PokéFinance 101 – Lecture 1: A Newbie Guide to Not Breaking the Bank


The Pokemon TCG is an investment. Don’t worry, I ain’t gonna start a lecture on Finance 101, but here’s the reason why I started with that statement: I believe hobbies and lifestyle choices, like TCGs in this instance, are choices we make in order to obtain a sort of ‘return’ – be it unquantifiable factors such as happiness, satisfaction, or utility, or actually being measured in dollars and cents (Ringgit and Sen for us Malaysians!). The Pokemon TCG is no different; we spend our time earning money, spend our money on cards, and use our cards to either achieve success in the competitive scene or just casual enjoyment during games with our friends. However, unlike more simple transactions like buying your favourite nasi lemak from the mak cik near your house, purchasing your first of many Pokemon TCG cards can be a wayward experience at times. You aren’t necessarily certain what you are getting from random booster packs, and even if you know exactly what cards you’ve gotten, understanding precisely WHAT you’ve obtained in terms of value requires some insight and experience.

Before progressing, I implore you to check out our previous article from the Beginner Guides series here which explains in detail where should your purchasing decisions begin. It helps that you understand at least a little bit about TCGs, to really get the most out of today’s guide.

Formats & Rotations – Early Advice

Pokemon as a TCG is played in formats, which designates what sets are legal for competitive play. This means that sanctioned, official tournaments have a certain criteria on what cards you can actually use in that competition. There are currently two officially recognized formats: Standard and Expanded.

These are the sets currently legal in Standard (mid-February 2017):

  • Sun & Moon (SM)
  • Evolutions (EVO)
  • Steam Siege (STS)
  • Fates Collide (FCO)
  • Generations (GEN)
  • BREAKpoint (BKP)
  • BREAKthrough (BKT)
  • Ancient Origins (AOR)
  • Roaring Skies (ROS)
  • Double Crisis (DCR)*
  • Primal Clash (PRC)

Expanded is essentially Standard + the sets below:

  • Phantom Forces (PHF)
  • Furious Fists (FFI)
  • Flashfire (FLF)
  • XY (XY)
  • Legendary Treasures (LTR)
  • Plasma Blast (PLB)
  • Plasma Freeze (PLF)
  • Plasma Storm (PLS)
  • Boundaries Crossed (BCR)
  • Dragon Vault (DRV)*
  • Dragons Exalted (DRX)
  • Dark Explorers (DEX)
  • Next Destinies (NXD)
  • Noble Victories (NVI)
  • Emerging Powers (EPO)
  • Black & White (BLW)


A definitive list can be found here at PkmnCards, which itself is a superb resource for almost every Pokemon card ever printed.

So, no, your Base Set Charizard or Shining Gyarados from Neo Destinies are unfortunately not legal for competitive Pokemon TCG. 😦

How does Standard work? Every year after the World Championships in August, a new format is – usually – introduced in September, where the X oldest sets are rotated out of the format, where X is, again, usually, 4 or 5 sets. The improbability of this action (denoted by the word usually) makes predicting rotations difficult, and as such any newbie to the game may find it difficult and perhaps even depressing to know that their investment has suddenly ‘expired’ itself out of the format. It’s not all bad, though, as cards that rotate out of Standard would still be legal in Expanded, but then again between the two formats Standard is still more widely played.

Today’s Standard format is called Primal Clash-on, which we currently denote as PRC-SUM (as per the title).  The first abbreviation is the first set in the format, while the second abbreviation represents the current or latest set, which in this case is Sun & Moon Base Set. Since we don’t always get to predict what sets get rotated out, we have our first principle:

Rule #1: Focus on cards from newer sets to ensure you get the longest Standard-legal time on your investments.

So the question right now is this: What cards should I buy if I’m just starting out in the Pokemon TCG? For the simplicity of this article, we will approach buying decisions for the Standard format ONLY. We will tackle Expanded in another article in the future.

But before we run into cards, let’s just go with a couple of quick one-liners to guide us on our Pokemon shopping journey:

Rule #2: For a budget conscious player, purchasing minimum rarity singles extends the reach of your wallet.

Singles are the way to go. Period. It is the most cost-efficient way to get the exact cards you need at the lowest investment level.

AND STAY AWAY FROM REVERSE HOLOS! Well, it’s fine if you get a good deal on them, but be wary of the “maximum rarity” obsession that may just engulf you, and send your wallet into oblivion… no but seriously, don’t get holos or Full Arts unless you absolutely can afford them, since the most basic rarity cards are adequate for you to start your deck.

Rule #3: Research before committing to any purchase or trades.

As a newbie, you’ll probably be tempted by the wide range of cards and products on offer at both your local game store or from secondary market resellers. The key to making it out alive from the Pokemon TCG Marketplace is to do your research: TCGPlayer and CCGCastle are two excellent sources of prices for you to gauge the value of cards you are interested in or cards you already own. As always, when in doubt, drop us a message and we’d be happy to help!

Staples –  Trainers

Staples are cards that are most widely played, and should be in every player’s collection. These cards are seen across most archetypes, and forms the backbone of a wide range of decks in the metagame. Most of the time, they are Trainer cards (Items/Supporters/Stadiums), and that is where one should begin their shopping/investment. Why? Because they offer the best flexibility, and ensures your first capital outflow goes to good use. On the odd occasion, some Pokemon may sneak into this list – but let me address this another time.

Rule #4: Trainers first, Pokemon later.

Most of the time 4 (Full playset)

  • Items
    • Ultra Ball
    • VS Seeker
    • Trainer’s Mail
    • Max Elixir
    • Float Stone
  • Supporters
    • Professor Sycamore
    • N

Yeah, it’s quite a short list. One could argue that you probably should always get a full playset of the above, but I’d like to think that you could still remain at 3 copies or less if your decks don’t require them. Again, no harm in securing your playsets just to ensure you have them for your decks.

Most of the time 2-3

  • Items
    • Fighting Fury Belt
    • Escape Rope
    • Switch
  • Supporters
    • Lysandre
  •  Stadiums
    • Parallel City

Supplementing your playsets come a few notable cards that you don’t usually require four-offs, but more often than not you’ll probably encounter a few copies here and there.

One- to two-offs, techs and other miscellaneous good stuff

  • Items
    • Enhanced Hammer
    • Nest Ball
    • Super Rod
    • Energy Switch
  • Supporters
    • Hex Maniac
    • Brock’s Grit
    • Delinquent
    • Ninja Boy
    • Team Flare Grunt
    • Pokemon Center Lady
    • Olympia
    • Professor Kukui
  • Stadiums
    • Faded Town
    • Silent Lab

Sometimes you’re looking for cards that give you an edge to your deck versus other specific archetypes, or just give your deck the extra oomph it needs to function. This is where these cards come in. A common in some decks and rare in others, you’ll be fine having just a copy or two in case you find you want them, but they don’t necessarily require that much attention.

The Unmentioned

  • Items
    • Spirit Links
    • Mega Turbo
    • Revitalizer
    • Level Ball
    • EXP Share
    • Puzzle of Time
  •  Stadiums
    • Sky Field
    • Rough Seas
    • Scorched Earth
    • Shrine of Memories
    • Forest of Giant Plants
  • Many others!

A sizable variety of cards are innately designed to work with specific Pokemon Energy typing or Stages, or just work best in the odd one or two decks in the entire metagame. So while we wouldn’t tell you to not buy 4 Mewtwo Spirit Links if you have already planned to play Mega Mewtwo EX decks, this section of cards are the ‘get-them-only-if-you-need-them’ sort, so ensure you are fully set on committing to your investments beforehand.

As you get through the entire list of Trainers you could possibly purchase, we come to our final principle:

Rule #5: Only buy what you need!

Final Thoughts

While we’ve only covered Trainers in today’s short article, I truly believe this is where most players, both new and returning, should start off. Even before deciding on an exact deck to build, Trainers are flexible enough for you to purchase when you see a good deal, and slide themselves into your deck later on. Our next articles in the series will take a look at supporting Pokemon, and budget-friendly decks for the new format which we recommend newbies to pick up.

Until next time, this is Aaron signing off.

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