Pokemon TCG Rules: Learn How to Play Pokemon TCG for Dummies

Curious how to play your Pokemon cards? Now's the time to learn the rules!


how to play pokemon tcg

Become a tabletop Pokemon master by learning the basic Pokemon TCG rules!

Most of us might’ve grown up collecting Pokemon cards without having the slightest idea how to play them.

But instead of letting your cards catch dust and cobwebs in your storage boxes, why not consider playing them at least once?

Like most trading card games, Pokemon TCG rules contain gameplay mechanics that might confuse newbies.

So, in case you’re looking for a guide that helps you understand more of what’s written in the Pokemon official rulebook, you’ve come to the right place!

Prepare yourself for a definitive tutorial on how to play Pokemon TCG.

Editor’s Update (May 2024): Added some relevant links to the article.

How to Play Pokemon TCG: Types of Cards

Before we discuss the game’s mechanics, you need to be familiar with the main types of cards in Pokemon TCG.

These are Pokemon Cards, Energy Cards, and Trainer Cards:

Pokemon Cards

Bombirdier · Scarlet &Amp; Violet (Svi) 138
Lechonk · Scarlet &Amp; Violet (Svi) 156
Cyclizar · Paldean Fates (Paf) 070

Pokemon cards represent various species of Pokemon.

Think of these cards as your fighters and they will battle to the end to help you win games.

Pokemon cards can use moves and abilities to overcome their foes and give you an advantage over your opponent. They can even become more powerful through evolution.

Energy Cards

Basic R Energy · Obsidian Flames (Obf) 230
Basic G Energy · Paldea Evolved (Pal) 278
Therapeutic Energy · Paldea Evolved (Pal) 193

If you take a look at a Pokemon card, you will notice some symbols that are in line with its moves.

Those symbols represent the type and amount of Energy cards you need to attach to that Pokemon so it can perform its moves.

Pokemon Tcg Symbols

When building a Pokemon deck, it’s important to add Energy cards with the same type as your Pokemon cards.

Apart from Basic and Special Energy cards, Pokemon and Energy cards can also be categorized into 11 types. These are:

  • Colorless
  • Dragon
  • Grass
  • Water
  • Fire
  • Psychic
  • Darkness
  • Lightning
  • Metal
  • Fairy
  • Fighting

Trainer Cards

Professor’s Research · Paldean Fates (Paf) 088
Wyndon Stadium · Vivid Voltage (Viv) 161
Potion · Sun &Amp; Moon Trainer Kit—Alolan Raichu (Tk10A) 15

Trainer cards are utility tools that can either help you draw more cards, take a specific card from your deck, or even heal your Pokemon from damage and status conditions.

Trainer cards are also categorized into different sub-types: Supporter cards, Stadium cards, Tool cards, Technical Machine cards, and Item cards.

Anatomy of a Pokemon Card

In addition to the types of Pokemon cards, you also need to understand every text in a Pokemon card.

Please use the image below as a guide:

Parts Of Pokemon Card
  1. Pokemon card name. We can’t leave every Pokemon nameless, can we?
  2. Evolution stage of the Pokemon. A Pokemon card can be a Basic, Stage 1, and Stage 2. However, some advanced Pokemon TCG Rules enable a Pokemon to have a special stage like VMAX.
  3. Image and name of the Pokemon’s previous form. Only Basic Pokemon cards won’t have this part.
  4. HP (Health Points). If a Pokemon gets attacked by an opposing Pokemon, its HP will be reduced by an amount equal to the attack’s damage. Once a Pokemon loses all of its HP, it will be knocked out and must be placed on the discard pile.
  5. Pokemon type. Each Pokemon type is represented by a specific symbol (please refer to the image of the symbols above).
  6. Pokemon portrait. While the Pokemon portrait doesn’t have anything to do with the game, the artwork is known to play an important role in a card’s value.
  7. Pokedex data. Just like the Pokemon portrait, a Pokemon card’s Pokedex data doesn’t affect the game’s mechanics. It’s probably there as flavor text.
  8. Pokemon ability/moves. This text box is for explaining a Pokemon’s moves and abilities, as well as their corresponding Energy/Attack costs.
  9. Weaknesses, resistance, and retreat costs. Each Pokemon card has a weakness and resistance to a specific type, and can also retreat in exchange for Energy cards. More about this in the combat mechanics section below.
  10. Name of the Illustrator, set symbol, and card number. These pieces of information help collectors find the artist, set, and number of a specific card.
  11. Pokedex entry/description. Another flavor text that adds more character and distinction to a Pokemon card.
  12. Copyright symbol and the names behind Pokemon TCG. You can also identify the card’s age by looking at the year written after the copyright symbol.

Anatomy of a Trainer Card

Here are some of the unique features found in a Trainer card:

Parts Of Trainer Card
  1. Type of the Trainer card. It can be a Stadium, Tool, or Supporter.
  2. Text box. This section explains the ability of the Trainer card.
  3. Trainer rule. Some Trainer cards can only be used once, so always read this part of the card before putting it into play.

Pokemon TCG Rules: Building a Deck

Deck building in Pokemon TCG is another broad topic, but you still need to know a few rules when building a deck that you can use while practicing.

The most important thing to remember here is that your deck should consist of exactly 60 cards – nothing more, nothing less.

You should also need to have the right amount of Energy, Trainer, and Pokemon cards in your deck.

For a start, we advise beginners to have a deck composition of around 8-12 Energy cards, 10-20 Pokemon cards, and 10-12 Supporter cards.

You will eventually learn to adjust your deck ratio in any way you want as you spend more time playing it.

Please stay tuned to our site, as we will also cover deck-building tips in the future.

Pokemon TCG Rules: How to Play

How To Play Pokemon Tcg

With all the knowledge about the cards in Pokemon TCG, let’s proceed to the most exciting part: playing the game!

Pokemon TCG is traditionally played by two players. You and your opponent can exchange pleasantries by shaking hands before the game.

To identify the game’s turn order, flip a coin. The winner will have the first turn.

Phase 1: Picking an Active Basic Pokemon

The player with the first turn will draw seven cards from their deck. From those cards, the player must put a Basic Pokemon card face down in the Active Spot.

Stage 1 and Stage 2 Pokemon cards are prohibited from entering the field in this phase.

If the player doesn’t have at least one Basic Pokemon out of those seven cards, they should perform a mulligan.

Mulligan is the act of showing the seven cards to your opponent, putting them back on the deck, shuffling the deck, and drawing another set of seven cards.

The player can mulligan again if they fail to find a single Basic Pokemon card. For every mulligan performed, the opposing player will draw an extra card.

Once the first player places a Basic Pokemon card in the Active Spot, the second player may now do the same.

Phase 2: Adding Pokemon to the Bench Spot

With the second player having a face-down Basic Pokemon in the Active Spot, the turn goes back to the first player.

The first player may now add up to five Basic Pokemon cards in the Bench Spot. These cards must also be placed face-down on the field.

The second player will also do the same during their turn.

Phase 3: Drawing the Prize Cards

In this phase, the players in turn order should draw six cards that will serve as Prize Cards.

Phase 4: The Battle Begins!

Both players can now reveal all of their Pokemon cards in play (Active and Benched) by flipping them face-up in the field.

Both players can draw a card per turn, and perform any of the options below:

  • Attach an Energy card to one Pokemon card. This can only be done once per turn.
  • Evolve any Pokemon from Basic to Stage 1, or Stage 1 to Stage 2. This can be done multiple times per turn, as long as the player has enough evolution cards in their hand.
  • Add more Basic Pokemon in your Bench Spot.
  • Play Trainer cards. You can use as many Trainer cards as you want, but Supporter and Stadium cards can only be used once per turn.
  • Trigger the effects of Pokemon abilities. You are free to use the abilities of your Active and Benched Pokemon every turn.
  • Retreat your Active Pokemon. If you want to save your Active Pokemon from any harm, you can pay its Retreat cost. Once your Active Pokemon retreats, you can have it switch places with one of your Benched Pokemon. That Benched Pokemon becomes your active one and vice-versa.
  • Order your Active Pokemon to attack your opponent’s Active Pokemon (assuming you have enough Energy cards attached to it).

Phase 5: The Pokemon Checkup

Pokemon Checkup phase happens after your turn. During this time, you should have your Pokemon checked for any status conditions.

Every status condition behaves differently during Pokemon Checkup, and you can read our guide about status effects in Pokemon TCG to learn more.

When checking your Pokemon, you need to observe the status conditions in a particular order:

  1. Poisoned
  2. Burned
  3. Asleep
  4. Paralyzed

Pokemon TCG Rules: Combat Mechanics

The aim of every combat in Pokemon TCG is fairly simple: bring your opponent’s active Pokemon HP to zero.

Only the Active Pokemon can attack and it can only attack the opponent’s active Pokemon (some Pokemon abilities and moves can break this rule).

Pokemon cards in the Bench spot serve as your team’s reserves, in case your Active Pokemon retreats or gets knocked out.

They can, however, use their abilities to support your Active Pokemon or annoy your opponent.

Once per turn, you can have your Active Pokemon attack the other player’s Active Pokemon.

Ensure that your Active Pokemon has enough Energy cards attached to it so it can perform its move.

Let’s use this Ralts as an example. Its move Psyshot has a cost of one Psychic and one Colorless Energy card:

Ralts · Scarlet &Amp; Violet (Svi) 084

This means you can only order Ralts to use the Psyshot move as long as it is accompanied by Psychic and Colorless Energy cards.

And since you can only attach one Energy card to your Pokemon per turn, you will need at least two turns to have Ralts use its move.

Ralt’s Psyshot has a damage of 30, which will be the amount deducted from the HP of the opposing Pokemon.

But before calculating the actual damage for Pokemon battles, it’s important to know a Pokemon’s Weakness and Resistance first.

Weakness in Pokemon TCG

If Pokemon A receives an attack from Pokemon B, and Pokemon B’s type is the same as Pokemon A’s Weakness, Pokemon A will take twice the damage as a result.

For instance, this Slakoth is weak against Fighting-type Pokemon:

Slakoth · Paldea Evolved (Pal) 160

If it takes damage to let’s say, this Riolu, Riolu’s Reckless Change will deal 100 damage instead of 50, effectively knocking out Slakoth in one hit:

Riolu · Scarlet &Amp; Violet (Svi) #113

Resistance in Pokemon TCG

Resistance is basically the opposite of Weakness. If Pokemon A receives damage from Pokemon B, and Pokemon A is resistant to Pokemon B’s type, that damage will be reduced by a specific amount.

Let’s take this Drowzee as an example. Drowsee can resist moves from Fighting-type Pokemon:

Drowzee · Scarlet &Amp; Violet (Svi) 082

If Drowzee gets attacked by this Mankey, Mankey’s Monkey Beatdown move with a damage of 30 will be reduced by 30 points, hence, turning the damage into zero:

Mankey · Paldean Fates (Paf) #045

Other Ways to Deal Damage in Pokemon TCG

Certain moves and abilities have effects that can also knock out an opposing Pokemon, such as those that deal damage counters or inflict annoying status conditions like Poisoned or Confused.

Pokemon TCG Rules: Win Conditions

In order to claim victory in Pokemon TCG, a player must achieve at least one of the following conditions:

1. Your Opponent Runs Out of Active and Benched Pokemon

Your opponent should always have at least one Benched Pokemon at the ready in case their Active Pokemon gets knocked out.

If your opponent doesn’t have a Benched Pokemon to place in their Active Spot, you win the game.

2. You’ve Drawn All Your Prize Cards

You and your opponent must take one of your Prize Cards every time your Active Pokemon scores a knockout.

Once you manage to draw all of your Prize Cards before your opponent, you win the game.

Take note that defeating certain Pokemon like Pokemon ex rewards you with two Prize Cards instead of one.

3. Your Opponent Runs Out of Cards to Play

If by any chance your opponent draws the last card of the deck and fails to win the game in that very turn, you will win the game in their next turn.

The Unwritten Rule

If your opponent suddenly offers their hand for a handshake, it is a sign that they surrendered and you win the game.

Such action is considered to be an etiquette of sportsmanship in most TCG tournaments, especially if a player is at a losing edge and defeat is inevitable.

What a Pokemon TCG Table Should Look Like

Here is an illustration of how the cards should be placed during a Pokemon TCG battle:

Pokemon Game Mat


Congratulations! If you managed to reach this part of the guide, you should now be ready to play Pokemon TCG with your friends.

Knowing the basics is only the beginning if you want to immerse yourself in Pokemon TCG.

Once you played a couple of games, you will also be exposed to some cards that add a bunch of advanced rules to the game, such as the Lost Zone, Pokemon VMAX, Mega Evolution, Terastal Pokemon, just to name a few.

We will also keep this page updated under the latest Pokemon TCG Rulebook.

So, what are you waiting for? Go grab your cards, and have someone to play Pokemon TCG with you.

Good luck with your future Pokebattles!


From his man cave in the Philippines, Celsos hoards a box full of Pokemon cards. He loves everything about Pokemon, but he also enjoys other things like playing video games, reading Tolkien's books, and writing. He currently works as the editor and writer for PokeCard HQ.


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