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Get Ready to Play! Pokémon TCG at Pokémon League
Learn more about Pokémon League and how to prepare for your first Pokémon TCG event.
Are you looking to trade cards to build up your collection, searching for help on how to construct your first deck, or even getting ready to compete with a deck that you saw succeed on an official Pokémon TCG stream? There’s no better place to start than your local Pokémon League! Learn more about what a Pokémon League entails and how to get started on attending your first event. Consider also reading this guide to Pokémon Cards for Beginners to get refreshed on some of the basics of the game.
Signing Up to Play
Creating a Pokémon Player ID and Searching for a Pokémon League
Before you head out for your first event, it’s important to have your own Pokémon Trainer Club (PTC) account. All official Play! Pokémon events you participate in are recorded to your account, as well as how many Championship Points you’ve earned—the key to getting an invitation to the World Championships!
Don’t forget to bring your Player ID!
PTC accounts are also used with a variety of games and apps, including Pokémon GO and Pokémon UNITE, so you may already have one. If you don’t have a PTC account already, you can make one right here on Pokemon.com. You’ll also need to make sure you have a Pokémon Player ID, which you can generate in the Play! Pokémon Settings section of the Profile Editing page. You will need this Pokémon Player ID to participate at all official Play! Pokémon events.
Once you’ve set up your PTC account and generated a Pokémon Player ID, you can start searching for a Pokémon League near you! This can be done at the Event Locator, where you search your general area for local game stores hosting Play! Pokémon events including Pokémon Leagues, League Challenges, League Cups, and Prerelease tournaments.
Before jumping into more competitive settings, we recommend first attending a Pokémon League event. Pokémon League is the entry point to meet other like-minded Pokémon fans who are interested in battling, trading, and just hanging out in a casual setting. Pokémon League might be an open play session where players can construct their decks and play casual matches, a structured tournament with prizing, or a trading session—there’s room at Pokémon League for all kinds of Pokémon TCG fans.
Once you’ve found a Pokémon League you’d like to attend, it’s recommended you get to the store a little before the start time, so you can find the event space and get familiar with the area. Also, look for the Tournament Organizer at the store, and they’ll get you started—you may want to let them know you’re new to events and could use a little extra guidance. The organizer may have an assistant or two to help run the event, too. There will also be a judge that can help you understand the rules of playing the Pokémon TCG. It’s common to be nervous when entering a new setting for the first time, but the Pokémon community is filled with friendly people ready to help.
You can expect to meet players of all ages, backgrounds, and goals at Pokémon League. You may play a practice match against a parent who regularly brings their children to Pokémon League but is still learning how to play the Pokémon TCG themselves. You may trade cards with a fervent collector who is looking to complete the latest set, or even just collect every Pokémon TCG card featuring their favorite Pokémon. There are also likely to be competitive players meticulously practicing with the dream of playing under the lights and on stream at the Pokémon World Championships—some players can appear a bit serious, but they’re just focused! No matter what kind of Pokémon TCG player or fan you are, you are always welcome at Pokémon League.
Preparing the Goods
Sleeving Your Deck
One of the first things you’ll notice when you start playing with other folks is the use of card sleeves. Card sleeves are useful in a lot of ways—they protect your cards from damage, they’re easier to handle during a match, and they can help make sure everyone is playing fair. Plus, they add a touch of personal style to your game!
Protect your deck with a matching set of sleeves.
You’ll want to make sure that each card is sleeved in identical sleeves that are opaque enough so the back of the card is not visible under a bright light. If any sleeves get damaged during play, it’s best to replace the sleeve with an undamaged sleeve from the same product to maintain continuity; for example, red sleeves from two different brands might be slightly different shades. Otherwise, you’ll have to replace all the sleeves with a new set. Damaged sleeves may result in marked cards, which can be considered cheating. Card sleeve sets from Elite Trainer Boxes and Trainer’s Toolkits often include extra sleeves for this purpose. Game stores typically sell a variety of third-party sleeves, too—all card games use roughly the same size cards, so you can choose a style that works best for you.
There are no official rules for sleeve artwork outside of Premier Events (Regional Championships, International Championships, World Championships), so choose one that you like! But note: avoid using sleeves with inappropriate artwork as they are strictly forbidden. And while playing with sleeves has a lot of advantages, if for any reason your sleeves are deemed damaged or inappropriate and can’t be replaced, you may play without sleeves at store-level events.
Deck Box, Dice, Poison and Burn Markers, VSTAR Marker, and Playmat
The only items that are necessary to partake in a Pokémon TCG battle at a Pokémon League are your deck, damage counters (paper damage counters or dice are permitted), a coin or coin-flip die, Poison and Burn markers, and VSTAR marker. (If you’re playing in the Expanded format, you’ll also need a GX marker.) A coin-flip die is required to be translucent—generally, rolling an even number counts as flipping heads, while rolling an odd number counts as flipping tails. The aforementioned items are all that you need, but we recommend that you carry your sleeved deck in a deck box to ensure that your cards and sleeves remain undamaged between matches. Using a playmat (this can be paper, rubber, or cloth, for example) will also be helpful when picking up and moving your cards during a game. You can also find high-quality playmats featuring Pokémon designs at Pokémon Center.
If you forget any of the accessories when headed to Pokémon League, don’t worry about it too much. The organizer usually has extra items on hand. Still, you’ll soon appreciate having your own collection of accessories, so get used to keeping a box of dice and markers handy as you head out the door.
Going Through the Motions and TCG Etiquette
It’s OK to Make Mistakes
There are a lot of rules when playing the Pokémon TCG, and it can be difficult to learn them all once you start playing, but it’s important to remember that it’s always OK to make mistakes at Pokémon League. Even the most experienced players make mistakes at the highest level of play—it’s only natural that you might forget to draw at the start of your turn or even to take a Prize card. The following sections outline certain expectations when playing the Pokémon TCG, but don’t feel bad if you stumble while learning the ropes. The Pokémon community just wants you to have fun!
Handling Your Opponent’s Cards
Shuffle your deck seven times each time!
It may come as a surprise, but knowing when and how to touch your opponent’s cards is very important. In fact, one of the very first things you do in a competitive Pokémon TCG match is touch your opponent’s cards when you cut their deck. There will be other times when you may want to pick up an opponent’s card, such as to read an effect or look at what cards are currently in their discard pile.
No matter the reason, it’s always best to ask before touching another person’s personal items. Whether they hand the cards directly to you, or you grab them yourself, it’s important to treat them with as much respect as your own; damaging your opponent’s cards is prohibited.
One of the biggest differences between playing online and playing in person is that you’ll shuffle your deck before the start of each match, as well as after every deck search during a game. You’ll shuffle your deck a lot, so it’s really important to know how to do it quickly and thoroughly. Inadequate shuffling can lead to a deck that’s not sufficiently randomized, which can result in a penalty even if it wasn’t intentional.
There are many techniques for shuffling, but two common methods are mash shuffling—dividing your deck into halves and mashing them together—and riffle shuffling—parting your deck into halves and bridging them together. Shuffling can feel strange at first, but practice makes perfect! Check out these two videos for examples on how to approach shuffling and what bad habits to avoid when learning.
Shuffling Techniques 101
Avoiding Bad Shuffling Habits
Randomizing your deck is important to maintaining competitive integrity, so it is necessary to offer your opponent the opportunity to cut your deck after each fully completed shuffle—dividing the deck and placing the top half on the bottom. Your opponent may also opt to shuffle your deck, after which you’re allowed to cut your own deck afterward. Cutting your opponent’s deck is not necessary, but getting in the habit of doing so will prepare you later for higher-level competition.
Searching Your Deck
As mentioned above, you should shuffle your deck every time you search through it. For example, after searching out a Pokémon with the Ultra Ball Item card, you will be required to shuffle your deck per the card’s text. However, if a player plans on playing both Ultra Ball and Level Ball back-to-back, it is common to play out the effects of both cards before shuffling their deck. This is known as “going back in,” and is intended to save time and reduce shuffling when playing multiple cards or using multiple Abilities that search your deck. This pattern is not necessary, but it is common when playing Pokémon TCG at both the local and Premier levels of play.
Tournament matches at Pokémon League are often timed, which ensures that the whole event doesn’t drag on all day—other players want to use the room too, you know! When playing in timed matches, it’s important to be aware of your own pace of play as well as your opponent’s. There’s no need to rush when making decisions, but you shouldn’t deliberately play slowly. Besides, matches that don’t end during the allotted time may potentially end in a tie. It is acceptable for players to ask each other to pick up the pace of play, so don’t be surprised or embarrassed if someone asks you to speed up your actions—or if you need to ask someone else to speed up. It’s part of the game and everyone processes game information differently.
Match Tracking and Sportsmanship
In a structured tournament, players will report their match results to the Tournament Organizer after each round. After playing through a match, you will be required to sign a match slip and indicate whether you won or lost. It can sting to receive a loss during a tournament, especially when the match is close. Even the best players in the world lose a lot. But it’s important to remember that everyone plays at a Pokémon League to have fun. Be a good sport, congratulate your opponent, and move on to the next match. Everyone is playing to win, but ultimately, everyone is also playing to have a great time with fans who share the same interests.
Don’t hesitate to call a judge for help.
There may also be times when you disagree with your opponent on the rules of the game. Maybe you think a Pokémon’s Ability works one way, but your opponent thinks it works differently. Anyone can misunderstand an effect or make a gameplay error, so be respectful and understanding of your opponent. Don’t be shy, though; if you see a mistake or are confused about a ruling, let your opponent know and get the situation resolved by calling a judge. It’s best for both players to fully understand the outcome of a disputed ruling to ensure that everything gets played out fairly.
Taking Your Play to the Next Level
Are you feeling comfortable at Pokémon League and ready to take on your next challenge? Pokémon League Challenges and Pokémon League Cups are a great way to experience a higher level of competition while still playing on the local level. Local game stores partnered with Play! Pokémon can host these events every quarter. These events also award Championship Points, which can help you earn an invitation to the Pokémon World Championships. Once you’re comfortable with these events, you may even want to look at competing at the next Regional or International Championships—large multi-day events that award prize money and a significant amount of Championship Points. They also have plenty of fun side events to enjoy the Pokémon TCG in a variety of different formats.
Good luck at your next Pokémon League event!