I comment on a lot of decks here, mostly ones built for Unlimited. Here, I will list the strategies I use both when I build my own decks and when I comment on other people's decks. These are all my opinion, and everyone is certainly entitled to agree or disagree as they choose. I did not invent any of these strategies. I am certainly not the most skilled or experienced deckbuilder out there. These strategies are based specifically on the Unlimited format, so some will not apply to Modified. I have assumed only that the reader knows the rules of the game. The list is more or less in order of what I think of when I build a deck. WARNING: This is a long post. Focus. A good deck always has a focus, or specific goal. "To win" is not an acceptable focus -- all decks, except for joke decks, aim for that. An acceptable focus might be a specific Pokemon, a specific category of attacks, a specific type, or even a specific Special Condition. There are plenty of other types of focuses that work just fine, thank you. The focus of a deck may change as you build it. This is okay, but a deck should focus on something. Sometimes, a deck has two focuses. This is okay, as long as the two focuses work together. Going rogue. Most people reading this probably know what I mean. For those who don't, going rogue means to break some of the conventions for deckbuilding in order to do something unusual. Going rogue is not a bad thing. On the contrary, a well-constructed rogue deck is a sign of a very skilled deckbuilder. I have never played competitively with a rogue deck, but I've seen them used, and some of them work quite well. Pokemon, part 1. One of my rules of thumb when building a deck is to include 12-18 Pokemon, usually more like 13-16. The exact number varies with the focus and structure of the deck. The rest of this section is divided into notes about different types of Evolution lines. Basic (non-Baby) Pokemon. Here, I'm referring to Pokemon that, at least for the purposes of the deck in question, do not evolve. In Unlimited, there are many powerful Pokemon that either can't or don't need to evolve. In fact, I have constructed decks where one focus was only using Pokemon that didn't evolve. Base Chansey and Jungle Scyther are good examples. Some of these will be the deck focus, others may be support. Stage 1 Pokemon. Here, I'm referring to Pokemon that evolve once and only once, either because the Stage 2 is left out or because there is none. There is a wide selection of useful Stage 1 Pokemon available in Unlimited. I tend to recommend that a deck have no more than 2 Stage 1 lines. When I include a Stage 1 line in a deck, I tend to go 3-2 (3 of the Basic, 2 of the Stage 2), although different structures may lend themselves to 2-2, 3-3, 4-3, or even 4-4. I almost never go 4-3 or 4-4, but some Evolution lines (Slowking, for example) lend themselves to a 4-4 construction. (Can you tell I've never used Slowking?) One more note about Stage 1 lines. There is usually, although not always, more than one choice for the Basic of a Stage 1 line. Not all of the Basics you use for a Stage 1 line have to be the same card, and many people use two different cards of the same Basic Pokemon. Choosing the version(s) of the Basic you use can be very important. Stage 2 Pokemon. Many people recommend that you stay away from these at all costs in Unlimited. While I find that for most Stage 2's, there is a Stage 1 line that fills the same purpose, someone who wants to go rogue can and may use a Stage 2. For these aspiring rogues, here are my tips on constructing a Stage 2 line. First, use Pokemon Breeder. There are good Stage 2's for Unlimited. The best ones are capable of operating at full or nearly full strength on the second turn of the game, and Pokemon Breeder lets them. I recommend at least 2 Pokemon Breeders for any Stage 2 deck. Second, unless the Stage 1 of the line is pretty useful on its own, include no more than 2 of it. Because of Pokemon Breeder, you won't necessarily even need any. I would usually include 1 of the Stage 1, but it's your call, deckbuilder. In general, I would try to have the numbers of your Stage 1's plus your Pokemon Breeders equal the number of your Stage 2's, possibly plus 1. Third, include at least 3 of the Basic Pokemon. Since the Basic of a Stage 2 line is usually weaker than most other Basics, they're Knocked Out a little more easily than other Basic Pokemon. Plan accordingly. Not having the Stage 1 is acceptable; not having the Basic is not. Finally, include at least 2, preferably 3, of the Stage 2 Pokemon itself. A fourth will usually clutter up your deck, wasting deck space, but only having 1 gives you very low chances of getting it out at all. Remember that your Stage 2 is probably the focus of your deck -- if it's not, it probably shouldn't be there. If there are two different versions of the same Stage 2 Pokemon, and you're using both, do not only include one of each -- a single of one version may be okay, though. Baby Pokemon. First introduced in Neo: Genesis, these guys irrevocably changed the game of Pokemon: TCG. Deceptively powerful as a stall tactic and in their own ways, Baby Pokemon should not be overlooked. I use Baby Pokemon to fill spaces in my Pokemon engine, rather than specifically trying to make room for them. Unlike other Pokemon, I feel it can be acceptable to include a single of a Baby Pokemon. The following Babies are especially popular, and all for good reason: -Cleffa (Genesis). Because this Pokemon cannot damage the opponent's Pokemon in any way, many beginning players stay away from it. Don't. For a single Energy of any type, Cleffa allows you to exchange the hand you have for 7 cards from your deck. This ability is extremely useful for any deck. -Tyrogue (Discovery). Tyrogue is on the other extreme from Cleffa -- while Cleffa cannot do damage to your opponent, Tyrogue can do a very significant amount of damage to your opponent's Pokemon. For a single Energy of any type and a coin flip, Tyrogue allows you to do 30 damage to your opponent's Active Pokemon, before applying Weakness and Resistance. -Pichu (Genesis). This Baby has single-handedly struck fear into the hearts of users of Pokemon Powers. Why? Because with this guy around, they're not even safe on the bench. And its attack can be paid for with a single Energy of any type. -Elekid (Genesis). OK, this guy's not really all that popular because of Pichu, but he is one of my personal favorites. Why? Because he doesn't need Energy to attack. He doesn't even have to be your Active Pokemon! His Pokemon Power allows you to replace your attack for the turn with a coin flip. If heads, your opponent's Active Pokemon takes 20 damage. This guy is useful for decks where you plan on having a Pokemon Active, but not attacking. If your opponent has a Baby Active, Elekid lets you bypass the infamous Baby Rule, as well as anything else that is triggered by an attack. Pokemon, part 2. Obviouisly, there is much more to choosing Pokemon than just evolution lines. Look at every aspect of a Pokemon when considering it for your deck. Here is what I look at when I look at a Pokemon, not necessarily in any specific order: HP. Other than Babies, I tend to avoid Pokemon with less than 50 HP whenever possible, unless they are essential to my deck's strategy. I especially tend to like Pokemon with at least 70 HP. Why 70? A few reasons. First, it takes a considerable effort to Knock Out a Pokemon with 70 HP on the first turn of the game. It can be done, but it is far from easy. Also, a Pokemon with 70 or more HP has an interesting relationship with the Trainer Gold Berry, which I'll mention in the Trainers section. Retreat Cost. I tend to avoid Pokemon with a retreat cost higher than 2 (except maybe Mewtwo ex), and I especially tend to gravitate toward Pokemon with a Retreat Cost of 1 or 0. Why 2? Because that is the highest Retreat Cost that can be paid for with a single Energy card. Being able to change Pokemon easily can make the difference between winning and losing. Since (with a few notable exceptions that I won't mention in this post) you can only attach one Energy card to a Pokemon in a turn, having to give up more than one Energy card to retreat is a big hit. Type. I tend not to dwell on this much, but it can be important. For every type other than Fire, Dark and Colorless, a number of Pokemon exist that are resistant to that type. If your deck has only one type of Pokemon, and your opponent plays a Pokemon with a Resistance to that type, you're in trouble. More details later. Weakness/Resistance. I won't go into too much detail here, but pay attention to this. If all, or even a large portion of your Pokemon have a Weakness to the same type, an opponent with Pokemon of that type in his deck has a distinct advantage. More details later. Pokemon Powers. Most Pokemon do not have a Pokemon Power. For those that do, read it carefully. How can it help you? Or can it? Some Pokemon Powers' effects are negative. Watch for these, because of one important Pokemon with an important Pokemon Power... Muk (Fossil/LC). Muk causes all Pokemon Powers, other than copies of its own, to be ignored. If you have a Pokemon with a Pokemon Power that hurts you, you will probably want to use this guy. If a Pokemon Power can help you, figure out how best to take advantage of it. Attack costs. As what Magic players might call a Johnny/Spike, I shy away from Pokemon with high attack costs. I find that it works. I avoid Pokemon with 4-Energy attacks, except for Base Chansey. Keep an eye out for Energy costs including (C)(C). Those should set off bells and whistles in your head. Why? One Double Colorless Energy can pay for that part of the cost, saving you an Energy card and a turn! That, by the way, is why Chansey is my exception to the rule against 4-Energy attacks. All 4 are (C), allowing the whole cost to be paid for with 2 Energy cards. I also avoid attack costs with more than one specific color of Energy -- these tend to be extremely difficult to pay. I will not include a Pokemon with a 5-Energy attack in my deck, unless there is a reliable way to power it up quickly. One more note. Try to keep the number of different types of Energy your Pokemon's attacks call for down to 1 or 2. Attack damage and effects.The most powerful attacks aren't necessarily the ones with a base damage of 100 or 120. Sometimes, the most "powerful" attacks have no base damage at all! If an attack has text, read it carefully. Figure out what it does and how it does it. Exploit positive effects as well as you can. Just because an attack has a negative effect doesn't mean you should leave it out of your deck. Look instead for ways to either make use of that effect, or to minimize its impact on you. If neither is possible, or if minimizing the negative effect takes too much effort to justify using the card, leave it out. Not every card will be deckworthy. A special note about multiplier attacks. These are attacks with a base damage like 20X. Look at what the base damage is being multiplied by. Often, this is the number of heads in a series of coin flips. When considering an attack like that, it takes a bit of math. First, and perhaps most importantly, figure out the average amount of damage you can do. Usually, this is done by taking half the total number of coins flipped and multiplying it by the base damage. Then, consider the potential damage. If both the average damage and the potential damage seem to be enough, go for it! If it has a lot of potential, but the average damage is too low, consider using a different card. Combinations. These are not written on the card. Rather, these are found by asking the question, "How does this card work with other cards?" Better to have a smaller number of Pokemon that work together than a larger number of more powerful Pokemon that don't connect to each other at all. Splashability. Some Pokemon go into a deck not because they directly interact with the main strategy, but because they form a small sub-strategy that supports the main strategy. A prime example of a splashable Pokemon is Jungle Scyther. Energy. Once I've decided more or less which Pokemon I want to use, I decide on Energy cards. Your Pokemon need Energy to use attacks. I have only ever seen one extremely rogue deck that had no Energy cards at all. My decks tend to have 12-18 Energy (That range seem familiar?), usually more like 13-16. Some decks may do fine with less, and some deck types work best with more, although I rarely see a deck that requires more than 21 Energy, even in Modified. I will usually not have more Energy cards than Pokemon, but that's a matter of personal preference. Notes below on the different kinds of Energy cards. Basic Energy. When the game started, you had Basic Energy and you had Double Colorless Energy. That was it. This is no longer the case, but Basic Energy can still be important. If your deck centers around one or more types of Basic Energy, you'll obviously tend to want some of that Energy. Remember that Basic Energy is the only card you can have more than 4 of in a deck. Remember also that Basic Energy can pay for its own color and for Colorless costs, but only counts as one Energy at a time. The structure and focus of your deck will dictate which Basic Energies, if any, you need, and how many of each. Sometimes, you don't need any. Special Energy. These have become more and more important in the last 3 years. Special Energy cards provide either more than one Energy per card or a special effect. Especially significant Special Energies include Double Colorless Energy, Darkness Energy, Metal Energy, Rainbow Energy, Boost Energy and Warp Energy. Depending on the specifics of your deck, you may or may not need some of these. Some decks have no Basic Energy cards, and some decks have no Special Energy cards. Trainers, part 1. Trainers are a very important part of a deck. Decks I build have 24-34 Trainers, usually more like 28-32. They're that important. Trainers fill a huge number of support roles in decks. Listed below are some of the most important ones. Healing. The most popular Healing Trainer is Gold Berry. This is because it is the only Trainer that can remove 4 damage counters from a Pokemon with absolutely no drawback, other than the fact that it can't remove less and you can't attach another Pokemon Tool (I assume the reader knows what Pokemon Tools are). Some decks actually center around Healing Trainers. The usual targets for a deck like that are Pokemon Center and Pokemon Nurse. Each completely heals one or more damaged Pokemon, but each also discards all Energy cards from the Pokemon it heals. Draw Power. I usually lump card-drawing and hand-changing Trainers together into one category, which I collectively call Draw Power. These Trainers are very important, and often make up the bulk of a deck's Trainer engine. Popular Trainers for this purpose include Professor Oak, Professor Elm, and Copycat. There are plenty of others -- one of my personal favorites is Sabrina's Gaze. Disruption. This can mainly be separated into hand disruption, Energy disruption, and Pokemon disruption. Disruption Trainers interfere with your opponent's plans, usually by removing cards from his/her hand, removing Energy from his/her Pokemon, or moving an Active Pokemon to the Bench and a Benched Pokemon to the Active position. Popular Disruption Trainers include Lass, Energy Removal, Super Energy Removal, and Gust of Wind. Deck Search. These are also important Trainers. Deck Search Trainers, oddly enough, let you search your deck for a specific card. The most popular Deck Search Trainer is Computer Search. Recently, Oracle has also been gaining popularity. Discard Rescue. Another very important category of Trainers, Discard Rescue Trainers move cards from your discard pile to your hand or deck. Popular Discard Rescue Trainers include Nightly Garbage Run, Item Finder, Town Volunteers, and Energy Charge. Stadiums. Not every deck has Stadium Cards, and some just don't need them. I personally recommend a maximum of 3 Stadium cards in a deck. Stadium Cards have some lasting effect that affects both players and can basically only be ended by replacing them with other Stadium Cards. Some Stadiums have negative effects, in which case you should build accordingly to take advantage of the effect and minimize the negative impact to you, while others have positive effects, which you should take as much advantage of as possible. Popular Stadiums include Chaos Gym and No Removal Gym. Stadiums may fit in any of the above categories. Miscellaneous. Some Trainers don't fit into any of the above categories. A popular example is Switch. Many Miscellaneous Trainers fit best with a specific strategy, like Scoop Up. Supporters. Supporters may be in any category. This fairly new category of Trainers has a special rule: "You may only play one Supporter per turn." Town Volunteers, Pokemon Nurse and Oracle are all Supporters. Trainers, part 2. When considering Trainers for a deck, ask yourself the following questions. How does this Trainer help me? This includes knowing what category(s) the Trainer fits in and what specific effects it has. Is there another Trainer that is better/more reliable for this task? If so, try to use the better one. Can using this Trainer hurt me/help my opponent? If so, don't immediately toss it out. Many good Trainers have drawbacks. The trick is to know how to best use them for maximum benefit and minimum damage to your own strategy, with maximum damage and minimum benefit to your opponent's strategy. Remember that a drawback sometimes becomes an advantage if you play your cards right. Other considerations. There are a few more things to think about when building a deck. Number of a card. I've given some tips on this issue, but here's the rest of it. First, avoid singles. The exceptions to this rule are as follows: Baby Pokemon, Stadiums, Town Volunteers. For other cards, if it's worth having in your deck, it's probably worth having 2 or 3 of. Second, think carefully before putting in a fourth. Some cards are central enough to your strategy to put in four. Often, though, 2 or 3 is sufficient. Reliability. This regards the deck as a whole, and takes playtesting to determine. Does the deck reliably do what you want it to do? If not, figure out why not. If so, look for ways to make it even more reliable. Speed. There are lots of fast decks in Unlimited. If your deck is reliable, but slow, and you go against a deck that is reliable and fast, you lose. This is not always the case, but it tends to be. Metagame. This is specific to where you play. Build your deck with the tendencies of your opponents in mind. If your deck is built to work best against the type of deck you expect to come up against, you're in good shape. Cover your weaknesses. This might be considered part of Metagaming. Every main strategy has some weakness. Be it a lot of Pokemon with the same Type or Weakness, low HP, high Retreat Costs, whatever, no strategy is flawless. A good deckbuilder balances his or her weaknesses with strategies to account for them. For example, if all your Pokemon are weak to a certain type, splash in a Pokemon of a type that your weak type tends to be weak to. If your Pokemon have low HP, splash in a Pokemon with high HP. There you have it. My strategies for building a deck for Unlimited. If you have any general comments or questions, I'm all ears.