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Introduction

Don’t know where to begin? Starting any new game can be awkward. To help a fellow trainer out, I’m going to list an overview of the basic steps to playing Pokemon TCG Online.

This guide will take some time to review some of the basic ways to earn rewards in Pokemon TCG Online. We’ll also focus on what you should do first in order to quickly get ready to get unlocked booster packs. Lastly we’ll be ready to build our own competitive decks!

If you need a refresher, check out the other guides:

  1. Getting Started: The Basics (Pokemon TCG Rules)
  2. How to Earn Tokens, Tickets, and Boosters in Pokemon TCG Online
  3. Beginner’s Overview: Earning Unlocked Boosters
  4. How to Build Competitive Decks

Keep in mind that Pokemon TCG Online is a free game. It’s not necessarily a “freemium” game as there aren’t any in-game purchases (unless you live in Canada) or advertisements. You don’t need to spend money in this game and you certainly don’t have to. You also don’t need to buy physical cards, either.

Sure, you can take the easy-route and spend money on physical packs or buying the included code cards, but I’m going to outline the steps to enjoy playing the game for free and to get ready for building your own competitive decks.

The Goal: Unlocked Boosters

All these steps boil down to this: getting unlocked booster packs.

In the TCGO, there are 2 types of booster packs and individual cards, trade-locked and unlocked.  Locked cards and packs mean they can’t be traded. They’re yours forever. Unlocked boosters and cards can be traded.

You can tell if a card or pack is locked by looking at the number below it. If it’s in a gray box with a lock sign, it’s locked. If the number is in a blue box, it’s unlocked.

locked-unlocked-card

Note: Most cards and packs you obtain in-game are locked. This measure is put in place to discourage players from creating multiple accounts and trading cards to themselves. There’s not manys way to get unlocked boosters (by design) and I’ll show you how.

When you get unlocked boosters (as I’ll discuss in this overview), don’t open them! Unlocked boosters are treated as the game’s currency. You trade unlocked booster packs to get the cards you need to build your favorite deck.

Why Unlocked Boosters?

When you have a sizable stash of unlocked boosters you can then trade them to make the deck of your dreams.

That’s the goal here: to accumulate unlocked boosters to first get the game’s staple cards (cards used in most decks that are the “engine”) and some extras to easily build many different decks.

Once you have the staple cards, you can build most any deck with only a handful of cards, and by spending a handful of unlocked boosters.

To start, I’m going to assume that you don’t have many cards-if any. With not many cards (or any), playing the game in Standard, Expanded, or Legacy will be very difficult, if not impossible to easily win matches. So, we’re going to begin by playing in the Theme Format.

1. Unlock Basic Theme Decks

pokemon-new-basic-decks

Make sure you’ve first finished all the tutorials. Then, play around in the Trainers Challenge. (Finishing the tutorials used to unlock the XY Basic Yellow Theme Deck. After the latest update this deck is no longer available to new players.)

It’s important to play the three starter decks (Basic Blue, Green, and Red) at least 7 times to fully unlock all the cards. Basic Yellow is already fully unlocked, and Mental Might is not playable in the Trainer Challenge, and is already unlocked, too.

xy-basic-decks

Update: After update 2.39 released on 9/26/16, new players no longer have access to XY: Basic Green, Basic Red, Basic Blue,  and Basic Yellow. If you did not unlock these decks before the update, there is no way to obtain them. Existing players may continue to use these decks.

Three new online-only Theme Decks have been added for new and existing players that need to be unlocked the same way, by winning against 7 different trainers in the Trainers Challenge.

The new decks are Born of Fire (Fire), Crushing Current (Lightning), and Hidden Depths (Water).

Read the 2.39 Update Patch Notes and view the decklists and details.

Another online-exclusive deck is still available, Mental Might (Psychic), which is unlocked as a Daily Login bonus after Day 4. Mental Might is playable in the Theme Format for Versus and Tournaments, but is not playable in the Trainers Challenge.

2. Play More Trainers Challenge, Earn Rewards

After that, the idea is to build up your collection. To do this, I recommend playing in the Trainers Challenge, as you can earn free Booster Packs. For every trainer that you get 4 stars on, you’ll get a free (trade-locked) random booster. 4-star all 12 trainers for a league, and you’ll get another 3 boosters (15 per league, 3 leagues for 45 boosters total!).

Also, for each Theme Deck you buy from the Shop for 500 tokens, win against 12 different trainers in the Trainers Challenge to get a locked booster from that expansion set! If you do this for each Theme Deck, you can get 2 of every booster plus 45 random boosters all from the Trainers Challenge!

trainers-challenge

Once you’ve managed to get all 14 (standard) Theme Decks, played them all 12 times and 4-starred all the Trainers, you’ll have 59 boosters not counting any others you’ve likely earned! That’s 14 Theme Decks, 4-5 Basic Theme Decks, for ~1100 cards from decks and 590 cards from boosters!

That’s a collection to start with. When you’ve played a while in the Trainers Challenge and earned some boosters, it’s time to move on to Versus Mode and earn the real rewards.

3. Earn Tokens, Build Collection More in Versus Mode

The Trainers Challenge can realistically only be completed once. After you’ve 4-starred each Trainer and earned your 45 boosters, the only rewards you’ll get is 1 token per win. Not worth the time.

Once you get more Theme Decks you can play them 12 times to get the extra booster, but you’ll need a way to earn more rewards: Versus.

Versus Mode

Versus Mode is where you’ll spend most of your time in Pokemon TCGO (that is after the tutorial and completing the Trainers Challenge).

Sure, you can start playing Versus Mode right after the tutorials to start getting rewards (and build up your tokens to get Theme Decks while doing the challenge–a good idea).

Versus Ladder

You’ll also spend time competing in Tournaments for unlocked boosters and making Trades, but both of those require Tickets and Tokens, which you can earn in Versus.
In Versus Mode, as you win matches you’ll move up the Versus Ladder.

The Ladder resets every 21 days, so be sure to play regularly and claim your extra tokens, Tickets, Chests, Cards, EX Cards, Boosters, and the FA Trainer!

On the Versus Ladder you’ll get 10 points per win, 15 if you win and were at a disadvantage (0 points for a loss). Try to aim for the second-highest prize (1670) for the 5 Booster Packs. Sure, aim for the top at 2,000 for the FA Trainer, but it can be a challenge unless you play very regularly.

If you play every day, you’ll need to average 90-100 points per day to get all 2,000. Earning more than that won’t net you any more rewards, but you can see your ranking grow on the official Pokemon site Leaderboards.

versus-ladder

 

Here’s a list of the total rewards you can get from finishing a Versus Ladder (2,000 points in 21 days):

  • Tokens: 1,000
  • Tickets: 16
  • Boosters: 9 Current-Set Boosters; locked
  • Chests: 6 (5 Uncommon, 1 Holo; locked)
  • Cards: 10 (7 regular, 2 EX, 1 FA Trainer; locked)

Mystery Box Prizes

Also, each time you win a match you get to spin the Victor’s Wheel. For each of the 10 spots you’ll get some Tokens (1, 3, or 5) and a Mystery Box Prize. Each MBP contains 25, 50, 100, or 375 tokens, or 1, 2, or 4 Tickets, or a random locked Booster.

You can only get 10 MBPs per day from the Victor’s Wheel, which resets at 8 PM EST.

See my post about Mystery Box Prizes for (much) more detailed info about the odds of getting each prize and how long it takes to get them.

4. Spend Tokens First on Theme Decks

When you build up some Tokens, I highly recommend first getting some Theme Decks. They’re 500 tokens each, have 60 cards, and give you more options for playing in the Theme Format (Versus Ladder and Theme Tournaments).

Also, for each Theme Deck you get at the Token Shop, if you win 12 matches with it in the Trainer Challenge, you’ll get a free booster pack from that expansion set!

I’d recommend Battle Ruler as a good first choice from the store. It has the 1-energy Serperior and Zygarde for good attackers.

Other good ideas include Storm Rider, Night Striker, Wave Slasher (has some cards for Greninja BREAK decks), and the new Steam Siege decks (Gears of Fire / Rings of Lightning, available again since 2.39 update, 9/26).

theme-deck-shop

5. Spend Tokens Next on Bundles, Token Tournaments, Locked Boosters

After you feel that you’ve gotten a few Theme Decks (or all of them), you can then focus spending your tokens on Token Tournaments (when they’re Theme, you can earn Tournament Tickets), creating Trades, and limited bundles at the Shop.

After Theme Decks, prioritize limited-time boosters before they leave the shop, and then spend the rest on locked boosters (and open them 😀 ).

The limited-time bundles usually rotate every week (on a Tuesday) and are available for 3 weeks. They usually have 2-3 boosters (locked), and a promo card that may not be available elsewhere. Some bundles also may have deck boxes, sleeves, or a coin. Prices range from 200 tokens to 1,260 tokens, usually 600-875.

It’s also a good idea to keep a “reserve” of tokens, say 1000, and never spend ’em. Keep them in case there’s something you need that’s leaving the shop before you can get more, or need to post a trade right away, enter token tournaments for tickets, etc. If you have, say 1,500 tokens, “pretend” you only have 500.

Of course spend some on boosters you need, too.

Don’t know which boosters to get?

You can always try Roaring Skies and try your luck at a Shaymin-EX, Rayquaza-EX and M Rayquaza-EX (colorless), or FA VS Seeker… You can also pull the less-valuable Latios-EX and M Latios-EX, Thundurus-EX, Hydreigon-EX, Rayquaza-EX (dragon), Gallade-EX and M Gallade-EX, SR Switch, and FA Winona.

BreakPoint cards that you can pull include Garbodor, Greninja BREAK, Darkrai-EX, Manaphy-EX, Gyarados and M Gyarados-EX, Scizor and M Scizor-EX, and Ho-Oh-EX (Purifying Fire), as well as the FA Skyla.

BreakThrough also has a ton of valuable cards, including Rainbow Force Xerneas, Fright Night Yveltal, Zoroark, Octillery, Mewtwo-EX, M Mewtwo-EX, Glalie-EX, M Glalie-EX, Houndoom-EX and M Houndoom-EX, as well as FA Brigette and FA Giovanni’s Scheme.

Ancient Origins has some goodies, too, including: Lugia-EX, Sceptile and M Sceptile-EX, Kyurem-EX, Ampharos and M Ampharos-EX, Hoopa-EX, Machamp-EX, Tyranitar and M Tyranitar-EX, Giratina-EX, and the “Max” (read: bad) Primal Kyogre, Primal Groudon, and M Rayquaza-EX (col.), as well as the SR Trainers’ Mail, SR Energy Switch, and FA Steven.

If you don’t have any Shaymin-EXs, I recommend spending your extra coins on Roaring Skies. Otherwise you can’t go wrong with BreakThrough, BreakPoint, Ancient Origins, and the current set, Steam Siege.

Keep in mind that the next set, Evolutions, a reprint of the original Base set, is launching on November 2, 2016. It might be a good idea to save some tokens for the Evolutions Theme Decks and locked boosters when they become available.

6. Booster Pack Codes and IRL Cards

As far as buying decks/packs IRL, that’s completely up to you. If you’d like, you can buy the redeemable codes by themselves, there’s many great options.

It might be a good idea to get Theme Decks using Tokens in the in-game Shop, though (unless, like Dark Hammer, they’re no longer available–then get it from Amazon). Save real money for booster codes, promo codes, tin codes, etc.

If you’d like to take the easy route, then I recommend either getting some PTCGO codes from eBay (one of the cheapest places for fast codes), or some physical products and PTCGO codes by mail from Amazon.

One good use of spending real money–especially if you play the physical card game, too, is the Rayquaza Vs. Keldeo Battle Arena Deck. It includes the new Karen supporter as well as many Staple cards, such as Sycamore, N, Lysandre, VS Seeker, Ultra Ball, Level Ball, Dive Ball, Rough Seas, and many more.

7. Getting Unlocked Booster Packs

You’ll need unlocked booster packs to get the particular cards you need to build your first Standard deck. Remember to save your unlocked packs. Sure, open your locked ones, but save the others!

Think of unlocked boosters as the game’s currency. You can only earn unlocked booster packs by winning Tournaments (that cost Tournament Tickets), by completing high-level daily challenges (which you won’t see for a while as you’re a beginner), and by redeeming codes from physical packs.

All the packs you buy with Tokens, get from Trainers Challenge, Daily Bonus, Daily Challenge, Versus Ladder, etc. are trade-locked. You can (and should) always open your trade-locked packs. Those cards are yours forever and cannot be traded.

Keep in mind that if you have any pending trade offers that include packs, they will appear as locked packs. If you open a pack, it will open locked ones first, but if they’re really “pending” not locked, you’ll be opening up your unlocked ones!

Unlocked Boosters from Tournaments

The main way to get free unlocked booster packs is by entering Tournaments (4 Ticket, 8 Ticket, and the rare 24 Ticket ones; token Tournaments do not give booster packs, only tokens and tickets).

Before entering a Tournament, always be prepared.

Tournament Tickets are limited, and if you enter a lot of tourneys, you can easily run out. Odds are you’ll get 1-2 tickets per day through Mystery Box prizes, 1 a week from Daily Login Bonus, and up to 16 more from the Versus Ladder every 3 weeks. You might also get a Ticket or two during a tournament when you spin the wheel between rounds (~40% chance).

At first, I recommend playing in the Theme Tournaments. The Tournaments rotate every week on Mondays, following a 3-week cycle. Some weeks a specific format (Theme, Standard, or Expanded) will be 89 tokens (no boosters), most of the time they’re 8 tickets, sometimes 24. Theme Tournaments are 4 Tickets (2 weeks) or 89 tokens (1 week)

Get comfortable playing your favorite Theme Deck first, then enter some tournaments!

For 4-Ticket Theme Tournaments, here are the current prizes:

  • 1st: STS Booster x2, Random Booster x1, Spins x3
  • 2nd: STS Booster x1, Random Booster x1, Spins x3
  • 3rd-4th: Random Booster x1, Spins x2
  • 5-8th: Uncommon Chest, Spins x1

Note: 1 Spin is a spin of the Tournament Wheel after each round. You have a 40% of getting 25 tokens, 40% chance of getting 1 Ticket, and a 20% of a Mystery Box Prize.

For 8-Ticket Tournaments:

  • 1st: STS Booster x3, Random Booster x3, Spins x3
  • 2nd: STS Booster x2, Random Booster x2, Spins x3
  • 3rd/4th: STS Booster x1, Random Booster x1, Spins x2
  • 5-8th: Uncommon Chest, Tokens x50, Spins x1

Note: for a couple weeks after a new Expansion set is released, random Boosters are replaced with the new set.

(e.g. Right after the new Evolutions set launches, the prizes for an 8-Ticket Standard Tournament in 1st place will be 6 Evolutions boosters. After a couple weeks it will be 3 Evolutions, 3 Random.)

Unlocked Boosters from Daily Challenges (Level 16+)

Once you reach level 16, the rare Daily Challenges worth 3 XP will reward you with a random unlocked booster! (The rare Daily Challenges that you will get before level 16 will reward you with a locked, random booster.)

These daily challenges are rare, and you won’t always get them, but be sure to complete them when you can! (“Knock Out 16 Pokemon with your <type> Pokemon.”).

If you’re just starting out it’s probably a good idea to get to level 16+ as soon as you can. Remember to always do the Daily Challenges, and accept the ones worth the most XP first, or if they’re the same, go for the types you’re closest to leveling up.

Remember you level up your Player Level each time you level up a type, up to 3 each, 10 types total. Check out Bulbapedia’s explanation for more info.

You can only ever accept 1 daily challenge per day, and each one gives 1, 2, or 3 XP for a type. It takes each type 5 XP to get to level 1, 10 XP to level 2, and 20 XP to be maxed at level 3.

The max player level is 30. If you play regularly, it should take about 1-2 months to reach level 16; the challenges you get offered every day are just based on luck.

unlocked-packs

Save the unlocked packs and use them to get the cards you need. You’re always better off saving the unlocked packs for currency to get the card or cards you need, instead of leaving it to chance.

8. Next Steps

Now that you’ve amassed a collection of Theme Decks and locked booster packs for your collection, and most importantly earned a lot of unlocked booster packs, you can play the “real” game 😀

Check out the final Getting Started guide: How to Build Competitive Decks.