Do your kids ask how to play Pokemon? Here's GeekMom's Guide to Playing Pokemon Part 1: Deck Building Images: Cathe Post

A Parent’s Guide to ‘Pokemon’ Part 1: Deck Building

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Do your kids ask how to play Pokemon? Here's GeekMom's Guide to Playing Pokemon Part 1: Deck Building
Do your kids ask how to play Pokemon? Here’s GeekMom’s Guide to Playing Pokemon Part 1: Deck Building Images: Cathe Post

It’s Okay To Start With No Knowledge of Pokemon Deck Building

Your kid just came home with some playing cards that have colorful little monsters on them and they call it a Pokemon Deck and want help building it. If you haven’t been exposed to Pokemon before, you aren’t alone.

Breathe. That’s why I’m here. I’m going to help you understand the basics of the game, and how to build a deck.

The Basics of the Pokemon Game

Pokemon is an animated show, a series of video games, and a card game about people who collect, train, and battle the cute, weird monsters (Pokemon) that inhabit their world. In the card game, the player takes the role of of a Pokemon Trainer and battles another trainer. The cards represent the player’s collection of Pokemon, and items, other people, and tools that the Trainer can use to influence the battle. The play of the game represents the battle as the two Trainers direct their Pokemon to knock their opponent’s Pokemon out of the battle.

If there is a game store where you live, they will almost certainly carry Pokemon cards. Most big retail stores carry them, too; Target and Walmart are excellent places to find deals. If your kid is interested in Pokemon, but doesn’t have any (or very few) cards, look for a theme deck (around $10 for one deck). Most likely it will be a cardboard box, about the size of a VHS case, that says it contains one deck of 60 cards. After you have your deck picked, booster packs and tins can supplement the deck with more powerful or prettier cards.

How To Build Your Pokemon Cards Into a Deck

If you have a bunch of random cards, or want to incorporate a few random cards into a new theme deck, we should learn how to build a deck. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is 20 energy, 20 Pokemon, and 20 Trainer cards for a 60 card deck. Once you have built a few decks and know what cards you want to play, you’ll see how fudging some of those numbers work and others don’t. Using this set-up to start will make it fairly easy to learn and play the game.

Do your kids ask how to play Pokemon? Here's GeekMom's Guide to Playing Pokemon Part 1: Deck Building
These are Legendary Pokemon. They do not have evolutions and are quite powerful on their own.

There are three main categories of cards.

Pokemon Category Cards

First, let’s talk about Pokemon. These are the little monsters that the player uses to battle their opponent’s Pokemon. They come in different types: Fire, Water, Grass, Electric, Psychic, Dark, Fighting, and Dragon (Dragon is a fairly new kind). There are Pokemon who can evolve and are noted by Basic, Stage 1, and Stage 2 under the Pokemon’s name—these Pokemon will start off in their Basic form, which can evolve into their Stage 1 form, and may be able to evolve into their Stage 2 form. Another kind of Pokemon is a Legendary. They don’t evolve and are quite powerful on their own. Be forewarned—these are the Pokemon your kids will ask for–especially the ones that are like the ones above. These are known as “full-art” cards because the artwork covers the card instead of just being a tiny picture. The full-art cards don’t come in theme decks. Normally these can be found by chance in a booster pack.

Do your kids ask how to play Pokemon? Here's GeekMom's Guide to Playing Pokemon Part 1: Deck Building
Types of Pokemon cards

Find a Pokemon your child likes. If it is a Stage 1 or Stage 2 Pokemon, try to put two or three in the deck–three of the Stage 1, and four of the basic (see above, I put three basic and two Stage 1) . If your child picks a Legendary Pokemon, try to put four in a deck. After the favorite Pokemon has been picked, try to find other Pokemon of the same type (Fire, Water, Grass, Electric, etc.) to compliment the main Pokemon. If they want, you can have two different types of Pokemon in the deck, but for a new player, it’s best to limit it to one or two types and no more. Once you have come up with about 20 Pokemon total, you are ready to move on to energy—just make sure you don’t have more than four of any one card!

Pokemon Energy Cards

Next, we can move on to energy. Energy is needed to power the Pokemon’s abilities. Look through all of your energy and try to find 20 that match the symbols on the Pokemon in the deck. If the deck has Pokemon of two different types, try to include energy of both types in approximately equal numbers. You can have as many copies of basic energy cards as you’d like. Special Energy are also an option. They can be more versatile, but a deck can only have four of any kind of Special Energy in a deck.

Do your kids ask how to play Pokemon? Here's GeekMom's Guide to Playing Pokemon Part 1: Deck Building
Types of Pokemon Energy Cards

Pokemon Trainer Cards

Trainer cards are the final part of your deck. These cards can do all sorts of things, from healing Pokemon to letting the player search their deck for a card or many other effects. There are Items, Stadiums, and Supporters. When picking 20 Trainer cards, try for a good mix of Items and Supporters. Here’s why: During a player’s turn, only one Supporter can be played, but multiple Items can be played. Stadiums behave differently; they sit between two players and affect both players whereas most cards only affect one player. Again, there can only be a maximum of four copies of any Trainer card in your deck.

Finalizing the Pokemon Deck

Once you and your child have picked out about 20 each of Pokemon, Energy, and Trainer cards, count them up! If you are slightly under 60 cards total, see if you can add another copy of a Trainer card that you only put one or two of in the deck, or another copy of a Basic Pokemon, or one or two more energy. If you are over 60, double-check that your Pokemon have one less Stage 1 than Basic in the deck, and one less Stage 2 than Stage 1. If you are including four copies of a trainer card, consider including only three or two. Once you have exactly 60 cards, the deck is ready to go.


One other note: Most theme decks come with a coin and some cardboard damage markers. These are great items to collect, but aren’t very useful while playing the game. Instead, try using clear six-sided dice. I say clear because if your child decides to play at a league or in a tournament, dice a judge can’t see through will not be allowed. When using a die as a coin, evens equal heads and odds equal tails. When a die is laid on a Pokemon, each die-pip can represent 10 damage.

Next time we will talk about how to play the game. I am excited to hear what decks you build!

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55 thoughts on “A Parent’s Guide to ‘Pokemon’ Part 1: Deck Building

  1. Best. post. ever! I have desperately needed something this simple to help me understand what my kids are up to. It’d be nice to have dice too. I think my sons have the cardboard coins from the starter kits.

  2. This was interesting, thanks for posting. My daughter came home with a couple of pokemon cards a friend gave her several months ago. She asked me if I knew how to play. Unfortunately I don’t. I do know how to play Magic, so we went out and bought some cards. It took her a few weeks to figure out but she’s actually pretty good now. I’m teaching her to build her own decks from all of our cards.

    It’s been a fun thing to do with her, and I know she appreciates the time we spend together.

  3. John, at least you had some sort of idea what to do with the cards – there are some similarities to Magic. I’m glad it has been a game you two can play together. 🙂

  4. Check the Pokemon website for local leagues to have your child play in. Mine is currently in 2 leagues, and he’s battled against kids who have placed in Worlds!

    1. Funny you should mention that. I will have all of that information in part 3 of this 3 part series 😉 But, an excellent point!

    1. I will certainly put it on my list PokeFan. The holiday coming up has me a little swamped. But I will try and put one together after the first of the year 🙂

      1. Hello. My name is Douglas. I am 24 and have loved pokemon since I was 6. The following is a complete decklist that costs $70.46 if all cards are minimum rarity, $117.53 at maximum rarity. (As of 02-02-17 on Amazon that is.)

        I named this deck “Friendly Skies”, it is currently tournament legal so far as I know.

        4 Winona
        4 Altaria Spirit Link
        4 Healing Scarf
        4 Fairy Garden
        4 Fairy Drop
        4 Wonder Energy
        4 Double Colorless Energy
        12 Fairy Energy
        3 M Altaria EX
        4 Altaria EX
        4 Togekiss EX
        2 Noctowl Break
        3 Noctowl
        4 Hoothoot

        I put alot of thought into this build so I hope everyone gets to enjoy it. 🙂

  5. I too play Magic, and have recently started rewatching the Pokémon series with my 7 year old daughter. Although I have tried teaching her Magic, it is a little too complicated for her still, so when Santa bought her Pokémon cards, she was thrilled. The set came with 2, 30-card decks, and we quickly learned the basics. I was ready to build her her first 60 card deck when I found this article. Brilliant! So glad I found this site! Can’t wait to build and battle!

  6. Thank you so much for this post! I am so happy I stopped here before buying my son nothing but booster packs (he is just getting started with them, and I know nothing!). Thanks again you’re a birthday (and money) saver!!! 🙂

  7. Thank you!!! Been trying to learn the game and setting up decks to play with my son. Everywhere I looked the rules seemed convoluted and prohibitive for newer players. This has helped immensely!

  8. Buildin a Electric/Ghost deck for my daughter. She loves those 2 types so I’ll make it work. Thank the maker for being a nerd, it makes it a bit easier.

  9. WAIT! I play Pokemon competitively and I have several custom decks.

    I read your article four or five times, and I would like to discuss with you what exactly influenced your opinion on how to build an effective starter deck.

    1. Hi Rebecca! What themes are your favorites for your custom decks?

      I was influenced and taught how to play in the Pacific Northwest by a regional tournament organizer and professor who judges at the Worlds level, and several others who have placed at Nationals and Worlds. They have all shown me great decks that are different and new with different ratios of cards.

      The main reason for this article was to give parents a place to start who do not have no idea what a Pokemon card is, do not have a local league, or who has kids with a stack of cards and wants to make a “basic working deck”. I realize there are different types of decks, but this is usually where I get new, young players to start and they can fiddle and adjust their decks how they like – or put together something completely new. That’s the great thing about Pokemon, there are so many that everyone can have a different and unique deck.

      1. I’m still working on pairing the right types in my custom decks, but I find that fairy and grass work well together. Fire and electric are rather complementary as well.

        If you don’t mind my asking, a professor of what? I’ve always found the most interesting people involved in these tourneys.

        I noticed you recommend building around a type/legendary the child likes, and I’d like to know what specifically influenced your thoughts on that as well as the 20x20x20. For started decks that’s great, but if you have more than one Pokemon that require 3+ energy of whatever type, you’re going to want less trainer cards and more energy, unless you’re stocked up on Energy Retrieval and such. However I find those to be rather uncommon (bearing in mind not every deck is the same).

        Yes, theme decks come with coins, yet you recommend dice. Could you help me understand why? Using clear dice makes sense, for obvious reasons..but why dice as opposed to a coin? It doesn’t actually increase the probability of heads vs tails (or in this case evens vs odds), so what’s the benefit of using them?
        P.S., nice Zangoose coin.

        Lastly, I would like to sort of give my two cents on your evolution chain (not that this whole post isn’t my two cents…)
        You should always avoid the pyramid scheme. I notice you recommended that for beginners, but it clutters your deck with a ton of basic, unnecessary Pokemon…You recommended 3-4 basic, 2-3 stage 1 and 1-2 stage three…falling for one of the potentially worst traps one can when building a deck.

        Thank you for your time. 🙂

        1. “I notice you recommended that for beginners, but it clutters your deck with a ton of basic, unnecessary Pokemon…You recommended 3-4 basic, 2-3 stage 1 and 1-2 stage three…falling for one of the potentially worst traps one can when building a deck.”

          Not for novice/beginner deck builders. Which is what you have to (emphasis on the “have to”) remember that this article is geared towards.

          The pyramid strategy serves very, very, very, important elements when it comes to beginning players. First, it slows down game play. Slowing down game play allows novice players to master the basics of game play. This is true because it increases the likelihood that, on a given turn, more elements of what comprise a turn are to occur. Without repetition of these basic game mechanics, new players do not master them and become better players.

          It also allows new players to overcome the downfall of limited resources. New players are highly unlikely to possess the cards required to build a deck based on more even evolutionary chain (eg. 3-3-3 or 4-4-4). They are unlikely to have more than one or two stage two pokemon, as well as the two to three stage 1 pokemon and the 4 basic pokemon to go with it and accomplish that strategy.

          There is no reason to drop 30, 40, or even 100 dollars on Pokémon to teach a child how to play it. Sure, you can buy 2 of the same starter deck, combine them to create a more even evolutionary path, ditch the junk pokemon, strip out one color, ditch some of the more useless trainers, etc. … but this speeds up gameplay, opens up your combined deck to severe weakness against off color decks you might face, and ultimately defeats the purpose of teaching.

          Teaching new players to deal with limited resources is a great tool for later success.

          Most people who play Pokémon that I have encountered (I am teaching my son and step-son how to play) carry a teaching deck that they use to help new players play. These teaching decks are almost always built around the pyramid profile because they know that most new players buy preconstructed decks that are also based on this profile.
          The advice you (CathePost), give here is very good from the new player experience.

          New players, especially young children, need to learn the basics and this is how you learn the basics.

          Players that want to jump right to advanced deck building concepts, I find, are at a severe disadvantage. I have seen this for many years and I grew up playing TCG like MTG while I was in college decades ago. The players that are not taught the basics never quite get it. They’ll win their share of matches based on the quality of their deck, but they lose too often because they don’t know how to overcome adversity when someone smacks down their advanced deck with basic technique.

          I am seeing this difference right now, again, with Pokémon and my son (6) and stepson (7). My stepson is all about EX cards and wants to collect as many of them as he can so he can build a deck based on them. The problem is, when he plays his EX cards and I shut them down (using pretty common techniques and readily available counters) he gets flustered and upset. Why? Because he doesn’t understand the gameplay basics. He refuses to learn those basics.

          Whereas my son, who has sat down and played with a simple pyramid style basic deck, is picking things up and learning how to be competitive. Believe it or not, he can actually beat me from time to time, and he can do this because he understands the game play and how it works (eg when to use certain cards, how to overcome lockdowns, how to defeat superior HP or Attack cards played by his opponent, etc.)
          Keep up the good work.

          1. Thanks for the thoughtful post. My 8 year old has been acquiring Pokemon cards for about 9 months without an interest in playing the game until now and a high desire for EX or high HP cards. I used the original post to scrap together two decks but left out any EXs. I realized he needs more energy and will need to trade to get his duplicates back (he generously shares those with his 4 year old brother). We loves strategy type games and we will be focusing on the basics!

        2. We use dice in competitive play because there are lots of ways to flip a coin ‘wrong’ and players might have to flip again if a their opponent/a judge determines their flip was not sufficient, which creates more stress for younger players and can discourage them from competitive play.

  10. Thanks for a clear basic strategy. My son is six and anything more complex will just frustrate him. I am sure his strategy and deck building will change as he learns the game, but at this point, I am building the deck so thanks for making it simple enough that a parent can understand!!

  11. My six year old wants to play. Before he even asks, before I spend a cent on whatever theme deck seems best I need an answer to this: is it possible to get a theme deck with Pikachu? As yo can imagine, he adores Pikachu, to the point of speaking like him for 10 minutes at a time (of course, I’m talking back the same way…). Basically, he will want a Pikachu in his deck. Is this possible?

    1. The black and white “Boundaries Crossed” themed deck with the pokemon ‘Black Kyurem’ on the cover, contains the newest edition of pikachus. It’s a really fun deck and plays well against the other themed decks in the same series. No Raichus though… you’ll have to find and adjust the deck to include them later

  12. This all sounds great. But If your getting your first deck, do not start with a theme deck. They are heavy on the pokimon and low on energy and trainer cards. Start with a trainer deck. Its a deck designed so you could actually sit down and play right there on the spot. Its usually 10-15, but it does come with 2 decks, so 2 people can play each other and learn… Then there is also the free online game that gives you 4 free virtual decks. But any real deck you buy you can add to your virtual pile.

  13. Great article, but there is one thing I would like to add: if you have an evolution line of 3 basics, 2 stage ones, and a single stage 2 (or something similar) then once the stage 2 Pokemon is ready the basics andstage ones become wasted deck spaces. Try using a 3-3-3 line or something similar.

  14. Thanks for this article. My son (11 with mental impairment) was given a Pokemon card by a classmate. From there on he begged us for some cards not realizing it’s a game. So we went and got a trainer deck. After a month of playing with it, to see if it was a passing fad. with him he got some prebuilt decks. Now he is all about going to flea markets to buy ones he thinks are “cute or cool” and expansion packs…so he is now wanting to build his own decks. The die is a great pointer. Rather he realizes it or not I see him trying to flip in a way that would favor him. Not to worried about tournament winning decks (he doesn’t have an interest), we just needed a place to start from.

  15. I love playing Pokémon I have about 20 exs,gxs,and breaks I have a full book of u can probably guess I have a lot more and thank you for the guide.

  16. Deck building is fun I have been doing it for about 5 months now and It is fun with my son.

  17. I made my dirst deck and im a kid so it took me 2 days to finish so i would plan ahead of time.also as stated in thr article i rexomend using 2 or 1 different pokemon.

  18. So I played Magic when I was in Junior High School. This was 2 decades ago. My son has now gotten into these pokemon cards and has been buying these little small packs at walmart. Some things confuse me. Some of the cards say trainer. Some cards same trainer and item or trainer and item or trainer and supporter. Can you explain this to me? I am trying to help him build a deck because he wants to play with others and I want him to have the right cards.


    1. The trainer cards you mentioned are used to increase the consistency of a deck and/or give you an advantage over your opponent.
      During a turn, you can play as many Item cards as you want during your turn. For example, you could play an Ultra Ball, then maybe a couple Energy Search cards.
      However, with Supporter cards, you can only use 1 of them per turn. For example, if you had a Bianca and a Cheren in your hand, then you could only play one of the two.
      Then, there are stadium cards. They are similar to Supporter cards, but you can only play it if it already isn’t in play; when you do play it, it stays in play until another Stadium card is in play. For example, say I have 2 Skyarrow Bridge card and 1 Virbank City Gym card in my hand. These are all Stadium cards. Let’s say I play one of the Skyarrow Bridge cards. It stays down until either my opponent plays another Stadium card or I play Virbank City Gym. I cannot play the other Skyarrow Bridge card down because there’s already a Skyarrow Bridge card in play.

      When building a deck, in my opinion, you actually want more Trainer cards in your deck compared to the other two card types. Just to get a feel for this, I recommend that you buy a few theme decks, Battle Arena (or League Battle as it’s now called), or other 60-card ready-to-play decks and try and find a pattern with the trainer cards, etc. Doing this has actually really helped me out with deckbuilding and I’ve been pretty decent at building decks since. Also, while I’m here, I’m just going to say that 20 Pokémon, 20 Trainers, and 20 Energies is generally a great place to start, but then you’re going to want to start migrating towards 15-20 Pokémon, 25-35 Trainers, and 12-15 Energies, though even then that’s not the standard.
      I hope all of this makes sense to you.

  19. I’m 11 and this was so helpful to me and my mom. She had no idea what I was talking about most of the time, and she kept being like oh oh ooooh. I put together a deck from a starter pack, two booster packs, and cards that I have traded and bartered for. I was short on trainer cards, so I used all that I could. I’m going to say it in the order that I layed it out. It is: Corvisquire, Fighting energy, Rockruff, Hau(trainer card), Fighting energy, Electric energy, Fighting energy, Makuhita, Fighting energy, Fire energy, Fighting energy, Volcanion, Munna, Physic Energy, Great Ball, Bidoof, Fighting Energy, Great Ball, Lycanroc (Midnight Form), Fighting energy, Stufful, Fire energy, Lampent, Electric energy, Pikachu, Alolan Raichu, Electric energy, Fire energy, Big Malasada, Fletchling, Electric energy, Fletchinder, Hau, Galarian Rapidash, Physic energy, Fighting energy, Fire energy, Trumbeak, Toucannon, Special Energy, Serperior, Hau, Drowzee, Electric energy, Grass energy, Fighting energy, Electric energy, Manectric EX, Great Ball, Alolan Raichu, Electric energy, Bewear, Fighting energy, Fighting energy, Lycanroc (Midnight Form), Hau, Potion, Great Ball, Yungoos, and Fighting energy. Thanks sokm much

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