Pokémon TCG Guide: How to Build Inexpensive Decks

Every day new players pick up the Pokémon TCG, wondering where to start. By far, the biggest question we get from new players is, “What’s the cheapest competitive deck I can make?” Hopefully this article can point you in the right direction. We’ll go through and look at four decks that are relatively inexpensive yet still competitive to get you started off. But before we start, let’s discuss some basic resources and guidelines that will help you find new cards quickly and cheaply.
 
1) Card sites and eBay – Pretty much everything you’re looking for will be on these sites. If I’m looking for a card, I’ll look to Troll & Toad first. Sometimes they have very good deals on cards, and other times the prices will be inflated; that’s just the nature of a card shop. If you think the price is too high, try looking at eBay instead. The important thing to remember is to shop around and compare prices! Here is a list of other card sites I’ve used over the years.
 

Collector’s Cache
Cool Stuff Inc
Legacy Cards
Stop 2 Shop
Poke Order
Desperate 4 Cards
Pokémon Trading Post

 
Of course, there are many more. Plus, you always have local card stores that may have cards or products. In my experience, buying single cards is the most cost effective way to build a deck. But beware of World Championship cards! These cards are not legal for tournament play. Many sites will sell them, so be on the lookout for those.
 
In addition to card sites, there are a few products that make things much easier, and that’s what we’ll look at next.
 
2) Red Genesect Collection and Tins – By far, the coolest thing that the Pokémon TCG has released is the Red Genesect Collection. For just $20, you get the following staple cards we see in most competitive decks.
 

Ultra Ball x2
Switch x2
Skyla x2
Professor Juniper x2
N x2
Pokémon Catcher x2
Energy Retrieval x2
Tool Scrapper x1
Silver Bangle x1
Silver Mirror x1

 
With just two of these bad boys, you’ll have a full playset of most staples in the format. What’s even cooler is that all of these cards are Reverse Holo, too! In the box you get 60 RH cards, a Genesect Promo, two booster packs, a deckbox, damage counters, and a playmat. It’s hard to find a better deal than this, and you can pick it up at just about any store that sells Pokémon cards.
 

A look at the Red Genesect Collection.

A look at the Red Genesect Collection.


 
In addition, there are tins that you can pick up for $15-20 at stores that include some of the strongest Pokémon-EX in the game along with four booster packs and a code to use on Pokémon TCG Online. Cards like Darkrai EX, Keldeo EX, Deoxys EX, Thundurus EX, and Lugia EX all can be found in these easily accessible tins. If you’re just looking to get the card itself, though, try looking online for the single. Normally the card will be pretty cheap compared to the tin price.
 
3) Theme Decks – In the past, preconstructed decks were a joke. Normally they’d have no playable cards, making them pretty much worthless. Nowadays it’s a different story. Sure, they still aren’t the best way to obtain cards, but they’re much better than before. If you need something specific in a pinch, consider looking at a theme deck. All of them have the contents listed on the back now. Plus, they are pretty much the best way to get Basic Energy outside of ordering a bunch online. Most theme decks have about 20 Energy in them.
 
Okay, now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at some decks that are pretty inexpensive and easy to make. We’re going to shy away from Pokémon-EX, Tropical Beach, and any other cards that may be too expensive for new players. Also, these decks are going to be equipped to handle the rule changes that will occur on November 8th, which means we’ll try to stay away from any decks with Sableye and Pokémon Catcher.
 
For reference, here are the set abbreviations. Right now the legal sets are Next Destinies (NXD), Dark Explorers (DEX), Dragons Exalted (DRX), Dragon Vault (DRV), Boundaries Crossed (BCR), Plasma Storm (PLS), Plasma Freeze (PLF), Plasma Blast (PLB), and any Promo cards BW33 and above. Any card that was printed in a previous set that also exists in a current set is legal for tournament play, too. For example, a Professor Juniper from Black & White (BLW) or an N from Noble Victories (NVI) would be legal since they are in current sets.
 
First we’ll take a look at the Tool Drop deck.
 
Tool Drop

Tool Drop

Pokémon – 12 Trainers – 38 Energy – 10
4 Trubbish  (PLS #65) 4 Professor Juniper (BLW, DEX, PLB) 10 Psychic Energy
4 Sigilyph (PLB) 4 N (NVI, DEX)
2 Surskit (PLB) 4 Bicycle (PLS)
2 Masquerain (PLB) 2 Bianca (EPO, BCR)
4 Exp. Share (NXD, DRV)
4 Float Stone (PLF)
3 Silver Bangle (PLB)
3 Silver Mirror (PLB)
2 Eviolite (NVI, PLS)
4 Level Ball (NXD)
1 Escape Rope (PLS)
1 Super Rod (NVI, DRV)
1 Tool Scrapper (DRX)
1 Dowsing Machine (PLS)

 
Approximate Cost: $50 (Prices based on average cost of all cards online currently.)
 
Strategy: Get as many Tools in play as possible to use Trubbish‘s Tool Drop attack for massive amounts of damage. Sigilyph‘s Tool Box Ability allows it to have up to four Pokémon Tool cards attached to it, breaking the normal rule of one Tool per Pokémon. If you can manage to get ten Tools in play, you can KO just about anything in one hit! Use Masquerain‘s Tool Reversal to rearrange the Tools on your Pokémon for the right situations. Exp. Share is crucial to keep Energy in play for your Trubbish! More experienced players may want to swap Eviolite out for Team Plasma Badge and then squeeze in a few Colress Machine and Plasma Energy for some added Energy acceleration.
 
Next up we have a Garchomp/Altaria deck.
 

Garchomp/Altaria

Garchomp/Altaria

Pokémon – 20 Trainers – 30 Energy – 10
4 Gible (DRX #87) 4 Professor Juniper (BLW, DEX, PLB) 6 Fighting Energy
4 Gabite (DRX #89) 4 N (NVI, DEX) 4 Blend Energy WLFM (DRX #118)
4 Garchomp (DRX #90) 4 Skyla (BCR)
3 Swablu (DRX #104) 2 Colress (PLS)
3 Altaria (DRX, BCR) 4 Level Ball (NXD)
2 Mr. Mime (PLF) 3 Rare Candy (DEX, PLB)
2 Escape Rope (PLS)
2 Super Rod (NVI, DRV)
2 Silver Bangle (PLB)
1 Switch (BLW, BCR)
1 Tool Scrapper (DRX)
1 Dowsing Machine (PLS)

 
Approximate Cost: $80
 
Strategy: Take advantage of Gabite‘s Dragon Call to set up all of your Pokémon. All of them are Dragon type except for Swablu and Mr. Mime! Keep a constant stream of Garchomp attackers going. With a few Altaria in play, your attacks are doing massive amounts of damage. Silver Bangle can help you do even more damage against popular Pokémon-EX. Mr. Mime can stop harmful damage done to your bench from Pokémon like Darkrai EX, Genesect EX, and Kyurem. Garchomp/Altaria is simple, but it hits hard and consistently.
 
Another option is Dylan Bryan’s Flareon deck.
 

Flareon

Flareon

Pokémon – 24 Trainers – 27 Energy – 9
4 Eevee (PLF #90) 4 Professor Juniper (BLW, DEX, PLB) 5 Fighting Energy
4 Flareon (PLF) 4 N (NVI, DEX) 4 Double Colorless (NXD)
1 Leafeon (PLF) 4 Random Receiver (DEX, PLS)
3 Drifloon (PLB) 2 Colress (PLS)
2 Drifblim (DRX) 4 Float Stone (PLF)
1 Drifblim (PLB) 4 Ultra Ball (DEX, PLF, PLB)
2 Trubbish (DRX) 2 Enhanced Hammer (DEX)
2 Garbodor (DRX, PLF) 1 Tool Scrapper (DRX)
2 Audino (BCR) 1 Super Rod (NVI, DRV)
2 Terrakion (NVI, BCR) 1 Computer Search (BCR)
1 Mr. Mime (PLF)

 
Approximate Cost: $60
 
Strategy: Get as many Pokémon in the discard as possible for Flareon‘s Vengeance. Eventually you’ll do enough damage to KO any Pokémon in one hit! Leafeon can help against things that are weak to Grass, such as Keldeo EX. Drifblim is useful against Team Plasma decks, which rely on a lot of Special Energy normally. Terrakion can be useful against Pokémon that are weak to Fighting, such as Darkrai EX. Garbodor can slow down decks that rely on Abilities, like Blastoise. Audino‘s Busybody can remove Special Conditions, and it also puts itself in the discard pile to power up Flareon‘s attack. Compared to the previous two decks, this one is much more complicated to use. However, it’s very competitive! Some would consider this to be a top tier deck.
 
For our last deck, we’ll look at Ninetales. It’s a little trickier than the other decks!
 

Ninetales

Ninetales

Pokémon – 16 Trainers – 37 Energy – 7
4 Vulpix (DRX) 4 Professor Juniper (BLW, DEX, PLB) 7 Fire Energy
4 Ninetales (DRX, Promo) 4 N (NVI, DEX)
2 Munna (BCR) 3 Skyla (BCR)
1 Musharna (NXD) 2 Colress (PLS)
2 Trubbish (DRX) 1 Shadow Triad (PLF)
1 Garbodor (DRX) 4 Level Ball (NXD)
1 Mr. Mime (PLF) 4 Hypnotoxic Laser (PLS)
1 Keldeo EX (BCR, Promo) 3 Float Stone (PLF)
3 Silver Bangle (PLB)
2 Virbank City Gym (PLS)
2 Super Rod (NVI, DRV)
1 Tool Scrapper (DRX)
1 Ultra Ball (DEX, PLF, PLB)
1 Escape Rope (PLS)
1 Energy Search (BLW, BCR)
1 Dowsing Machine (PLS)

 
Approximate Cost: $75
 
Strategy: Use Ninetales in combination with Hypnotoxic Laser to deal lots of damage! Hexed Flame does 20 + 50 for each Special Condition on the Defending Pokémon. If you can flip Heads for Hypnotoxic Laser, you do 120 damage for a single Energy. With Poison damage plus Virbank City Gym, that adds up to 150 damage! Throw in a Silver Bangle, and you’re doing 180 damage to any Pokémon-EX for just a single Energy. Munna‘s Long-Distance Hypnosis can give you another opportunity for that second Special Condition to do the extra damage. If you happen to get Tails and put yourself to Sleep, though, Keldeo EX can Rush In and retreat for free with Float Stone to allow you to attack still. (Even though Keldeo EX is a Pokémon-EX, it can be found for around $7 online.)
 
Garbodor‘s Garbotoxin helps against decks that use Virizion EX, who otherwise would prevent all Special Conditions (limiting your damage done by Hexed Flame). Musharna is a great support Pokémon that allows you to draw more cards every turn with Forewarn. Just be careful when using this deck not to use your Hypnotoxic Lasers too soon! Without them, your damage output is pitiful. Shadow Triad and Dowsing Machine give you extra opportunities to get back Laser.
 
Okay, we’ve looked at some decks that don’t require many expensive cards. For the most part, we haven’t featured many Pokémon-EX or any other particularly pricey cards. But that doesn’t mean that a deck featuring Pokémon-EX is much more expensive! One of the great things about the Pokémon TCG is that even some of the most competitive decks are cheap and easy to build. Let’s look at one of those, Darkrai/Garbodor.
 

Darkrai/Garbodor

Darkrai/Garbodor

Pokémon – 10 Trainers – 41 Energy – 9
3 Darkrai EX (DEX, Promo) 4 Professor Juniper (BLW, DEX, PLB) 9 Darkness Energy
2 Absol (PLF) 4 N (NVI, DEX)
2 Trubbish (DRX) 2 Skyla (BCR)
2 Garbodor (DRX, PLF) 2 Colress (PLS)
1 Sableye (DEX) 2 Random Receiver (DEX, PLS)
4 Ultra Ball (DEX, PLF, PLB)
4 Dark Patch (DEX)
4 Pokémon Catcher (EPO, DEX, PLB)
4 Float Stone (PLF)
3 Hypnotoxic Laser (PLS)
2 Virbank City Gym (PLS)
2 Dark Claw (DEX)
1 Energy Search (BLW, BCR)
1 Switch (BLW, BCR)
1 Super Rod (NVI, DRV)
1 Dowsing Machine (PLS)

 
Approximate Cost: $120
 
Strategy: Power up Darkrai EX as quickly as possible with Dark Patch. Use Night Spear for big damage to multiple Pokémon at once. Garbodor‘s Garbotoxin can shut off Abilities, rendering many strategies useless. Absol serves as a nice complementary attacker for just two Energy. Sableye can recover lost resources in a long game. Although this deck loses some strength with the rule changes, it’s still going to be very strong! Darkrai EX can be obtained through a tin, or it can be purchased online for $10-15 usually. Currently this is one of the top decks, and it isn’t too much more expensive than the other options! Besides Virizion/Genesect and decks that rely on the rather costly Tropical Beach, pretty much every deck in the Pokémon TCG is affordable. Plus, most of the staple cards can be transferred from deck to deck. If you’ll notice, pretty much every deck has most of the Trainers in common. Once you make your initial investment, most of these cards continue to be worthwhile.
 


 
Well, that will be the conclusion of this guide. Hopefully this can be a good resource for players trying to start off in the Pokémon TCG. If you have any questions or thoughts, please leave them down in the comments! Thanks for reading.

  • Greenhorsez

    This is awesome! My family has just started playing PTCG within the last year. As a mom, I have really appreciated all your articles and videos to help me learn how to teach my kids. And I especially love that you are PG in your language so my kids can watch online, too. They are always asking to watch a “Pokemon educational video.” Thanks for all you do!

    • Name

      This is the best comment in the history of best comments.

  • Martin Payne

    I feel like you intentionally made that Darkrai Garbodor list bad because you don’t like sharing deck lists lol. 4 Colress… really?

    • Kyle Sucevich

      Whoops, that’s actually supposed to be 2 Colress. Thanks!

      No, the lists are not intentionally bad. However, they are aimed to be simple so new players can pick them up and use them.

      • Cosmo

        Thanks so much pooka! I don’t know what I would do in the TCG without you!

        Did you see on Pokebeach that they have scans of Charizard & M-Charizard EX? Do you think that Suicune would be an effective counter?

  • Rob

    Probably a dumb question but… how will the new rule changes affect Sableye?

    • Eric Broffel

      What I think will affect Sableye is the idea of not being to attack and use Junk Hunt if you go first.

  • C-Dub

    I love these type of articles. I think its great to get these budget decklists out there as opposed to giving away tier one metagame lists. These are some great lists.

    I was a little surprised to not see a Mewtwo EX based- deck in there though. You can almost pair it with anything budget that also uses dce’s and its solid (bouff, sigyliph, drifblim all come to mind because they can be very good and are very cheap).

    Good stuff though Kyle.

  • Joshua Jacob Prince

    great article. thanx alot pooka for all the helpful articles like this. now i know why i play pokemon. this community is probably one of the friendliest and funnest pool of people out there.

  • SheepinSpace

    Awesome awesome article! It’s great that you wrote this. I also enjoy the more advanced stuff, but this was really nice. And I knew FluffyChomp would be back sooner or later :-)

  • Azramez

    hello, I have been thinking about getting in to pokemon cards and was just doing a search online to find the best deals as if I was trying to buy a flareon/garbodor deck. Just wondering if the gen 1 computer search was legal to have in your deck? I know the card has been reprinted and made in to an ace spec, so only 1 per deck. I am just intrigued as it is the same card from my childhood.

    • Kyle Sucevich

      Unfortunately, no, the Base Set Computer Search is not legal. You must use the current Ace Spec version.

  • Simon

    Are these decklists still up to date?

    Would you still suggest buying a couple “Red Genesect Collection” for an intro to competitive play? Are these packages redeemable online?

    • Kyle Sucevich

      Yes, the lists are viable still for the most part. The Red Genesect Collection is still the easiest way to get a lot of staple Trainers. If you’re just starting and looking for some simple decks to try out, maybe take a look at these videos: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwt5WNsSQ0NfNi0rtg_hBy0BD6hMy_WwJ&feature=mh_lolz

      • Simon

        And it is one of the decks redeemable online? I’m having trouble getting the hang of the client but I’m very, very interested in it.

        Will you maybe be doing another one of these?

        I would also be interested in a ‘metagame breakdown’ or something, decklists are scarce online for pokemon (in contrast to mtg where netdecking becomes a problem in some circles.) and I want to know all my options before I jump in. Maybe like top 8 decks, with lists and neat descriptions like you have here.

        Just FYI, thanks for the speedy replies.

        • Kyle Sucevich

          Unfortunately, the Red Genesect Collection is not available for redemption in the online game.

          I doubt I’ll be doing another one of these because this pretty much covers everything you need to get started. If you’re looking for more simple decks to get started, I started a video series on that. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwt5WNsSQ0NfNi0rtg_hBy0BD6hMy_WwJ

          A more advanced version of this is something I’m working on, but it’s pretty time consuming to make. I’m not sure when it will be up.

        • C-Dub

          Kyle has posted countless deck lists right about a video of a match on here. Take some time and look around. Put together pokemon that you think will be good and just play. Have fun with it. When starting, a lot of it is simple playing and seeing what doesn’t and doesn’t work against the field. Don’t stress out trying to find the perfect list online. Use what works for you and go from there.

  • Luis Vivas

    Topcut, I’m running the Darkrai deck currently, but even with the rule changes, I still

    find it far better to run at least 3 sableyes still because it is practically one of the major

    staples for the deck. With that in mind, I would get rid of one absol and add a Keldeo EX

    for decks that use paralysis(Articuno EX/Walrein Decks). I would also replace dowsing

    machine with computer search because you find practically anything in your deck.

    • Ivysaur Man

      Well, the deck is meant to be affordable & simple. Those additions, while good, would make the deck less simple, and more expensive.

  • niggafullretard

    How do i pick up regular cards like non holo absol sable eye dark patch, dark claws in the online TCG?? There is none for trade and if they are they are all holo. How do i get em?

    • Ivysaur Man

      What’s wrong with them being holos?
      (And, for the record, you can just make a trade offer for them. Just because people don’t put them up for trade doesn’t mean that people don’t have them.)

  • the_dark_pie927

    does anyone know a deck that counters the DragonSpeed theme deck?

    • :p

      no one pays theme decks. Theme decks are horrible any deck can counter them

      • Thedarkpie

        Then what deck would work as a dragon counter?

        • http://www.youtube.com/user/Pachifan90 Pachifan90

          Any good competitive deck RayBoar, Blastoise,Yeti, ect.

          • thedarkpie

            Thanks!

          • http://www.youtube.com/user/Pachifan90 Pachifan90

            Yeah No Problem! :)

  • Charles Scott-Spain

    How relevant is Ninetales nowadays? I’m most intrigued by that deck more than the rest.

  • pokemon plaer

    This darkrai deck would put a hurting on my blastoise deck
    Also I have checked almost every store so you can’t get keldeo anymore.????

  • Charles Scott-Spain

    Is it fair to say the upcoming Charizard box is the new Genesect?

  • Jai

    Where do you buy ex packs?

  • Gabe

    This is awesome