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 more Trainers and Energy.

Here's an example of a popular Yveltal-EX deck that features only Basic Pokémon.

Pokémon

QTY

Expansion

Yveltal-EX 3 XY, 79/146
Yveltal 3 XY, 78/146

Darkrai-EX

2 Black & White—Legendary Treasures, 88/113
Seismitoad-EX 2 XY—Furious Fists, 20/111
Keldeo-EX 2 Black & White—Legendary Treasures, 45/113
Jirachi-EX 1 Black & White—Plasma Blast, 60/101
Mr. Mime 1 Black & White—Plasma Freeze, 47/116

Trainer Cards

QTY

Expansion

Professor Sycamore 4 XY—Phantom Forces, 101/119
N 4 Promo, BW100; Black & White—Dark Explorers, 96/108
Lysandre 2 XY—Flashfire, 90/106
Professor's Letter 1 XY, 123/146
Xerosic 1 XY—Phantom Forces, 110/119
Colress 1 Black & White—Plasma Storm, 118/135
VS Seeker 4 XY—Phantom Forces, 109/119
Ultra Ball 4 XY—Roaring Skies, 93/108
Muscle Band 4 XY, 121/146
Hypnotoxic Laser 4 Black & White—Plasma Storm, 123/135
Virbank City Gym 2 Black & White—Plasma Storm, 126/135
Head Ringer 2 XY—Phantom Forces, 97/119
Computer Search 1 Black & White—Boundaries Crossed, 137/149

Energy

QTY

Expansion

Darkness Energy 8
Double Colorless Energy 4 XY—Phantom Forces, 111/119

While it may be surprising to see so many Trainer cards compared to Pokémon and Energy, it's important to note that Trainers 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 Trainers.

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, Supporter cards such as Professor Sycamore, N, and Colress are crucial for drawing plenty of cards. VS Seeker is an Item card that can retrieve a Supporter card from the discard pile, which effectively adds more drawing power to your deck. In addition, Ultra Ball is 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, and you should aim for about 14 in your own deck.

Another way to add drawing power to a deck is with a support Pokémon like Jirachi-EX. With an Ultra Ball, you can find Jirachi-EX and use its Stellar Guidance Ability to search up the Supporter card you need.

Other Trainer cards can disrupt your opponent or boost the damage of your attacks. For example, the popular combination of Muscle Band, Hypnotoxic Laser, and Virbank City Gym adds extra damage when you need it. Head Ringer, Xerosic, and Lysandre can disrupt your opponent to give you an advantage. 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 Yveltal and Yveltal-EX's quick, powerful attacks. Yveltal's Oblivion Wing deals damage while charging up Yveltal-EX's Evil Ball, a one-two punch that has produced many tournament wins. Seismitoad-EX is another option; its Quaking Punch is one of the most disruptive attacks in the game. Importantly, all of these Pokémon benefit from Muscle Band, Hypnotoxic Laser, and Virbank City Gym, and this deck needs that extra damage boost.

At first glance, 12 Energy may not seem like enough, especially compared to the 18 Energy seen in most theme decks. This deck can function with fewer Energy cards because it has a lot of Supporter cards that draw more cards, including those Energy cards. On top of that, the Pokémon in this deck don't need much Energy to attack, and attacks like Yveltal's Oblivion Wing and Yveltal-EX's Y Cyclone can even retrieve or conserve Energy.

Let's take a look at another style of deck that uses even less Energy in favor of more Pokémon.

Pokémon

QTY

Expansion

Eevee 4 Black & White—Plasma Freeze, 90/116
Flareon 4 Black & White—Plasma Freeze, 12/116
Leafeon 4 Black & White—Plasma Freeze, 11/116
Ditto 3 Black & White—Boundaries Crossed, 108/149
Audino 3 Black & White—Boundaries Crossed, 126/149
Empoleon 2 Black & White—Plasma Freeze, 117/116; Black & White—Dark Explorers, 29/108
Exeggcute 2 Black & White—Plasma Freeze, 4/116
Jirachi-EX 2 Black & White—Plasma Blast, 60/101
Mr. Mime 1 Black & White—Plasma Freeze, 47/116

Trainer Cards

QTY

Expansion

Professor Sycamore 4 XY—Phantom Forces, 101/119
Archie's Ace in the Hole 2 XY—Primal Clash, 124/160
Lysandre 1 XY—Flashfire, 90/106
N 1 Promo, BW100; Black & White—Dark Explorers 96/108
VS Seeker 4 XY—Phantom Forces, 109/119

Acro Bike

4

XY—Primal Clash, 122/160

Battle Compressor 4 XY—Phantom Forces, 92/119
Ultra Ball 4 XY—Roaring Skies, 93/108
Silver Bangle 2 Black & White—Plasma Blast, 88/101
Float Stone 1 Black & White—Plasma Freeze, 99/116
Computer Search 1 Black & White—Boundaries Crossed, 137/149

Energy

QTY

Expansion

Water Energy 3
Double Colorless Energy 4 XY—Phantom Forces, 111/119

Take a moment to compare this deck to our first example, especially noting the number 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 Flareon and its Vengeance attack. Since it does damage based on how many Pokémon are in your discard pile, you need to include a lot of Pokémon, and you need to play a lot of cards that can put cards into the discard pile.

On the Trainer side, this deck will look pretty different from the Yveltal deck, with the focus of putting Pokémon into the discard pile. For example, Acro Bike gets one card from your deck and discards one. Ideally you will find a card you want and discard a Pokémon in the process. Another notable Item card is Battle Compressor, which lets you search for and discard three cards from your deck. Not only will this put Pokémon into the discard pile for Vengeance, but it thins out cards you wouldn't want to draw otherwise.

In addition to those specialized cards, Professor Sycamore, Ultra Ball, and Computer Search are all standard cards that complement the deck's strategy through discarding cards. In fact, nearly every Trainer card in the deck can fuel the fire of Vengeance—this is what it means to build your deck around your strategy.

The choice of Pokémon to play in this deck can go in a lot of different directions. Clearly, you want four Eevee and four Flareon, since they're your primary attackers, but what else do you need? Leafeon is a great choice because it also evolves from Eevee, it can cover Flareon's Weakness to Water, and its Energy Crush attack can hit really hard for just one Colorless Energy.

Audino has incredible synergy with Flareon, as its Busybody Ability puts it directly into the discard pile. Exeggcute's purpose is to get discarded repeatedly. Because you can pull it out of the discard pile every turn with its Propagation Ability, it's incredibly useful to pay the cost of cards like Ultra Ball and Computer Search.

The most unusual Pokémon in the deck is Empoleon, especially considering the deck doesn't include its previous Evolutions. Thanks to Archie's Ace in the Hole, you can take Empoleon out of the discard pile and put it directly onto your Bench. Now you have a Pokémon with a great attack that can discard more Pokémon with its Diving Draw Ability. It's yet another way to reinforce the central strategy of using Flareon's Vengeance.

Thanks to Double Colorless Energy, this deck can function with very few Energy cards. Since Flareon's Vengeance costs two Colorless Energy, you can use it with just one Double Colorless Energy. Most of the time, this is how you'll power the attack. Empoleon's Attack Command and Leafeon's Energy Crush can both be used with one Water Energy.

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

Pokémon

QTY

Expansion

Seismitoad-EX 4 XY—Furious Fists, 20/111
Swirlix 4 XY—Phantom Forces, 68/119
Slurpuff 4 XY—Phantom Forces, 69/119
Jirachi-EX 1 Black & White—Plasma Blast, 60/101

Trainer Cards

QTY

Expansion

Professor Sycamore 4 XY—Phantom Forces, 101/119
N 4 Promo, BW100; Black & White—Dark Explorers, 96/108
Lysandre 2 XY—Flashfire, 90/106
Shadow Triad 1 Black & White—Plasma Freeze, 102/116
Team Flare Grunt 1 XY, 129/146
Xerosic 1 XY—Phantom Forces, 110/119
VS Seeker 4 XY—Phantom Forces, 109/119
Ultra Ball 4 XY—Roaring Skies, 93/108
Crushing Hammer 4 XY—Kalos Starter Set, 34/39
Muscle Band 4 XY, 121/146
Hypnotoxic Laser 4 Black & White—Plasma Storm, 123/135
Virbank City Gym 3 Black & White—Plasma Storm, 126/135
Float Stone 2 Black & White—Plasma Freeze, 99/116
Head Ringer 2 XY—Phantom Forces, 97/119
Enhanced Hammer 1 XY—Phantom Forces, 94/119
Switch 1 XY—Roaring Skies, 91/108
Computer Search 1 Black & White—Boundaries Crossed, 137/149

Energy

QTY

Expansion

Double Colorless Energy 4 XY—Phantom Forces, 111/119

Not only does this deck contain a whopping 43 Trainer cards and only four Energy cards, but also there are just four different kinds of Pokémon—Seismitoad-EX, Swirlix, Slurpuff, and Jirachi-EX. That may seem pretty wild, but the strategy of this deck is quite simple: keep using Seismitoad-EX's Quaking Punch until you win. Everything else in the deck is designed to make that one attack as powerful as it can be. 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.

Quaking Punch prevents your opponent from playing Item cards, which is a powerful strategy, but it only does 30 damage—that's just not enough to deal with the high HP of Pokémon-EX. The most obvious answer to this problem is Muscle Band, which will add 20 damage to Quaking Punch. The deck also uses Hypnotoxic Laser and Virbank City Gym to generate a lot of extra damage. Over just a few turns, all that poison damage will be enough to Knock Out most Pokémon-EX. That's how you turn a 30-damage attack into a devastating strategy. The Shadow Triad Supporter card lets you keep up the barrage by getting a Hypnotoxic Laser card out of the discard pile and ready for reuse.

With just 4 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 attached to one of your opponent's Pokémon. When you combine that with Enhanced Hammer, Head Ringer, Team Flare Grunt, and Xerosic, it's going to be extremely difficult for your opponent to use any attacks at all. Disrupting and denying your opponent's plans is an effective strategy, and this deck excels at it.

Since Seismitoad-EX is the only Pokémon you want to attack with, it's good to include Pokémon that provide support from the Bench. Slurpuff is a good choice, as its Tasting Ability lets you draw an extra card every turn, making it easier to find those Item cards that make the deck so strong. Although Slurpuff and Jirachi-EX will never attack in this deck, they are essential to making everything function correctly.

Playing with so little Energy might look scary, but those four Double Colorless Energy are all you really need. It only takes one of them to use Quaking Punch, and Seismitoad-EX gives up two Prize cards when it's Knocked Out, so your opponent only needs to beat it three times to win. That means the game might be over before you even use all four of your Double Colorless Energy.

Now you've seen three different styles of decks used in competitive play. All of the strategies shown above have had success in live competitions, and you might even see them in the upcoming National 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 ever have featured 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!

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