

You should keep some other tokens on hand to indicate other things, such as Poison and Burn.

Pokémon TCG Game Play

The Pokémon TCG is a turn-based game. One key to winning the PTCG is making the fullest use of each turn that you have.

Beginning the Game

Before the game begins, shuffle your deck thoroughly. There are few things more frustrating than not getting the card that you need because that card is towards the bottom of your deck and you didn't shuffle it thoroughly. It is not necessary for each player to cut each other's deck, but you can do this if you desire. Once each player is satisfied with the degree to which his deck is shuffled, each player draws seven cards. This is your starting hand.
In order to begin the game, you must have an Active Pokémon. Each player looks at the seven cards that he drew and chooses one Basic Pokémon as his starting Basic Pokémon. That card goes facedown in the Active Pokémon slot. If you have exactly one Basic Pokémon in your hand, you must make it your Active Pokémon, even if you don't want to. If the player has zero Basic Pokémon in his hand, he must show his hand to his opponent, announce that he has no Basic Pokémon, and shuffle his hand into his deck. If his opponent had a Basic Pokémon in his hand, then he can draw up to two cards. Repeat until the player has a Basic Pokémon. If a player has multiple Basic Pokémon in his hand, he may put additional Basic Pokémon on his Bench. These cards are also played face-down.
Once each player has a Basic Pokémon, each player draws six cards face-down onto the table. The six cards are his prizes.
To begin the game. one player flips a coin. The other player calls it while it's in the air. The player who wins the coin toss will go first.

Draw a Card

At the beginning of your turn, you draw a card from your deck. You must always do this and you must do this at the beginning of your turn. If you cannot draw a card from your deck (usually because your deck has zero cards), then you lose the game. This situation is called "decking" and can happen when a game lasts a long time.

Options During Your Turn

There are a number of things that you can do during your turn. Unless otherwise stated, you may do these any number of times.

  • You may attach an Energy card to a Pokémon that you have in play. You may do this only once in each turn. You should try to do this every turn, so that your Pokémon will have plenty of Energy for their attacks.
  • If you have a Basic Pokémon in your hand and you do not already have five Pokémon on your bench, you may put the Basic Pokémon on the Bench.
  • If you have a Pokémon card in your hand that evolves from one of the Pokémon that you have in play, you may evolve the Pokémon in play into the one that you have in your hand. You do this by placing the evolution card directly on top of the one in play. Note that you cannot evolve a Pokémon on your first turn, or the same turn that it's put into play. For example, if you evolve Machop into Machoke, you can't evolve it into Machamp until your next turn. There is more information on "Evolution" below.
  • You may play a Trainer card. Follow the directions on the Trainer card and then, if you did not attach the card to a Pokémon as per the directions, discard the Trainer.
  • You may retreat the Active Pokémon. Discard the number of Energies that are specified by the card's Retreat Cost and are attached to the Pokémon. If the required number of Energies are not attached to the Pokémon, you may not retreat it. Once you have discarded the Energies, move the Pokémon to the Bench. Select a different Pokémon from the Bench and move it to the Active Pokémon position.
  • You may use a Pokémon Power. Note that some Pokémon Powers are always in effect and do not need to be declared.

Certain Pokémon Powers, Trainer cards and attack effects prevent you from doing some of the above, place restrictions on your ability to do them, or add additional effects when you do them. You should familiarize yourself with all Pokémon Powers and effects that are in play before your turn begins, so that you can adjust your strategy to compensate.


The last thing you do in your turn is attack. You do not have to attack; you may end your turn without attacking even if you are able to attack. In order to use an attack, your Active Pokémon must have the quantity and type of Energies attached to it that are specified by the attack. State the name of the attack that you are using aloud. Declare the amount of damage that the attack will do and any other effects that will result from the attack. Once you have completed this, your turn is over; it is now your opponent's turn. Take a prize for each Pokémon that was Knocked Out during your turn.

Status Effects

The five standard status effects in the PTCG are Asleep, Confused, Paralyzed, Burned and Poisoned. Only the Active Pokémon can have one of these effects. These effects all end when the Pokémon goes to the Bench by retreating or by other means, or when the Pokémon is evolved or devolved. The Full Heal Trainer card and the Full Heal energy card also remove these effects. The effects of Asleep, Confused and Paralyzed are mutually exclusive: Having one of the three effects and taking on a different effect removes the original effect. However, a Pokémon can have one of these three effects and be Poisoned or burned at the same time.

Indicate that a Pokémon is Asleep by turning the card sideways, so that it looks like the Pokémon pictured is laying on its back. A Pokémon that is Asleep cannot attack or retreat. After the end of each turn, the player whose Pokémon is Asleep flips a coin. If the coin toss is heads, the Pokémon is no longer Asleep. (Return the card to the normal upright position.) But if tails it is still Asleep, and you have to wait until the next turn to try and wake it up.
Indicate that a Pokémon is Confused by turning the card so that it is upside-down from your perspective. A Pokémon that is Confused must flip a coin when it attempts to attack. If you get a heads, the attack works normally but on tails your Pokémon receives 3 damage counters and your turn is now over. An active Pokémon receives 3 damage counters even if its attack normally does not do damage. (Note: If your Confused Pokémon is a attacking a Baby Pokémon, the Baby Rule applies before the Confusion flip. If you flip tails on the Baby Rule, your Pokémon cannot attack, and thus will not take damage per the Confusion rule.) Now to the new rules, a Pokémon may retreat normally, where it loses all special conditions.
Indicate that a Pokémon is Paralyzed by turning its card sideways so that the Pokémon is facing downward from your perspective. (This is the opposite of how you would turn it were it Asleep.) The Paralyzed Pokémon cannot attack or retreat during the turn during or immediately after which it was Paralyzed. After this period, the effect of Paralysis ends. No coin tossing is involved when a Pokémon is Paralyzed.
Indicate that a Pokémon is Poisoned by putting a Poisoned marker on the card. When a Pokémon is Poisoned, you must attach one damage counter on that Pokémon after each player's turn, ignoring weakness and resistance. If an attack that would poison a Pokémon that is already Poisoned, it does not get doubly Poisoned; instead, the new poison counter replaces the old one. A Pokémon can be Knocked Out by this effect. Some attacks that Poison specify that a different amount of damage other than 10 damage be done at the end of each turn.
If a Pokémon is burned, place a "burn marker" on it to show that it is burned. As long as it's still Burned, flip a coin after each players turn. If tails, place 2 damage counters on it, ignoring weakness and resistance. If an attack would burn a Pokémon that is already burned, it does not get doubly burned; instead, the new burn condition replaces the old one. Make sure whatever you use for a Burn marker looks different from a damage counter.


In the Pokémon Trading Card Game, most Pokémon Trainers will choose to play Basic Pokémon that we can train to become stronger Pokémon, a process called Evolution. The question is, how exactly is that done? To evolve your Pokémon, there are some rules that you must follow.

  1. You can only play a Basic Pokémon directly onto the Bench (or into the Active Position at the start of the game). All Basic Pokémon will have the words "Basic Pokémon" printed at the top of the card. Baby Pokémon are treated like Basic Pokémon for these purposes.
  2. You can't evolve a Pokémon on the first turn, or the same turn that it is put into play. If you just put that Charmander on your Bench, you'll have to wait until your next turn to evolve it! When you do evolve it, you'll need to wait another turn before you can evolve it again. When you're ready to evolve a Pokémon, just play the Evolution Card right on top of the Basic Pokémon Card. The Basic is no longer in play, it has "evolved"! Any and all effects (like Poison, Paralysis, Sleep or Confusion, or even Smokescreen or Agility) that were on that Pokémon are gone, but any Damage Counters that were on it and Trainer and Energy Cards attached to it will stay with it.
  3. Each Pokémon can evolve only into specific Evolutions. For example, either Charmeleon or Dark Charmeleon can evolve from Charmander, but Charizard can only evolve from Charmeleon, and Dark Charizard can only evolve from Dark Charmeleon. Some Basic Pokémon do not evolve. The way to determine whether it's an evolution that's allowed or not is to read the upper left hand corner of the Evolution Pokémon Card. Charizard reads "Evolves from Charmeleon". That means it can only be played onto a card named "Charmeleon". The name must match EXACTLY.
  4. Gym Leader Pokémon are separate unto themselves. Blaine's Charmeleon can only evolve from Blaine's Charmander, and can only evolve into Blaine's Charizard. This applies to all Pokémon with a Gym Leader in their name: Blaine, Brock, Erika, Giovanni, Koga, Lt. Surge, Misty and Sabrina's Pokémon.
  5. All Baby Pokémon evolve, and all their Evolutions have the words "Basic Pokémon" on them. Ignore that when you evolve a Baby. For example, if you have Tyrogue in play, and you evolve it into Hitmonlee, treat Hitmonlee as if it is an Evolution Card rather than a Basic Pokémon. Baby Pokémon have the names of the Pokémon they evolve into printed on them, and those are the only Pokémon they can evolve into.
  6. This is Pokémon, and there are exceptions to every rule. Some Trainers, Pokémon Powers and even Pokémon Attacks alter the rules when it comes to Evolution.

Here are a few examples of exceptions to the evolution rules:

  • TR Magikarp's Rapid Evolution attack - This attack allows you to search your deck for a card named Gyarados and put it on Magikarp. This works even if Fossil Aerodactyl is in play (we'll talk about him in a moment)!
  • Erika's Clefairy's Lunar Power attack - When you use this attack, you can flip a coin. If heads, you can search your deck for ANY Evolution card that can be played onto ANY of your Benched Pokémon, and put that card on that Pokémon. 1st Turn Evolution is possible!
  • Fossil Aerodactyl's Prehistoric power - No more Evolution cards can be played. This doesn't stop the attacks mentioned above, because they don't "play" a card from your hand, they "put" a card from your deck. That's a big difference in the world of Pokémon!
  • Promo Eevee's Chain Reaction power - If ANY Pokémon in play evolves, you can search your deck for a card that evolves from Eevee and attach it to Eevee. This even works during your opponent's turn!
  • Pokémon Breeder - This Trainer card allows you to play a Stage 2 Pokémon directly onto a Basic Pokémon. You can evolve Charmander right into Charizard, and skip Charmeleon all together, if you use Pokémon Breeder and have the Stage 2 in your hand. Note that you cannot use Pokémon Breeder to play a Stage 1 Pokémon (like Clefable) directly onto a Baby Pokémon (like Cleffa).
  • Devolution Spray - This Trainer card allows you choose a stage of evolution of one of your Pokémon in play, and to discard all evolution cards from higher stages. This would get rid of Sleep, Poison, Paralysys or Confusion. It might give some other benefit, like a lower retreat cost, or allow you to use a lower stage evolution's attacks.
  • Fossil Egg - This Trainer card, with a flip of "heads", allows you to play any Evolution Card that evolves from Mysterious Fossil directly onto your Bench, and treat it just like a Basic Pokémon.
  • Rare Candy - Like "Pokémon Breeder" Rare Candy works in the same way but allows you to evolve Pokémon from basic to stage 1 Pokémon or basic to stage 2 Pokémon, not just stage 2 Pokémon.

The Baby Rule

With the introduction of the Neo: Genesis set, there is a new stage of Pokémon known as Baby Pokémon. With this new stage comes a new ruling that dramatically effects how these cards are played. There is now the Baby Rule that must be followed when ever you have a Baby Pokémon in the Active position and it is being attacked. The Rule is as follows:
If a Baby Pokémon is your Active Pokémon and your opponent announces an attack, your opponent flips a coin (before doing anything else). If tails, your opponent's turn ends. With this rule, before your opponent attacks, which includes all things involved with that attack (discarding energy, status effect, etc.), they must flip a coin to see if the attack will work at all. If heads, the attack works as normal. If it is tails, your opponent's turn ends with that coin flip and turn passes to you.

Special Cards

Pokémon Tools
With the introduction of the Neo Genesis set of cards, now come a new dimension of trainers for the Pokémon player, these cards are called Pokémon Tools. With this variation in trainer cards, you now have the ability to attach these special cards to one of your Pokémon in play and the Pokémon Tool stays in play for as long as the Pokémon does or till it has served it's function and/or effect. A Pokémon can only have one Pokémon Tool trainer card attached to it at a time, but Pokémon Tools can be play in conjunction with other non-Pokémon tool trainer cards such as Plus Power and Defender. Depending on the Pokémon Tool that you are playing, is when the tool will take effect, so please be sure to consult the text of the Pokémon tool trainer card for each effect.
Stadium Cards
This variation of trainer card was introduced to the Pokémon TCG with the Gym Heroes set. These special trainer cards are put into play and effect both players and how they play certain cards, status effects, or how resistance is applied to an attack, etc. Only one of these cards can be in play at a time, so when a new Stadium card is put in play, the old one is discarded to the original players discard pile.
Special Energy Cards
These include all Energy cards that are not basic Energy cards. Examples include Double Colorless Energy, Full Heal Energy, Rainbow Energy, Dark Energy, Metal Energy and Recycle Energy. These cards specifically say "Doesn't count as a basic Energy card." You may not have more than four of any one special Energy card in your deck. Most attacks, Powers and Trainers that apply to basic Energy cards do not apply to special Energy cards. It helps to think of these cards as being Trainer cards, so as not to confuse them with basic energy cards.
Special Pokémon
These include Dark Pokémon, Gym Leader Pokémon, and all Pokémon with a word other than the Pokémon's name in the card name. Dark Pokémon are Pokémon with the word "Dark" in its name. Gym Leader Pokémon are Pokémon that are "owned" by Gym Leaders, such as Misty's Seadra and Lt. Surge's Raichu. Other Special Pokémon include Cool Porygon, Surfing Pikachu and Team Rocket's Meowth. Stage 1 Dark Pokémon evolve from ordinary Basic Pokémon but not to ordinary Pokémon. All other special Pokémon may not evolve to or from ordinary Pokémon. The top left of any Pokémon card will indicate the name of the Pokémon from which that card evolves.
Unowns were introduced in Neo Discovery and later sets. You may have no more than 4 Pokémon with Unown in their names in your deck.
Shining Pokémon
Shining Pokémon were introduced in Neo Revelation. You may have only one of any particular Shining Pokémon in your deck. You may use multiple Shining Pokémon, as long as all are different cards.
Supporter Cards
These are a special kind of trainer card that you put next to your Active Pokémon to help you. Supporter cards are discarded at the end of the turn. You can only play one Supporter card each turn.

Written by Cameron R.

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