Building a Pokémon Card Deck

Recently, we talked about the basics of playing the Pokémon Trading Card Game.
We outlined the rules, the actions you can take and we briefly discussed strategy.

What we didn’t cover however, is how to build a good deck.

In the beginning, you will probably want to understand how the game works, so if you haven’t already – please read our guide.

Destruction Fang

There are lots of pre-made decks released by The Pokémon Company, and it’s always a good place to start.

If we take the Destruction Fang deck released in the Crimson Invasion Expansion for example,let’s take a look around the basics of how a deck is structured.

Firstly, you might notice that this is a dual-type deck. This is a pretty standard thing as far as decks go, and offers some variety/flexibility when it comes to play. This is a Dark/Psychic Energy-type deck and has some interesting cards in it.

Let’s take a look at the structure of the actual Pokémon themselves initially, to understand a traditional setup.

Again, we’ll use the Online Trading Card Game here, as it’s much easier to display.
There are 4 colour-coded sets of cards in this image.

Red = your main firepower evolution line.

This evolution line leads up to the most powerful card in the deck – Hydreigon. You can see that there are 3 Deino Cards and 2 Zweilous cards respectively, which is important so that you have a balance between a reasonable chance of drawing the evolution line cards, but also not having too many so that your flexibility is affected. Generally a 4-3-2 or 3-2-2 type works well if you’re using a Stage 2 Evolution Card like Hydreigon. Ultimately, you want to try and evolve your evolution line and get Hydreigon active or on the bench fully evolved as soon as possible.

Green = your secondary / Support Attack Cards

In this case Houndour and Houndoom, these are good cards and as you can see Houndoom’s secondary attack “Surprise Attack” does a decent amount of damage. This is important, because sometimes you might be unlucky with your main firepower cards, and you need a backup.

Purple = your bridge / cookie cutter cards.

These might be colourless basic Pokémon cards that serve a specific supporting function, like having decent Pokémon powers for example. But, they are also reasonable enough cards that if you had to start with one of them, it’s not going to be a total disaster. They tend to need to be Pokémon cards that can serve as ‘tanks’ or ‘delay’ cards that allow you to deal with your opponent’s initial active Pokémon whilst you build up your bench and hopefully key evolution Pokémon. Notice how Mawile is particularly useful because it’s first attack ‘Call for family’ allows you to find 2 basic Pokémon which is great if you’re trying to build  your attack base quickly, and don’t have a trainer card available to do that.

Yellow = your alternative Firepower / Alternative Energy types

Pokémon Decks tend to have themes, and so usually the secondary energy type Pokémon will complement the first quite well. In this case, Salandit and Salazzle are interesting because they require very little energy in order to attack, and they provide poison and burn status effects. Salazzle’s secondary attack – Severe Poison is superb because not only does it poison your opponent’s Pokémon, but the poison effect drops 4 damage counters in-between turns, which can allow you to build up a lot of damage quickly and has a reasonable amount of HP. Again, due to the low amount of energy required, the build-up time to play this card is low which means you can focus attaching energies to more powerful cards like Hydreigon.

How many Pokémon should be in my deck?

This depends, mostly on the strategy you wish to use. In this deck, there are 23 Pokémon that can become active cards. Some decks have as little as 18 or as much as 28, there needs to be some thought on this because if you have too few Pokémon without the appropriate trainer cards to find them, you will struggle to build your bench quickly enough and if you have too many, your strategy might be weak because you’ll have less room in your deck for a variety of trainer cards and energy cards. Generally it should range between 18-24.

Strategy

Your deck should have an objective, in that you want to get a particular Pokémon out as your active Pokémon, and perhaps certain support Pokémon on your bench as soon as possible. Think about how multiple energy-types can complement each other and don’t hesitate to use a few basic Pokémon with High HP in your deck as they can make play interesting and can buy you time to setup

In order to have a good strategy, you will need appropriate trainer cards to help you achieve that.

Trainer Cards

Trainer Cards are incredibly important in your deck. They serve multiple purposes, and are available in a few different types. They are:

Supporter: – Typically an Anime Character whereby the card does something beneficial for you, like heal a pokemon or locate a pokemon but you can only use once per turn – e.g. Pokémon Fan Club, Cynthia, Gardenia

Item Cards: – An item card allows you attach a beneficial or functional effect to one of your Pokémon, such as increasing its health or reducing damage taken OR it allows you to perform another action, like finding a Pokémon in your deck, You can use an unlimited amount of item cards per term – e.g. Great Ball, Switch

Stadium Cards: – Stadium cards allow either player to bring about a game-wide condition continually, until it is either replaced by another stadium card or discarded by either player. These cards can be potentially game changers – e.g. Altar of the Sunne

What Trainer Cards should I use?

As you can imagine there are lots of options here but throughout the expansions there are commonly used cards that are tried and tested such as:

Cynthia – allows you to ‘replace’ your hand if it’s unhelpful
Hau – allows you to draw 3 additional cards
Nest Ball – allows you to search your deck for a basic Pokémon card
Switch – Allows you to switch your active Pokémon with a benched Pokémon
Timer Ball – allows you to flip two coins, each heads allows you to find an evolution Pokémon.

Offensive / Tactical Trainer Cards

Whilst the above are staple trainer cards and are more commonly used, Some are quite brilliant for causing issues for your opponent such as;

Guzma – Switches our your opponent’s active Pokémon
Life Forest –  If you have Grass-energy Pokémon, allows you to heal 60 damage per turn and removes special conditions.

Mina – If you use Fairy-energy Pokémon, you can attach another fairy-energy to your Pokémon, potentially attacking earlier.

Rock Guard

Rock Guard – One of my favourites – this is a legacy card that allows you to put 6 damage counters on your opponent’s active Pokémon every time they attack you with a damage-based attack.

Generally, you should aim to have an approximately 16-25 trainer cards in your deck, with a balanced split between function, offensive and defensive cards. One of my favourite decks that I use, which I’ll show you below – contains 25.

Energy

Again, you want a balanced amount of energy cards in order to easily power up your Pokémon.


Sometimes you won’t need that many but it is still important to be able to easily find energies. You’d be surprised how many games have been lost because a player just couldn’t get an energy card.. We’d suggest between 16-22, and you may benefit from one or two double-colourless energy cards if you have evolution Pokémon or powerful GX cards that require a lot of energy.

If you’re using two energy types in your deck, look at how many Pokémon you have of either type and experiment.

Example Custom Deck – Fairy Garden

Here’s one of my custom Decks, Fairy Garden.

This deck is built up around some of the Pokémon cards I love to play with, and is a Fairy/Grass type deck.

The Pokemon

Fairy Garden Custom (Expanded) Deck

As you can see, the structure of my Pokémon setup is very different to a standard theme deck. For one, there are less Pokémon and hardly any evolution lines. This is a very focused and high risk deck that if played correctly, can be very difficult to beat.

My main Firepower card is the Celebi & Venusaur GX card. My objective is to take out and pacify my opponent’s most powerful cards (most like a GX-Card) as quickly as possible. This is a great card and can be very difficult to beat as it can fully heal itself.

You’ll notice my cookie cutter cards offer the ability to find Pokémon quickly, heal and confuse the opponent. These are delay + setup cards.

My secondary/support cards can be equally useful and devastating to my opponent if carefully used.
Shuckle GX is a natural tank card, it cannot be attacked if the opponent has two energy cards or less attached to their Pokémon card. It’s triple poison attack is very annoying and can quickly add up to a lot of damage if the opponent doesn’t take care of it (which can force them to use supporter cards early) and to top it off, it can paralyse a Pokémon if necessary – which can be very useful if your opponent is about to do a massive attack on your active Pokémon.

My alternate firepower cards, in this case Fairy-type are the Ninetales Evolution which includes a GX card from Lost Thunder. The GX card is not especially powerful but it allows me to find 2 item cards very quickly which can be useful later on.

My non-GX Ninetales is useful because it can also be a tank if my opponent’s Pokémon is a GX-Card as no attacks will work on it!

Lastly, one of my favourites is Mimikyu GX, this card is super for causing mayhem to your opponent. It’s secondary attack increases exponentially each time you use it. It’s also a great card to switch in and out of play as it only requires 1 energy to retreat. This card is particularly useful if your previous Pokémon did a reasonable amount of damage (let’s say 70) to your opponent, but hasn’t been  defeated yet. If the opponent’s Pokémon has 70 damage, Mimikyu’s “Let’s snuggle & Fall” attack would do a whopping 220 damage for just 2 energy cards. I could also attach an item card like Fighting Fury Belt which would increase its HP by 40 and damage by 10, further increasing damage output. This is a very sneaky Pokémon! Switching between Shuckle and Mimikyu is great fun.

Let’s take a look at the trainers;

Fairy Garden Trainer Set

The first thing you might notice is that there are quite a lot of them!

Because I only have 13 actual Pokémon Cards in my deck, I need a flexible selection of trainer cards to help me deliver my strategy:-

Fairy Garden – Example Strategy

  1. Get Spinda or Shuckle out as the active Pokémon ASAP and failing that, Vulpix.
  2. Start chipping away at my opponent’s lower-powered cards, either by using Shuckle to poison them or Spinda to confuse them + 30 damage every turn for a single energy
  3. Get Celebi & Venusaur GX powered up ASAP, preferably on the bench
  4. Attach Energies ASAP to Celebi & Venusaur, then support cards like Mimikyu or Shuckle.
  5. Get Shaymin on the  bench to provide +20 heals in-between turns
  6. Once my opponent has started to power up their GX cards, force them to switch it out with my Lysandre card if possible (or escape rope).
  7. Try to switch in Celebi & Venusaur and use Pollen Hazard to confuse, poison and burn my opponent. + Get my Life Forest Stadium card out, ready to heal some likely incoming damage.
  8. Either ‘Nuke’ my opponent with Solarbeam, or continue Pollen Hazard until my opponent cannot heal or remove the status conditions. + Continually heal Celebi + Venusaur via Life Forest, Shaymin or Gardenia.
  9. If damage becomes too much, use Evergreen GX attack to heal, and rinse and repeat.
  10. If I take a huge amount of damage and the risk of losing my card is high, retreat and bring in Mimikyu to do some exponential damage to my opponent if I’ve already damaged them.
  11. Switch back to a tank or delay card such as Ninetales , Spinda or Shuckle to chip away at my opponent and re-power & heal Celebi & Venusaur GX.
  12. Make as few mistakes as possible and utilise my trainers effectively throughout in order to optimise damage, health and think about my opponents likely next moves.

Top 10 Pokémon Trading Card Deck-Building Tips

This is a high-risk deck and a lot can go wrong. If you hadn’t used it before and didn’t have a strategy, you would probably lose quite a lot. That’s why it’s important to remember the following:

  1. Test your deck. Get to know the cards in it. Once you know what’s in there, you’ll know what cards you need to find and the strategy will become clear or you’ll be able to effectively create one.
  2. If you’re struggling on where to start – Find a great GX or Evolution card to begin with, and work backwards – find its devolved forms and look at supporting cards.
  3. Think about the weaknesses in your deck – Do you have too many Pokémon? Does that slow the game down for you? Do you have too many evolution lines? Do you need more offensive trainer cards to delay your opponent?
  4. Think about how your main, supporting and alternate Pokémon cards complement each other. I mentioned how Shuckle and Mimikyu are a good duo due to low retreat cost, tanking ability and exponential damage output – can you create a duo team to switch between?
  5. If you’re playing with friends, ask for feedback. If you’re playing online, when you lose try to work out why you lost and make changes to the structure of your deck if needed.
  6. Don’t have too many different types of Pokémon – Remember, you need to power these guys up, if you have 4 energy types to worry about it’ll take longer for you to power them up.
  7. Use offensive and damaging trainer cards that can disrupt your opponent’s play. I guarantee it will annoy them and lead them to make mistakes. All you need to win is to be smarter than your opponent (although a more powerful deck doesn’t hurt!)
  8. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You’ll make mistakes and bad decks occasionally, but as long as you learn from them – there is no perfect deck, every one will have at least one weakness.
  9. Enjoy the process of strategizing, the more you do this the better you will become at the game.
  10. You can build your decks using the Online Trading Card Game, but obviously in real-life too. Don’t be afraid to go out and join clubs or visit events where you can compete against other people.

David