Trading card games: the best TCGs, collectible, and living card games

All Magic: the Gathering veterans and Pokémon aficionado, these are the best trading card games for deck-builders and duellists

The world of trading card games (TCGs) is vast. Many publishers have attempted to break into the much-loved tabletop space, but crafting a card game that rivals the prestige of Magic: the Gathering, the nostalgia of Yu-Gi-Oh!, or the collectible addiction of Pokémon is a tall order. But while these beloved household names have been kicking around for decades, some new entries in the field have successfully garnered a loyal audience of their own.

We’ve collected this list of the best trading, collectible, and living card games that deserve your attention. Some are eminent games that you’ve more than likely tried, while others might be unfamiliar in both name and style. They vary in fundamentals, with some replicating standard systems, and others switching up the basics of play. But all capture the excitement of grabbing a deck, and fielding your creation on the tabletop.

And don’t be put off by the prominent, but less well-known, term ‘living card game’. LCGs operate just like TCGs and CCGs, but use fixed expansion packs rather than randomised booster sets, saving some guesswork and spending on your part.

So fetch those card sleeves and start browsing for boosters; these are the best trading, living, and collectible card games around.

Buy a starter deck

Magic: the Gathering

The original. The master. The granddaddy of TCGs. Magic: the Gathering has all the acclaim and mythos it deserves. You’ve likely come across its illustrious cards, but might not have dipped your toe into the vast, and admittedly intimidating, world of competitive summoning. You don’t need to be a master strategist or dedicated nerd to enjoy MTG. Easy to play, but hard to master, it’s worthy of exploration, even just for the card-curious.

Spend hours balancing your deck or have fun with a starter set

MTG’s core gameplay is simple, largely because it established the standard for most TCGs and CCGs that followed. Assemble a deck of creatures, enchantments, artifacts, planeswalkers, and more, before duelling in a frenzy of monster-summoning, attack-blocking, and combo-forming brilliance. Land cards must be played to generate mana, which in turn is used to summon creatures, and cast various spells, with each colour representing its own flavour of play. Whittle your enemy’s life to zero, and you’ll be declared the winner.

Thematic set releases introduce more cards, and, often, new in-game mechanics and abilities, each year, and its organised play community is ever-growing. Alongside its range of game formats (dictating the deck size, which cards can be legally played, and other gameplay additions) there’s an indefinable depth of where MTG might lead you. Spend hours perfectly balancing your deck for the most efficient summoning, or experiment with unused colour combinations. But you can also have fun by just picking up a starter set, and blasting through a few mono-colour matches with your mates.

A character from Magic: The Gathering casting a spell as rings of light emanate from her hand

Throw in gorgeous card art that far supersedes the quality and detail of most, if not all, other TCGs currently around, and you’ve not only got a game that’s fantastically tactical, but one chock-full of artworks that could equally serve as a mantlepiece display.

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The game’s latest digital adaptation, Magic: the Gathering Arena, is an accurate, and butter-smooth interpretation of the tabletop game. All the cumbersome calculations and too-easily-forgotten keyword abilities are taken out of your hands, and the on-screen play area’s arranged just so, to make information easily accessible, without obscuring any action. Plus, its tutorial will walk you through all the rules and fundamental strategies of each mana colour. Useful if you’ve never laid a hand on a MTG card.

Buy a starter kit

Pokémon Trading Card Game

Everyone knows Pokémon. The competitive TCG of throwing down pocket monsters to fight, faint, and evolve into progressively more beefed-up versions of their former selves has been a staple of playgrounds and international gaming tournaments since the 90s. And its appeal hasn’t diminished since. The core game remains the same, and all your favourite Pokémon are still kicking about, with some cutesy new additions joining the fray alongside them.

Your favourite Pokémon are still kicking about, with some cutesy new additions

If you’re only familiar with Pokémon from the long line of Nintendo videogames, or the franchise’s anime TV series, rest assured the TCG replicates their battles near-perfectly. Play Pokémon from your hand to your bench, expend energy cards to launch attacks, use trainer cards for a supportive advantage, and evolve your Pokémon mid-game to spawn their more advanced forms. More recent, optional gameplay modes complicate things, but its basic operation is simple, and massively gratifying. It’s just plain fun to watch your meek little Cutiefly evolve into a deadly Ribombee.

Much of the game has been taken over by collectors, more interested in bagging a rare Pokémon card or completing the nearly-900 strong Pokedex than fielding their pocket creatures on the tabletop. But the game’s tournament and playing community still thrives, and, with new sets releasing regularly, the TCG is still very much alive.

Buy a starter set

FINAL FANTASY TCG

Inspired by Square Enix’s legendary series of RPG videogames, the Final Fantasy TCG is now a decade old in its native Japan, but was only released to the wider world in 2016. You’ll find familiar faces from across the franchise’s long history, in a competitive, two-player TCG that’s visually inspired by Final Fantasy’ characters and monsters, but mechanically distinct to the JRPG.

Gameplay-wise, it’s more similar to Magic: the Gathering. You’ll spend Crystal Points of particular Element types to play cards, beforing flipping them horizontally to use their powerful effects, and ‘activating’ them at the start of your next turn (much like the typical mana-driven summon-tap-activate loop of MTG). Use characters and monsters to deal damage to your opponent, and block incoming attacks with minions on the field.

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But some notable gameplay differences remain. With no resource cards or Land-equivalents, Crystal Points are generated by playing and discarding cards from your hand. It forces constant difficult decisions upon you, as you assess whether it’s best to hold out another turn, or sacrifice your hand to quickly field characters to the table. Character cards only have one fighting stat, representing both their attack and defensive abilities, and the lack of combat keywords like flying, trample, or double strike, streamlines the fighting process.

The Final Fantasy TCG manages to reverently bring the acclaimed videogame series to the tabletop without feeling like a quick cash-grab or uninspired reskin. Characters’ abilities echo their in-game selves, and its level of strategy makes it enjoyable for those who’ve ever delved into the monstrously large series. Pick it up if you’re after a MTG alternative with a bit of bite.

Buy a starter deck

Yu-Gi-Oh!

You may well recognise this anime-styled gem from your childhood, and fondly remember hurriedly dueling between classes, or showing off your newly-built deck in the playground. If you did, you probably didn’t follow any of the game’s regulations, ignored its tribute summoning rules, and filled your deck with as many Pot of Greed cards as you could (at least, some eight-year-olds we know certainly did).

With no set rotation, old cards aren’t removed from the game

Based on the 90s manga and following anime, the Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG has been going strong for over 20 years. Take turns summoning monsters to the field, laying traps, and casting spells to destroy your enemy’s defences, and decimate their ‘life points’. With no resource system, you’re free to play anything in your hand, but will have to sacrifice smaller monsters as tribute to summon the toughest creatures to the table. Advanced summoning rules can get complex, and you might occasionally find yourself fed up with the jargon, but Yu-Gi-Oh!’s intuitive phase order and hand management make it a great TCG for card-wielding newbies.

With no set rotation, old cards aren’t removed from the game or made illegal in its meta, so it’s remarkably easy to buy some packs and jump in. Its artwork will appeal to any manga-fans, but really hilarious cards like Humpty Grumpty or People Running About lend the game a sense of self-aware silliness. Relive your nostalgia.

Buy a starter set

Keyforge

One of the many card games designed by Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield, Keyforge only released back in 2018, but immediately boasted one of the most rigorously designed cardplay systems, and most enticing metas, across the whole tabletop space.

In a deliberate disruption to the standard card game system, each individual Keyforge deck is complete and unalterable, meaning there’s no booster packs or additional cards to buy as you craft the perfect collection. But – and here’s the real kicker – each deck is entirely random, with every set containing a different assortment of cards. Some gargantuan number of possible permutations means that no two Keyforge decks are the same, and a very clever design process makes sure each deck is (largely) balanced.

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No deck-building means you can grab a fully-formed, ready-to-use, randomly-constructed set, and dive in immediately. Great if the cost of other card games is an issue, and fantastic for those players who are wary of investing in yet another money-hungry game.

And you’ll be rewarded with a novel rule system that ditches many of the genre’s cliches. Rather than hurling attacks at your opponent to whittle down their health, you’ll be using creatures, artifacts, and action cards to accumulate ‘Æmber’. Acquire sufficient stores of the valuable resource to forge three keys and win the game, all the while disrupting the similar efforts of your opponent.

Also of note: there’s no cost system. You won’t have to expend mana or discard cards to field more powerful creatures, but instead declare a ‘house’ at the beginning of your turn, and play any number of cards belonging to that house as you wish. An innovative take on the card game formula, check out Keyforge if you’re craving something a little bit different.

Flesh and Blood

A more grounded, but no less tactically-charged TCG, Flesh and Blood dispenses with grand battles between ranks of creatures in favour of a brutal, fantasy brawl. Rather than fielding monsters and spells to do battle on your behalf, you’ll be dumped in the fight yourself, dictating the flow of your magical duel. Choose a character, equip an array of weapons and armour, and plunge forwards into battle, taking turns to play cards that simulate attacks and defensive moves.

As close to a TCG variant of Mortal Kombat as you’re ever likely to get

Flesh and Blood is all about anticipation. Each attack card requires you to discard another, making for some tense moments of do-I-don’t-I decision making, as you weigh-up the cost of a reckless blow against a shrewd defense. Add in an ‘arsenal’ of hidden attacks, that might halt your opponent’s master plan with a surprise strike, alongside a panoply of distinct heroes, and you’ve got as close to a TCG variant of Mortal Kombat as you’re ever likely to get.

Each game rushes into the action, with no time spent building a resource base, or managing your hand. Kick off with a brutal assault, and keep the punches coming.

Buy the core set

Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game

Set in the East-Asian-themed fantasy world of Rokugan, Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game hands you control of one of seven clans to battle for supremacy in the game’s eternally conflictual political system. The basics are familiar enough: field warriors and nefarious political leaders onto the tabletop to attack your opponent’s provinces, and crush their stronghold to win the game. Use ‘attachments’ to your characters, and ‘holdings’ to improve the abilities of your provinces.

But Legend of the Five Rings’ main mechanical flavour stems from its ‘fate’ system. You might arrange a killer frontline that will have your enemy weak at the knees, but characters won’t stick around for long. On each turn, every played character loses one ‘fate token’. If their token count drops to zero, they’re swept out of play.

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Prop up your most powerful characters with extra tokens, and try to anticipate which cards will be of most use in the upcoming rounds. Of course, you can also play offensively, removing tokens from your opponent’s characters, and wiping clean their side of the table.

For all its acclaim, publisher Fantasy Flight announced it would be axing Legend of the Five Rings: The Card Game this year. But the mammoth supply of previously-released boosters and sets still provides much content to dig into. Plus, there’s always the Legend of the Five Rings roleplaying game, if you need to satiate that mythical-Feudal-Japan itch.

Buy the core set

Android: Netrunner

A brutish, cyberpunk dystopia of megacorporate profiteering and dubious cybernetic enhancements, Android: Netrunner could be applauded for offering a card game that isn’t baked with fantasy tropes, but it has something much better to get excited about – balanced asymmetrical gameplay.

A complex game of surprises

One player takes the role of a corporation, advancing its heinous agenda and accumulating credits to satiate the profit wheel. All the while, they must spread their tendrils along the information superhighways of the future, securing data terminals against the opposing runner (or hacker) who’s attempting to break their firewall. With each player served totally different mechanisms of gameplay, and vastly different objectives, it makes for a complex game of surprises.

But the main difficulty in playing Android: Netrunner will be finding a copy. Discontinued in 2018 despite much popular admiration, starter sets are hard to come by, and you’ll have more luck in the second-hand market than from retailers. The game’s refined asymmetry – which, for our money, has yet to be matched in other card games – as well as a bunch of fan-made content projects that emerged after its cancellation, has kept Android: Netrunner one of the best LCGs around.

Buy the core set

ARKHAM HORROR: THE CARD GAME

The card game variant of Fantasy Flight’s much-acclaimed Lovecraftian board game of the same name, Arkham Horror is a LCG of eldritch mystery. Played solo or cooperatively across a persistent campaign, you’ll assume the role of an investigator, following a breadcrumb trail of phantasmal peculiarities, and otherworldly insanity, through the haunted streets and decrepit houses of Arkham.

Investigators are split into classes, and you’ll have to build a bespoke action deck to overcome the many monsters and traps thrown your way. But Arkham Horror plays out as more of a mystery game than an action scenario. Explore new locations to uncover their secrets, and attempt to fulfil the objectives of the scenario before you succumb to a loss of sanity, or meet a grizzly end at the appendages of some tentacular horror.

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Despite the glut of Lovecraftian tabletop offerings out there, Arkham Horror: The Card Game might have a good claim to capturing the cosmic mystique and psychological absurdity of the Cthulhu-mythos best. Each scenario of the many, many expansions, feels true to form, but has enough variance in storytelling and setting as not to feel overplayed.

But the game’s brilliance comes from its persistence. Played through a series of set scenarios, your choices have lasting effects on the unfolding plot of later missions. Your investigator will twist and squirm under the horrors that you uncover, adding a nice RPG flavour to the card game.

Buy the base Set

Ashes Reborn: Rise of the Phoenixborn

Command an all-powerful ‘Phoenixborn’, and field an array of magical beasties and conjuration spells in this competitive, two-player expandable card game. Pick cards to attack, block incoming blows, and leverage the stand-out abilities of your hero Phoenixborn to turn the tide of battle.

It’s remarkably easy for a group of friends to explore the game together

But Ashes: Rise of the Phoenixborn stands out for one element that will either pique the interest of card game enthusiasts, or have them shuddering in disgust – dice. Your available resources for fielding units and casting spells are determined by a pool of the six-sided fellows, adding an element of luck, but, more importantly, providing a new avenue for strategic deliberation. A mixture of card-discarding and dice-rerolling lets you bolster your current force on the table, or shore up your chances of a powerful future hand. The dice serve as a baseline restriction on your abilities – it’s your job to figure out how best to turn the situation in your favour.

The ‘Reborn’ version of Ashes is effectively a new edition of the card game, rebalancing and rewording several of its cards, as well as introducing new content, and upcoming expansions. And the game’s price point shouldn’t be forgotten. With six pre-built decks included in the base set, alongside extra cards for customisation, it’s remarkably easy for a group of friends to explore the game together.

Buy the warband pack

Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Champions

Did you know Warhammer Age of Sigmar has a spin-off trading card game? We bet you didn’t. Despite some fanfare when it launched in 2018, Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Champions TCG has fallen off the radar since, and has been widely overlooked by Warhammer enthusiasts, and card game aficionados alike.

But behind a poorly-publicised physical release, and a monetarily predatory digital adaptation, lies a quick-fire, streamlined card game with all the beautiful Warhammer art you could hope for. Align yourself with the Grand Alliance of Order, Chaos, Destruction, or Death, and play cards to field units, cast spells, summon powerful ‘Champions’ to do battle in the best way possible – assailing your opponent with physical harm of every kind possible.

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Your ultimate objective is to run down the health of your opponent, but unique ‘quest objectives’ will have you deploying certain units, or using specific abilities, to accrue extra buffs, and hasten your victory. Card order and the arrangement of unit lanes is also important for resolving ability effects, encouraging some forward planning, and positional thinking.

But, with decks consisting of only 38 cards, and matches lasting around 20 minutes, Champions works best when played fast. Plus, getting to play Archaon the Everchosen, and namecheck other Warhammer beloveds, feels pretty great.

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