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The best Pokémon TCG formats, explained

Standard isn't the only Pokémon card format you can play - here's a complete guide to the most popular ways to play the trading card game.

Pokemon TCG formats - Pokemon trading card game art of Nuzleaf

There are only a handful of official Pokémon TCG formats, but that doesn’t mean your play options have to be limited. Each Pokémon card format offers a vastly different way to battle your favorite pocket monsters, and the community has created heaps of unofficial Pokémon formats to keep things interesting. So, where do you start? Right here, as a matter of fact, with our dedicated Pokémon TCG format guide.

Before we get started, here are a few more guides that can help with your Pokémon card collecting. We can show you the shiniest rare Pokémon cards, as well as the best Pokémon decks to play in the current meta. Plus, we can answer burning questions like ‘How many Pokémon are there?’.

Here are the main Pokémon TCG formats you should know about:

Pokemon TCG formats - image of three Pokemon cards

Pokémon TCG Standard

Pokémon TCG Standard is the game’s most widely played format. If you’ve been taught how to play Pokémon before, you were probably using the rules for Standard – namely, 60-card decks with no more than four copies of the same card.

Standard’s defining feature is that its list of legal cards regularly rotates. As new Pokémon TCG expansions release, older cards can no longer be played in your deck.

As of April 5, 2024, only cards with an ‘F’, ‘G’, or ‘H’ regulation mark are legal to play in Standard. You can find this symbol in the bottom-left corner of your cards.

It’s also important to note that older versions of a legal card might not have the right regulation mark, but they are still legal to play. If a copy of that card exists with the right regulation mark, it’s still playable.

If you’re planning to play the latest Pokémon cards in your deck, you should also know that new Pokémon cards only become tournament-legal two weeks after their release. Casual Standard games are fine, but if you’re heading to a championship this year, it’s worth checking everything in your deck is allowed.

Standard has a well-supported competitive scene, as it’s the biggest Pokémon format around. You can also play it on Pokémon TCG Live, the latest way to play the game online. 

Pokemon TCG formats - image of three Pokemon cards

Pokémon TCG Expanded

Pokémon TCG Expanded is the game’s second official format. It’s got a well-supported organized play scene, and you can play it on Pokémon TCG Live. However, not every card that’s legal in Expanded can be found on PTCGL.

Compared to Standard, a lot of cards are legal in Expanded. Anything from the 2011 Black & White Base Set onwards is fair game, as long as it’s not on the expansive Expanded banlist. The Expanded format doesn’t rotate, so cards only become illegal if they get banned – and compared to other TCGs, Pokémon doesn’t ban things all that often.

Given the wider pool of cards you can play with, Expanded is a more complex format than standard. It also features more powerful cards and combos, meaning deck-building can get a bit more expensive. 

Pokemon TCG formats - image of three Pokemon cards

Pokémon TCG Legacy

The Pokémon TCG Legacy format was popular on Pokémon TCG Online, the previous digital platform for play. However, when Pokémon TCG Live took over, Legacy didn’t make the cut. There’s also no organized play support for the format, so it’s difficult to arrange a paper or digital game of Legacy.

Legacy decks could only use cards from a specific set of expansions, starting with 2010’s HeartGold & SoulSilver and ending with 2013’s Legendary Treasures. Sets don’t rotate, and newer releases aren’t included. This was a format for lovers of the golden oldies. 

Pokémon TCG Theme

Pokémon TCG Theme was a format that only allowed you to play with pre-constructed Theme decks. It was a highly affordable and approachable way to get into Pokémon, and the decks included a code that would let you play them on Pokémon TCG Online, too.

However, Theme decks were discontinued in 2021 and replaced with Battle decks, which aren’t legal in this format. Since there’s also no support for Theme decks on Pokémon TCG Live, it seems like the end for the Theme format. 

Unofficial Pokémon TCG formats

Unofficial Pokémon TCG formats aren’t supported by organized play events, but many fans may enjoy playing them casually. The community has created a huge number of unofficial ways to play Pokémon, but here are the most popular:

Pokémon TCG Unlimited

Before Legacy, there was Pokémon TCG Unlimited, a very similar format that included cards from Base Set onwards. The power levels of the available cards are off the scale, but despite that, only a handful of strategies were ever truly competitive.

Pokemon TCG formats - photo of a Pokeball on a pile of Pokemon cards

Pokémon TCG Pauper

Pokémon TCG Pauper only allows you to play with common and uncommon cards from the Pokémon rarity list. These cards are generally on the cheaper side, so this format is a great option if you’re into creative budget deck-building. 

Pokémon TCG U150 Format

The Pokémon TCG U150 Format is about as close as Pokémon comes to MTG Commander decks. You play with decks of 100 cards, and you can only include one copy of any non-basic energy card. Every expansion is legal. Oh, and your Basic Pokémon can’t have HP that’s higher than 150 – hence the name of the format.

Pokémon TCG Aceless

The Pokémon TCG Aceless format uses the same rotating list of sets as Standard, including any banned cards. What makes Aceless stand out is the fact you can’t use any Pokémon V, Pokémon VMAX, or Pokémon-GX cards. It’s a streamlined version of the Standard game with a lower power ceiling.

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Pokémon TCG Gym Leader Challenge

In the Pokémon TCG Gym Leader Challenge, your deck can only have one Pokémon type. You can only have one card of the same name in your deck (except for Basic Energy cards, of course), and only cards from the Black & White expansions onwards are legal. ACE SPEC cards and cards with a Rule Box aren’t allowed, and the format does have its own banlist.

Pokémon TCG Region Formats

There are a variety of Pokémon TCG Region Formats, each limiting you to Pokémon from a specific region. Each version of this format has its own banlists and set legality.

Pokémon TCG Theme Pool

The Pokémon TCG Theme Pool format includes any card that has ever been included in a Theme deck. However, since they’re not making these decks any more, the format is a little stagnant.

For more on the trading card game, here are the best Pokémon cards, like, ever. We can also share wisdom on how to sell Pokémon cards – and how to spot fake Pokémon cards.