Top 5 Issues With the Pokemon Trading Card Game

Updated on March 17, 2018
Jeremy Gill profile image

In-between Pokemon journeys, Jeremy studies forensics and works part-time at his university.

The Pokemon TCG

First things first—before we start ranting about the problems of Pokemon's TCG, let me say that I'm actually quite fond of the game. Heck, for months I've been counting down the best cards from each set and always enjoy doing so.

That said, several obstacles in the rules obstruct gameplay. Sure, all card games have their issues, but of what I call the "Big Three" of TCGs (Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Magic: The Gathering), Pokemon, in particular, amasses several hazards. Want to see what I mean? Don your complaining cap as we explore (nitpick) five problems with the Pokemon TCG!

Mega Blastoise
Mega Blastoise

5. No One Knows How to Play

Admittedly, this problem won't be present in competitive settings, but let's not jump the gun. Odds are you've interacted with Pokemon's TCG at some point, whether it's receiving the cards as a kid or buying them for your own.

Now, how many of you actually know the rules to the game? To be clear, I'm not insulting you if you don't—I certainly didn't for many years—I'm just pointing out that most consumers never even play it. As kids, we prefer collecting, why bother learning a semi-complex card game when we can just engage in the more-famous electronic titles? Thus, few of our children have actually explored the intricacies of the TCG, and having to hunt for competent players distracts from the enjoyment of the game.

Legal or not?
Here's another test: Is the Mega Blastoise card above an official trading card? If so, is it legal for tournament use? If you're unsure, don't feel bad, but understand how challenging it is to gauge whether you're playing against actual Nintendo products; this Blastoise is both real and legal.

Do you know how to play the Pokemon TCG?

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Base Set Charizard
Base Set Charizard
Generations Expansion Charizard
Generations Expansion Charizard

4. Older Cards are Worthless

I don't mean they're literally valueless (please feel free to send me any of your Base Set Mewtwos), just in the context of the game. Why? Two reasons:

  • Older expansions constantly become banned
  • Even if allowed, older cards stink

We have over 70 expansions; how many are legal? As of this writing, you have to travel down the list to the sixty-third set before the cards become accessible for the Standard format.

But it hardly matters anyway—very few of those aging cards could compete with modern ones. Now, Pokemon isn't the only card game that ups the power of its monsters over time (Pendulum summons in Yu-Gi-Oh, anyone?), but at least Magic and YGO are designed in ways that let them provide new support for older themes, keeping many relevant. For instance, Blue-Eye White Dragon decks are still common and viable competitively in YGO.

Just check out Base Set Charizard, the king of its day, who now can't hold a torch to Generation's Charizard, which wields more HP, stronger attacks, and fewer Energy-discarding requirements.

Turn Advantage

First Player
Second Player
First Draw
Can potentially attack on their first turn
First chance to attach Energy
Pokemon's TCG heavily favors the starting player

3. First Player Receives a Huge Advantage

Any resource-building game must carefully regulate its rules to prevent the first player from gaining a massive advantage. For example, in Magic, players utilize land cards to fuel their spells, and while the first player gets to play their land first, they don't draw on the first turn. This mitigates the issue by giving the second player card advantage.

Pokemon's system is far less elegant. Check out the above table and notice how the game heavily skews towards the initial player. Ninety-nine percent of decks would rather miss out on a one-Energy attack (assuming the starting Pokemon even has one) than forfeit extra cards and Energy.

One Solution: In Magic's vein, prevent the first player from drawing on their beginning turn. They can't attack and lose card advantage, but retain the upper hand with Energy attachment. Sadly, this idea is currently unofficial, but hopefully the game will take note.

Shining Mew
Shining Mew

2. Limitations on Deck-Building

As a longtime player of several card games, half the fun truly is collecting and building your deck. Here, Pokemon struggles to allow as much flexibility because:

  • Old sets are forbidden/bad
  • Decks can only have two types

As previously mentioned, older expansions are outlawed and terrible, so go ahead and eliminate most of the cards ever made when constructing your deck. Admittedly, this makes it faster to browse modern options, but limits customization—not exactly what I'd dub an equal trade.

Type Restrictions
Even worse, to stand a fighting chance, your deck can really only contain a few elements. Unlike the video games, where you'll want to amass a team of varied Pokemon to cover each other's weaknesses, Energy requirements for attacks restrict you to maybe two types (three if you count Normal Pokemon, who accept any Energy).

Any more and you're bound to run into situations where you have enough Energy numerically, but they aren't the needed element. Check out the Mew card above, one of the "Shining" Pokemon notorious for being unplayable due to needing three separate types of Energy to unlock their attacks.

Phantom Forces Fearow
Phantom Forces Fearow

1. Too Luck-Based

Admittedly, card games by definition include a luck factor; sometimes you just don't draw well. However, most contain enough strategic elements that well-built decks can often overcome inferior luck.

But for the Pokemon TCG, look at just how many things depend on chance:

  • Draws (like every card game)
  • Who goes first (which, as we mentioned, definitely matters)
  • Whose deck, if either, has the type advantage
  • Effects of most attacks

Type Disadvantage
Remember, because decks are limited to one or two types, if your opponent happens to be playing one that your element is generally weak to, you're probably going to lose. Even if you play superbly, you'll simply struggle to overcome taking double damage, especially if your foe's team also resists your element. And heaven help you if you're facing and type disadvantage and playing second.

Even worse, the majority of attacks involve coin flips. I understand that Pokemon video games also involve luck, like with the accuracy of moves, but not nearly to this extent. Here, many attacks are all-or-nothing.

For example, examine Fearow from the Phantom Forces set. Thankfully, it has Drill Peck, a luck-free technique, but Fly changes drastically based on a coin flip. It either nails a solid 40 damage and makes Fearow invincible the next turn, or does absolutely nothing. All based on whether you land Heads. This isn't an abnormality, either; attacks like these run rampant throughout the TCG.

Which trading card game do you favor?

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Playing the TCG

Do these factors mean the Pokemon TCG is bad? Not at all! In fact, it's much easier to learn than Magic or Yu-Gi-Oh, and who can deny the awesome feeling of collecting your favorite monsters in card form? In other words, despite limitations, Pokemon's TCG still contains plenty of strategy and induces loads of fun. Just remember that the best-constructed deck can and will lose when Abe Lincoln and George Washington aren't agreeing with you.

Basically, if you're looking for something as complex and thought-dependent as chess, you'll get frustrated when luck ruins your matches. But if you're seeking a blend of strategy and accessibility, Pokemon has the other two TCGs beat. Happy playing, and I hope to see you at my card countdowns!

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Jeremy Gill


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      • profile image

        The Green Gyarados 2 months ago

        I have to agree, it's annoying to follow all of the rules when they change just about every year. Great article!

      • Jeremy Gill profile image

        Jeremy Gill 9 months ago from Louisiana


        Hmm.. there's definitely more elements to consider now, like Mega Evolutions, Pokemon Tools, and Supporter cards. So in that regard, the game has more options available to players.

        That said, it can be hard to jump back in because, as discussed, many old sets are banned and not helpful besides. You can download (for free) the Pokemon Trading Card Online game and use that as a good test!

      • profile image

        hitmonsam 9 months ago

        Good read man. Do you think the Pokemon TCG has gotten better or worse as time goes on? Wondering whether I should get back into it

      • profile image

        slimeme 9 months ago

        haha i love the pokemon tcg but it really does depend on luck. nice read!