I quite like the Pokémon Trading Card Game. Like the series it is based on, it’s pretty easy to learn but there is some potential to craft your own strategies and surprise your opponent. I’ve wasted quite a few hours online, trying to read my opponent’s mind from several hundred miles away. However, that being said, I’ve never really made my own deck.

The Pokémon TCG has a problem you find with most other games like it, namely that the card library is almost stupidly huge. At time of writing, there are around 9,110 cards in the English sets. Granted, not all of these can be used in competitive play, but even then you’re not working with a small number. Personally, trying to put together a deck from scratch always kind of gives me anxiety.

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Thankfully, Pokémon does provide theme decks. These are premade decks, centered around certain Pokémon or themes, so you can get right into it and start playing. However, don’t get any ideas about buying a deck and immediately diving into standard or expanded competitive play. Theme decks are in a competitive class of their own, meaning that if you’re going to use one, you’re only going to face people using theme decks as well.

Now, the online game offers no micro-transactions, so you can’t buy a deck or booster packs with real money that way. If you want to do that, you’ll have to go to an actual store and buy them there. They even have codes you can enter in the online game, which allows you to open your purchased booster packs or use your decks there as well.

If you don’t want to spend money, though, it’s not that hard to earn enough of the game’s currency to afford a bunch of digital boosters or a theme deck. You can participate in the trainer challenge and take on bots with several free decks and earn some cash that way. Competitive play also offers some rewards, of course, but you might struggle with the free decks.

Of course, once you have enough to buy a theme deck, you still have to figure out which one to pick. At 500 coins per deck, it might not take that long to earn enough for one, but you still don’t want to spend your coins on a deck and find out it sucks. You might be tempted to pick the newest ones and choose from one of the decks based around the gen 8 starters. That seems like as good a place as any to start, right?

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Illustration for article titled Pokémon TCG Deck Diving: Gen 8 Starter Decks
Image: https://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Cinderace_Theme_Deck_(TCG

Cinderace Theme Deck

Now, none of these decks are bad, but they do share a few weaknesses. For example: Including three of the starter’s first evolution where two would have been plenty and including three Professor’s Research cards. That is far too much for a card that is rather pointless most of the time.

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Illustration for article titled Pokémon TCG Deck Diving: Gen 8 Starter Decks

The option to draw 7 new cards by discarding your hand might be good if your hand is empty or what you do have is useless, but most of the time you’ll have a hand full of things you don’t want to discard and the research card is useless as a result. It’s just not an efficient use of the allowed number of cards for these decks.

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Much like the starter the deck is based around, the Cinderace theme deck is fine if somewhat uninspired. It focuses on recycling discarded energy and the main threat is its headliner, Cinderace.

Surprisingly, the deck has some fairly bulky Pokémon. Not a single one has less than 70HP, so they can take a few hits. That being said, one of those bulky Pokémon is Drampa and it is useless. Dealing 80 damage for 2 energy isn’t bad…until you realize it’s also going to cost you the top two cards of your deck every time.

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Illustration for article titled Pokémon TCG Deck Diving: Gen 8 Starter Decks

I hate cards that make me discard if from my deck if I have no way of determining which cards it’ll be. It’s entirely possible that you’re going to discard exactly what you need most and the deck doesn’t really let you recover anything but energy and two Pokémon. Frankly, Drampa is more useful as a sacrificial wall. Make it soak damage with its 130HP while you prepare a different Pokémon to take revenge.

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Illustration for article titled Pokémon TCG Deck Diving: Gen 8 Starter Decks

Dubwool is the deck’s only answer to water-types…and it’s not a great one. If you can get it on the field early, its ability to deal damage and reduce the damage it takes might let you pull ahead a bit. However, later in the game, Dubwool might get a single Double-Edge off before it’s taken out next turn. Not a bad addition, but not that great either.

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Illustration for article titled Pokémon TCG Deck Diving: Gen 8 Starter Decks

Then there’s Cinderace itself and this thing is kind of scary. 170HP already means it can take some pretty heavy hits and Bright Flame’s 160 damage means it can one-shot most heavy hitters you’ll find in theme decks. Of course, if you’re unlucky, it might cost you two energy. However, thanks to its large health pool, there’s a decent chance Cinderace can recycle those discarded energy cards with Flame Cloak and get off another Bright Flame before it’s taken out.

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Overall the deck isn’t bad, but it is a bit reliant on luck with Bright Flame and it really should have ditched Drampa for something more useful.

Illustration for article titled Pokémon TCG Deck Diving: Gen 8 Starter Decks
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Inteleon Theme Deck

Despite Inteleon being the best starter (Don’t @ me), its deck is pretty bland and probably the worst one out of the three.

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Illustration for article titled Pokémon TCG Deck Diving: Gen 8 Starter Decks

Again, the Pokémon in this deck are fairly bulky and you won’t find anything under 70HP. It has some Pokémon like Cramorant and Mantine which can hit decently hard with little investment and Mantine, in particular, is your best way to stock up on energy.

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Illustration for article titled Pokémon TCG Deck Diving: Gen 8 Starter Decks

That being said, it lacks something that can consistently one-shot your opponent’s heavy hitters. Both Kingler and Drednaw can deal enough damage to take care of some bulkier opponents. However, Drednaw can only take out the really bulky ones if their retreat cost is high (which isn’t always the case) and Kingler requires an opponent to already have some damage counters on it.

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Illustration for article titled Pokémon TCG Deck Diving: Gen 8 Starter Decks

Inteleon itself is…interesting. At 100 damage for only two energy, Hydro Snipe is pretty great. However, its effect is of questionable use. It can help you stall an opponent’s heavy hitter, keeping them from using their really powerful moves. However, more likely than not they’ll already have the energy they need and that energy is going right back on the same Pokémon so it can kick your ass next turn.

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It’s a stalling tactic that has the potential to backfire pretty badly, as your opponent might decide to use the energy you just sent back to their hand on a more deserving Pokémon instead.

Overall, this deck lacks a really heavy hitter and a core strategy to work with.

Illustration for article titled Pokémon TCG Deck Diving: Gen 8 Starter Decks
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Rillaboom Theme Deck

I love this deck, but you can typically tell if you’re going to win or not in the first turn. Can you get Eldegos on the field? If yes, congrats, you’ll probably win. No? Well…Better luck next time.

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Illustration for article titled Pokémon TCG Deck Diving: Gen 8 Starter Decks

Rillaboom’s deck features a few less bulky Pokémon, being the only one where you’ll find something with less than 70HP. However, it more than makes up for that with Snorlax’s impressive 150HP and Rillaboom’s frankly insane 190HP.

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Illustration for article titled Pokémon TCG Deck Diving: Gen 8 Starter Decks

Of course, both of these big boys require a lot of energy to get going. This is where Eldegoss steps in. At 80HP it’s pretty frail for an evolved Pokémon, but Blessing of Fluff is amazing. Taking three energy from your deck and spreading them among your Pokémon however you like can mean that in one turn, you can go from a Snorlax or Rillaboom lacking the energy to do anything to ones that are more than ready to wreck your opponent.

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Illustration for article titled Pokémon TCG Deck Diving: Gen 8 Starter Decks

While Snorlax makes for a good all-purpose wall and damage dealer, Rillaboom is honestly almost unfair. Not only does it have the most HP of any Pokémon in the available theme decks, but you also have Drum Beating’s 180 damage. The only thing that can survive that is another Rillaboom. Sure, it can’t be used every turn, but dealing 90 damage to your opponent’s active Pokémon and 10 to each one on their bench isn’t much of a punishment.

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It can be tricky to recover if you start with a poor hand and you can’t get Eldegoss on the field, but a bad hand can hinder even the best deck.

Overall

Aside from some poor inclusions like the three Professor’s research cards in all three decks and Drampa in Cinderace’s deck, these decks certainly aren’t bad, but only one of them stands out to me.

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Cinderace’s deck is too reliant on luck to be consistent and Intelleon’s deck simply lacks a good answer to some of the really heavy hitters you’ll find in other theme decks.

Rillaboom’s deck is more capable of keeping up with other popular theme decks, though it does seem to struggle against some of the most popular decks like the Relentless Flame deck.

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…Then again, the best strategy when playing against a Relentless Flame deck is to also be playing a Relentless Flame deck and hope your luck is better.

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