Designing a Deck from Scratch

Building a Pokémon TCG deck on your own is no easy task. With so many cards available to use, it's your job to pick out 60 cards that work together to create a winning strategy. How do you decide which ones to use? How many Pokémon, Trainer, and Energy cards should you be playing? Depending on the strategy your deck is using, the answers to those questions can vary. In this article, we'll discuss some basic guidelines that can help you unleash the full potential of your deck, and then we'll look at some example decks that put these guidelines into action.

The first step is to choose the Pokémon to build your deck around. After that, come up with a clear strategy to take advantage of your Pokémon's strengths. From there, you can choose the best cards that help you execute your strategy.

If you want to use a deck with evolved Pokémon, remember you'll have to include their previous Evolutions as well. As a general rule, you should use similar numbers of an evolved Pokémon and the one it evolves from. For example, a deck with three Raichu should also include three Pikachu. Try to focus on just one or two Evolution chains, since they can take up a lot of deck space. Including a lot of different Pokémon means you won't have room for the Trainer and Energy cards you need.

Once you choose your Pokémon, you can figure out how many Trainer and Energy cards to play. A typical deck with Evolutions will have 16–20 Pokémon, leaving room for about 30 Trainers and 12 Energy. On the other hand, a deck that uses only Basic Pokémon may have only 10–14 Pokémon, meaning you can play even more Trainers and Energy.


Building on the Basics

Here's an example of a popular Pikachu & Zekrom-GX deck that features only Basic Pokémon.

  • Pikachu & Zekrom-GX
Pokémon
  • 3
    Pikachu & Zekrom-GX
    33/181
    sm9 33
  • 3
    Jirachi
    99/181
    sm9 99
  • 2
    Zapdos
    40/181
    sm9 40
  • 1
    Absol
    88/181
    sm9 88
  • 1
    Marshadow
    45/73
    sm35 45
  • 1
    Tapu Koko-GX
    47/145
    sm2 47
  • 1
    Tapu Koko ◇
    51/181
    sm9 51
  • 1
    Tapu Lele-GX
    60/145
    sm2 60
  • 1
    Zeraora-GX
    86/214
    sm8 86
Energy Cards
  • 11
    Lightning Energy
    nrg1 29
Trainer Cards
  • 4
    Guzma
    sm3 115
  • 4
    Lillie
    sm1 122
  • 3
    Volkner
    sm5 135
  • 1
    Cynthia
    sm5 119
  • 1
    Aether Paradise Conservation Area
    sm2 116
  • 1
    Thunder Mountain ◇
    sm8 191
  • 4
    Electropower
    sm8 172
  • 4
    Ultra Ball
    sm1 135
  • 3
    Energy Switch
    sm1 117
  • 3
    Nest Ball
    sm1 123
  • 2
    Choice Band
    sm2 121
  • 2
    Escape Board
    sm5 122
  • 2
    Switch
    sm1 132
  • 1
    Escape Rope
    sm3 114
More Info Copy Deck List

While it may be surprising to see so many Trainer cards compared with Pokémon and Energy, it's important to note that Trainer cards are truly the backbone of every deck. Without them, you won't be able to find the cards you need at the right times, and you won't be able to execute your strategy as often as you'd like. As tempting as it is to put tons of different Pokémon in your deck, you need to make room for a lot of Trainer cards.

One of the qualities of a great deck is being able to find the cards you need at the right time. In the list above, the Supporter cards Lillie and Cynthia are crucial for drawing plenty of cards. In addition, Ultra Ball and Nest Ball are essential for finding the Pokémon you need. You'll find cards like these in nearly every competitive deck, no matter what kind of strategy it's using.

Another way to add drawing power to a deck is with support Pokémon like Tapu Lele-GX. With an Ultra Ball, you can find Tapu Lele-GX and use its Wonder Tag Ability to search up the Supporter card you need. Absol won't help you execute your strategy directly, but its Dark Ambition Ability slows down your opponent's attempt to execute their own game plan.

Other Trainer cards and support Pokémon can disrupt your opponent or boost the damage of your attacks. For example, the popular combination of Choice Band and Electropower adds extra damage when you need it. Guzma, Switch, Zeraora-GX, and Escape Rope can all help you get the right Pokémon into battle—making sure your best attacker is in position or pulling a vulnerable Pokémon up off your opponent's Bench. And Thunder Mountain Prism Star, Tapu Koko Prism Star, and Energy Switch can make sure you have enough Energy to attack every turn. Trainer cards have all sorts of powerful effects, and the right mix can lead you to victory.

In our example deck, the selection of Pokémon is fairly simple. The basic strategy is to overwhelm your opponent using Pikachu & Zekrom-GX's powerful attacks. Full Blitz deals a solid chunk of damage while also charging up 1 of your Pokémon, while a fully powered Tag Bolt-GX is one of the most devastating attacks in the game. Zapdos is an alternate attacker; its Thunderous Assault attack is fantastic at delivering efficient Knock Outs to lower-HP Pokémon. And Tapu Koko-GX is a solid backup attacker that can punish your opponent for attaching lots of Energy. Importantly, all of these Pokémon benefit from Electropower, Thunder Mountain Prism Star, Zeraora-GX, and Tapu Koko Prism Star.

At first glance, 11 Energy cards may not seem like enough, especially compared with the 20 seen in most theme decks. This deck can function with fewer Energy cards because it has a lot of Supporter cards that draw or find more cards, including Volkner, which can grab an Energy card directly.


A Two-Pokémon Strategy

Let's take a look at another style of deck that includes an Evolution chain and uses a different distribution of cards.

  • Blacephalon-GX
Pokémon
  • 3
    Blacephalon-GX
    52/214
    sm8 52
  • 4
    Naganadel
    108/214
    sm8 108
  • 4
    Poipole
    107/214
    sm8 107
  • 1
    Absol
    88/181
    sm9 88
  • 1
    Marshadow
    45/73
    sm35 45
  • 1
    Tapu Lele-GX
    60/145
    sm2 60
Energy Cards
  • 15
    Fire Energy
    nrg1 27
  • 1
    Beast Energy ◇
    sm6 117
Trainer Cards
  • 3
    Cynthia
    sm5 119
  • 3
    Guzma
    sm3 115
  • 3
    Lillie
    sm1 122
  • 2
    Erika’s Hospitality
    sm9 140
  • 2
    Ultra Space
    sm6 115
  • 1
    Heat Factory ◇
    sm8 178
  • 4
    Beast Ring
    sm6 102
  • 4
    Mysterious Treasure
    sm6 113
  • 4
    Ultra Ball
    sm1 135
  • 2
    Choice Band
    sm2 121
  • 1
    Energy Switch
    sm1 117
  • 1
    Field Blower
    sm2 125
More Info Copy Deck List

Take a moment to compare this deck to our first example, especially noting the distribution of Pokémon and the choices of Trainer cards. When you're building a deck, you should always have a central strategy in mind. For this deck, we'll focus on Blacephalon-GX and its Mind Blown attack. Since it does damage based on how many Fire Energy cards you move from your Pokémon to the Lost Zone, you need to include a lot of Fire Energy cards in your deck, plus a lot of cards that can get them into play quickly.

On the Trainer side, this deck looks pretty different from the Pikachu & Zekrom-GX deck, because of the focus on getting Fire Energy either directly into play or into the discard pile to be retrieved with Naganadel's Charging Up Ability. For example, Mysterious Treasure expands on Ultra Ball, giving you a second way to find the Pokémon you need while discarding Fire Energy for later. Ultra Space can help you get your Ultra Beasts directly, or you can use Heat Factory Prism Star to discard Fire Energy and try to draw cards that can't easily be searched out. Because this deck features Ultra Beasts, you can use Beast Ring to power up quickly when your opponent is down to 3 or 4 Prize cards.

In addition to those specialized cards, Cynthia, Guzma, and Lillie are all staple Supporter cards that you'll see included in most competitive decks. You can get a lot of value out of cards like these to complement the strategy of almost any deck.

The choice of Pokémon to play in this deck is simplified by the two-Pokémon strategy. It's important to use as many Poipole and Naganadel as possible to ensure you can keep churning out Fire Energy, and you'll want plenty of Blacephalon-GX for attacking. Tapu Lele-GX is great because you can seek it out with Ultra Ball or Mysterious Treasure and use its Wonder Tag Ability to find a Supporter when you have a weak hand, and Absol and Marshadow are useful at slowing down your opponent.


Who Needs Energy Anyway?

Our last example deck features an even more extreme mix of Pokémon, Trainer cards, and Energy.

  • Zoroark-GX
Pokémon
  • 4
    Zoroark-GX
    53/73
    sm35 53
  • 4
    Zorua
    52/73
    sm35 52
  • 2
    Oranguru
    114/138
    sm5 114
  • 2
    Tapu Lele-GX
    60/145
    sm2 60
  • 1
    Alolan Muk
    58/149
    sm1 58
  • 1
    Articuno-GX
    31/168
    sm7 31
  • 1
    Ditto ◇
    154/214
    sm8 154
  • 1
    Magcargo
    24/168
    sm7 24
  • 1
    Slugma
    23/168
    sm7 23
  • 1
    Sableye
    80/145
    sm2 80
Energy Cards
  • 3
    Double Colorless Energy
    sm1 136
  • 2
    Rainbow Energy
    sm7 151
Trainer Cards
  • 4
    Cynthia
    sm5 119
  • 4
    Professor Elm’s Lecture
    sm8 188
  • 2
    Plumeria
    sm3 120
  • 2
    Team Skull Grunt
    sm1 133
  • 1
    Acerola
    sm3 112
  • 1
    Gladion
    sm4 95
  • 1
    Guzma
    sm3 115
  • 2
    Lysandre Labs
    sm6 111
  • 4
    Crushing Hammer
    sm1 115
  • 4
    Timer Ball
    sm1 134
  • 4
    Ultra Ball
    sm1 135
  • 2
    Counter Catcher
    sm4 91
  • 2
    Enhanced Hammer
    sm2 124
  • 1
    Max Potion
    sm2 128
  • 1
    Pal Pad
    sm5 132
  • 1
    Rescue Stretcher
    sm2 130
  • 1
    Switch
    sm1 132
More Info Copy Deck List

This deck contains a whopping 37 Trainer cards and only five Energy cards. That may seem pretty wild, but the strategy of this deck is quite simple: keep using Zoroark-GX's Trade Ability to dig up key Trainer cards from your deck, then prevent your opponent from attacking by denying them Energy while you whittle away at their Pokémon using Zoroark-GX's Riotous Beating attack. As you've seen with the first two decks, Trainer cards make a huge impact on a deck's strength, and this deck is a perfect example of that.

With just five Energy, this deck has space for lots of disruptive cards. Perhaps the most devastating card is Crushing Hammer, which has a 50% chance of discarding an Energy from one of your opponent's Pokémon. When you combine that with Enhanced Hammer, Plumeria, Team Skull Grunt, and Counter Catcher, your opponent will have a very hard time using any attacks at all. Disrupting and denying your opponent's plans is an effective strategy, and this deck excels at it.

Zoroark-GX is normally the only Pokémon you want to do damage with, but this deck includes Pokémon that provide support from the Bench (and can serve as backup attackers in desperate times). Oranguru's Resource Management attack doesn't do any damage, but it lets you recover crucial cards such as Double Colorless Energy and Crushing Hammer from the discard pile so you can play them again and again. Alolan Muk's Power of Alchemy Ability blocks the Abilities of Basic Pokémon, preventing the opponent from using Tapu Lele-GX's Wonder Tag or Oranguru's Instruct to start a big turn. The combination of Magcargo's Smooth Over and Zoroark-GX's Trade Abilities effectively lets you draw any card you want, and Articuno­-GX's Cold Crush-GX attack can quickly remove several Energy cards from the board. These Pokémon will rarely do damage, but they are essential to make everything function correctly.

Playing with so little Energy might look scary, but it's really all you need. Riotous Beating only requires one Double Colorless Energy, and Zoroark-GX gives up 2 Prize cards when it's Knocked Out, so your opponent only needs to defeat it three times to win.


Over to You!

Now you've seen three different styles of decks used in competitive play. All of the strategies shown above have had success in big events, and you might even see them in the upcoming International and World Championships.

Clearly not every deck will be exactly like the ones shown here, but here are some important points you can take away after examining these decks:

  • Pick a few Pokémon to build your deck around. A clear, focused strategy is important.

  • Include enough Supporter cards to make your deck consistent.

  • Use Pokémon and Trainer cards that complement your strategy and your main Pokémon.

  • Understand the reason for each card in your deck. You should be able to explain every card's purpose!

And remember, these are general tips. If you want to build a deck that doesn't fit any of these guidelines, go right ahead! Some of the most successful decks feature unusual combinations of Pokémon. Deck building is one of the most rewarding parts of the Pokémon TCG, so have fun with it. Maybe one day your idea will be featured in a World Championships Deck!

Want to test out your latest deck? Try out a Pokémon League or local competition. Use the event locator to find a Play! Pokémon event near you. And make sure to check back to Pokemon.co.uk/Strategy for more Pokémon TCG and video game tips.

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