The Magical Numbers of Pokémon TCG

Discussion in 'Feature Articles' started by badganondorf, Sep 20, 2011.

  1. badganondorf

    badganondorf New Member

    The Magical Numbers of Pokémon TCG
    By Esa Juntunen



    As we all can see, 10 was a very important number for Gary. In fact, the number 10 plays a big part in Pokémon TCG. The inspiration behind this article is a friend of mine who commented on one of my articles in my TCG blog. He asked, why I didn’t explain more about the card amounts of the deck list. I thought everything was obvious but soon realized that wasn’t the case.

    Card amounts play a huge role in deck building and in the game itself so I thought to write an article about all the meaningful numbers in the TCG. There are many numbers that pop out almost every time when building a deck but you are just too accustomed to them to think to think why they pop out each time. So here I am, analyzing the meaning behind the magical numbers of Pokémon TCG. I hope you'll enjoy the read!


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    Let’s start with one of the most popular numbers of the Pokémon TCG – 4. Four is usually seen in decklists. If a deck plays 4 of any kind of card, it means that the card is essential for the deck to work. The two most popular cards you see with 4 are Pokémon Collector and Pokémon Communication. These two cards are essential for any deck to work – they are the main trainer engine of the present Pokémon TCG.

    The reason Pokémon Collector is maxed out in almost every deck is because you need it for your opening hand. Pokémon Collector may be completely useless in the late game but people usually play 4 of them just because the probability to draw Pokémon Collector is maximized. Some people may play 3 Collectors in their deck but it implies they can set-up without Collector.

    If we look at Pokémon Communication, it’s obvious why decks play 4 copies of it almost all of the time. Pokémon Communication is by far the best Pokémon search card ever. Back in the days decks played 4 Celio’s and even extra Professor Elm’s Training Methods. It wasn’t surprising to see 2 Celio’s and 3 Bebe’s in decks. Decks need a lot of Pokémon searching cards to work properly and because Pokémon Communication is superior in searching Pokémon from the deck, it’s only natural to run 4 of them in every deck. Pokémon Communication is good in early, mid and late game and that’s why you should always run 4 of them.

    Four isn’t only seen with trainers but it’s also seen with Special Energy cards. Decks that can play Special energy cards usually run 4 of its type, since it is the maximum. Great examples are Metal Pokémon decks which usually rely on the “tank” effect of their attacking Pokémon. One good example is Steelix Prime which was once played with healing cards and of course with 4 Special Metal Energies. Darkness and Metal –Special Energies are so good that you always want to run 4 of them if your deck relies on attacking with Darkness or Metal Pokémon.

    Last are the Pokémon. As I said earlier, if a deck runs 4 of any card, it must be essential for the deck. In the past, people used to run 4 of their starters but because the game has evolved, starters’ amount in decks has decreased. Nowadays only key cards of the decks like main attackers and their basics are run in copies of 4. However, not every deck runs 4 copies of their main attackers – it’s fashionable nowadays to run 3 copies of almost anything in your decks. Four is usually considered as an exaggeration and the number 4 is usually changed into 3 in tournament decks. One of the best examples for this would be Michael Pramawat’s Worlds 2nd placing GG in the 2010. It ran 4-2-3-1-1 Gardevoir/Gallade line, 1-0-1 Dusknoir AND 1-0-1 Machamp line. Still, the deck ran 3 copies of Rare Candies, which was very surprising in my opinion but it worked.


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    The natural continuation of four is three. As I mentioned, it’s fashionable to cut off the 4th copies of a card to get some room in your deck. Three might be the most popular number in deck lists. You can play 3 copies of almost anything in your deck. It’s a usual number for cards like Pokémon Catcher, Junk Arm, Rare Candy and for other key cards that almost every deck plays (excluding Pokémon Communication and Collector).

    Three is a good number since it gives the deck stability. It’s not too much but it’s still enough. Usually, if you run 4 of something, the card may be in your way in various situations and therefore players have noticed that 3 is an optimal amount to run almost any card.

    If you run 3 copies of a Pokémon, it is often the main hitter of a stage-deck: generally Stage-decks run 3 basic Pokémon and 3 stage1 evolutions (however, 4-3 Yanmega is very popular) or 4 basics and 3 stage2s (a good example could be Gothitelle). Usually there is no longer any need to run 4 copies of the main attacker because decks often have multiple main attackers. If they run 3 of each, it’s enough to win the game - if they’re all KOed, the opponent has already taken 6 Prizes.

    Three is a perfectly round number – in the beginning of the Pokémon TCG, in STS’s (Super Trainer Showdown – a Worlds like tournament, which was held in the Wizards’ era of the Pokémon TCG) there were decks that ran 3 of EACH card in their deck. The decklists were full of threes - nothing else. As fairly many old cards are reprinted, it seems that this habit has been increasing lately and the number 3 is almost as popular as it was in the very beginning of this game.


    Number two’s meaning differs a lot from 4 and 3. If there are two copies of a card in a deck it means that either that card isn’t that important for the deck OR it can be replaced with another – better – card. The best example for this can be found by taking a look at Pokémon lines. If a player plays a stage2 deck it’s very common to run either a 4-2-3 or a 4-2-4 line of the stage2 Pokémon. As you can see the number 2 is always in the middle and it’s still smaller than the stage2 Pokémon amount. How is that possible? As I mentioned there are cards that can replace the card. In this situation the card that replaces stage1 Pokémon is Rare Candy. Rare Candy is better because it’s a trainer card which makes it more versatile with Junk Arm and it also makes the deck faster because you can skip the stage1 with Rare Candy and evolve straight to stage2 from your basic Pokémon.

    Two is also a number you can see with starters like Cleffa. You usually want to run 2 copies of your starter because if you run just one, it might be prized at a crucial moment. The other Pokémon kind you want to run 2 copies of, are support Pokémon like for example Pachirisu and Shaymin. These cards are crucial to decks like Zekrom/Tornadus and you can’t afford prizing your only Shaymin/Pachirisu. That’s why you need to run 2 of them.

    Vileplume is also a Pokémon you want to run two copies of. In every game you need only 1 Vileplume into play and it will sit on the bench for the rest of the game. There is no need running 3 Vileplumes because they’re usually just in the way and 1 is too risky because it may be too often prized.
    If we look at energies that can be run with copies of 2, there is probably only one of that kind – Rescue Energy. Rescue Energy is a good tech in many decks and you can’t play 4 of them because
    a) you don’t need 4
    b) 4 will be in your way

    Usually 3 is the way to go to find the balance, but Rescue Energy can be considered as a tech, so here 2 is the way to go. The best example for running 2 Rescue Energies are Reshiram/Typhlosion where you use Rescue Energies to get back Reshirams and the Worlds’ winning Magneboar, where it was also taking back Reshirams. Getting back Pokémon isn’t that necessary in this format because the format is all about getting prizes every turn, so running 2 Rescues is enough. All of your main attackers won’t usually get KO’ed in a game, which decreases the need of Rescue Energy in non-Reshiram decks. If you’re playing Reshiram mirrors a lot, you may consider running 3 Rescues to get Reshiram back to play every turn.


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    1 is by far the most legendary number in the Pokémon TCG. Deck builders always want one more space in the deck to fit in something necessary. The number one gives your deck versatility and the more 1s you have in your deck, the better it usually becomes.

    The amount of number ones in a deck varies. Every deck builder has his/her own priorities while building a deck. I like consistent decks so you won’t see that many number ones in my tournament lists. However, some very good deck builders like many tech lines and their Pokémon lines can be full of techs. The extreme example of this, in my opinion, was Ross Cawthon’s 2005 Worlds deck list, which had a huge number of ones and was still pretty consistent because there were many different starters. I have also noticed that the 2004 World Champion, Tsuguyoshi Yamato, likes playing a lot of ones in his decks. His 2009 Worlds’ deck, which was Flygon, used many different starters and he ran 1 copy of each of them.

    Other than teching starters in your deck you can tech a 1-1 line of almost anything to counter your worst match-up. Playing a 1-1 line of something is very commonly used and it may just save the game against hard match-ups. The great thing about 1-1 or 1-1-1 lines is that it won’t take that much room from your deck. That’s why one 1-1 line won’t destroy the deck’s consistency but if you have multiple 1-1 lines in your deck, they may just become a headache.

    Thankfully you can also tech trainers with one piece of each. Popular cards, which are played in decks with copies of one, are Pokegear 3.0., Lost Remover, Switch, Super Scoop Up and Flower Shop Lady. These cards change the games. Pokegear may be crucial in moments of Judge. Lost Remover may get rid of your opponent’s last energy, Super Scoop Up lets you return a Pokémon that would be otherwise KOed etc. These all cards have twi things in common: they’re usually run with 1 copy of each and the one copy of that card, makess you win games.

    “One” makes the difference. You may have one card in your deck that can practically win you the game (look at Mewtwo LV.X) but at the same time “one” can destroy you completely. Your opponent may have that one card that destroys you or your “one” is prized and you lose the game because you are playing only one “one”... When thinking of running any “one” in your deck, you must be certain about a few things:

    1) Your deck works without the “one” in case it’s prized.

    2) You don’t ruin your deck’s main strategy just because you want to play the “one”.

    3) You really need that 1-1-1 line there – it’s no use running a cool tech which doesn’t work in practice.

    4) There is no better and easier substitute for your tech.

    All in all, 1 can mean everything or nothing. You may tech against a certain match-up but you don’t play against it in the tournament. Or, you may not tech against anything and you will face the one deck that you could’ve won with just a 1-1 line of something. It’s up to you how well you use “ones” in your deck.


    50-50, 50%, ½ - they all mean the same thing. It’s the number you will meet in every Pokémon game. It’s the amount of times you go first in a game, or your various attacks or trainers work. The opening flip plays a huge role in today’s Pokémon so this number belongs to the list.

    It’s good to remember that flipping coins have always been a part of this game – and will always be. The number ½ is what makes this game, what it is – a luck based game. Without coin flipping, Pokémon would be just like poker or MTG, all we could do would be counting probabilities all the time and have no fun at all. Flipping coins makes people sometimes angry at the Pokémon TCG and why not, it’s something you players incapable of controlling. There is nothing more frustrating than losing the game to a Reversal or Fainting Spell flip. That’s why number ½ will always be the most common and hated number of the whole game.


    When considering tournament decks, Zero is a very important number. There are 2 places where the number zero can be found. First we have retreat. If your Pokémon has a free retreat, it’s always a great thing and gives your deck versatility and speed. The more you have free retreating Pokémon, the better your deck usually becomes. That’s why things like Unown Q were very played in the past formats. The sign of a great starter is also a free retreat. Things like Babies and Manaphy are great because they have a free retreat.

    The second where you can find zero is attack costs. Things that have even decent attacks with a zero cost are usually very popular because they’re fast. Few good examples would be Gyarados and the well-known Yanmega Prime. They were both some of the best cards in the format because when your energy counts are low, you can play a lot of trainers or secondary attackers. And of course we have Babies attacking with zero energy cost. In fact, Babies are the embodiment of zero because they have free retreat, and they require no energies for their attacks.


    These are the magic numbers which cover almost every deck in this format. If you look at your deck’s energy amount you’re sure to find that your deck plays 10 to 14 energies. Of course there are exceptions, but this is the case in 98% of the situations.

    The energy amount in decks changes in every format so these numbers work only in this format. One notable thing about these numbers is that the difference between 10 and 14 is very small. Usually the format has a lot of variety in energy amounts in different decks. There may be decks running almost no energies and then there may be decks that have huge energy acceleration and can run up to 18 energies. It’s not that we don’t have free attacking Pokémon in the format but they can’t win games by themselves. Ever tried building a deck around Babies and Yanmega Prime? Free attacking Pokémon are great but you need something to support them and usually that’s what makes the energy count of the deck rise to 10 or more.


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    130 is a new magical number. Nowadays 130 is highly prolific. It’s the HP amount, which means that you’re out of the OHKO range of the legendary Digimons Zekrom and Reshiram. In fact, Zekrom’s and Reshiram’s HP is 130, so you can find it there as well.

    Hardly any Pokémon hits 130, so damage moving, trainer locking Reuniclus decks like Gothitelle and Vileplume live and die within the number of 130. Gothitelle has 130 HP, so it can’t be OHKOed by almost anything in the metagame without hitting the weakness.

    130 is also the standard HP for many stage2 Pokémon. You can find many Pokémon having this HP- Most popular examples would be Kingdra Prime, Gothitelle, Gengar Prime and the hyped Beartic. These Pokémon abuse their HP well and their HP is one of the main reasons they even are playable.

    19 and 20

    These 2 numbers affected me personally the most as a deck builder. When I don’t have any ideas for new decks, I turn to World Championships booklets. From the Worlds’ booklets, I found the base for my deck building in 2007.

    The number 19 is the number of “draw cards” in World Championships’ winning decks. I count any trainer that can search things or draw cards (PONT, Communication, Cheren, Scott etc.) as a “draw card”. The number 19 can be found in the legendary Team Magma deck, which Tsuguyoshi Yamato piloted to the Worlds victory in 2004. It can also be found in Miska Saari’s 2006 Worlds winning Lunarock deck. In fact, I built Miska’s deck together with one other Finnish player and we copied the number straight from the 2004 Worlds’ booklet. 20 is a number which can be found from Jason Klaczynski’s winning Mewtric list.

    In my opinion everyone should learn from these numbers since this format has no built in draw engines like Uxie or Claydol, which automatically lower the number of draw cards in your deck. This format reminds me very closely of the 2004-2007 formats before we got accustomed to the use of Claydol and Uxie. That may be one reason why Magnezone was so popular in the early HGSS-on format: it was something people were already familiar with.

    While building a deck in this format, I usually try to hit the “draw card” number in between 18 and 20 – it has been proven to be the optimal choice and I can gladly say that it has worked for me and the whole Team Finland all the time. So while building any deck in this format without Magnezone (like e.g. Stage1 decks or Reshiplosion without Ninetales) it will be wise to target the number of draw cards in between 18 and 20 – you will get the best results with those numbers. Try it out and be surprised!



    There is no player that isn’t familiar with this number. There is nothing more annoying than attacking your opponent’s Pokémon and noticing that it has only 10 HP left. That’s why during the history of the Pokémon TCG there have been many cards that have been solving the “ten problem”. You may be familiar with a few of them: the most popular cards for solving the 10 problem have been PlusPower, Crobat G, Jolteon*and Strength Charm.

    Pokémon TCG has been evolving radically in the past few years and that’s why there are always more and more ways to solve the “ten problem”. Since we have Junk Arm, PlusPower is more than easy to tech into any deck. Kingdra Prime has also seen a lot of play as the problem solver and managing other functions in decks.

    The additional ten is very important when considering which Basic Pokémon you would like to play in your deck. If you have choices of a Basic Pokémon of your deck and the other has 40HP and the other 50HP, you will probably go with the 50HP unless its retreat cost is horrible because it isn’t KOable with Linear Attack. Also the difference between 60HP and 70 HP is just ridiculous because many cards in this format attack for 60 (e.g. Kingdra Prime and Donphan Prime).

    The “ten problem” will always be around in Pokémon and players will be looking for the answer as long as this game exists. In many matches, it’s the matter of win or defeat if you can do the additional ten or not. If you look at the World Championship decks, they usually have the answer to the “ten problem” if it was possible in that format. The exceptions are the decks that can hit heavy damage just like this year’s winning deck Magneboar. Big-hitting decks don’t have to solve the problem since, for them, it doesn’t exist!


    These numbers may at first seem trivial but when you look at them closer, it’s pretty much everything that deck building and matches are about. All games are decided by small margins – for example. an answer to the “ten problem” might just be the thing you need to win the game. I hope that this article gave you some thoughts for your deck building and some new insights into the Pokémon TCG as a game!


    - Baby Mario, jjkkl and Darkstar20 for reviewing my article
    - My friend, who inspired me to write this article
    - You, for reading
    - My first Pokégym article
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 20, 2011
  2. DarkStar20

    DarkStar20 Front Page Editor

    A very well-thought-out concept, and some very good tips in this article badganondorf! The game is
    certainly a game of inches, and you have brought to light many of the numbers we should all be focusing
    on! Thanks, and welcome to the FP!

  3. eriknance

    eriknance New Member

    an excellent read, a must for any aspiring competitive player!
    Posted with Mobile style...
  4. Magic_Umbreon

    Magic_Umbreon Researching Tower Scientist, Retired

    The 3 copies of each card in STS were due to a rule limiting trainers to 15 and max 3 of each, it wasn't out of players' choice.
  5. Dragon Strife

    Dragon Strife New Member

    i loved this article. I thank you for posting this a lot!
  6. tristlin

    tristlin New Member

    This was definitely an informative article. Thank you for taking the time to post it.
    Is there a "Magical Number" for number of basics in a deck? I find I have to redraw pretty often with 10 and was wondering what other people were running.
  7. badganondorf

    badganondorf New Member

    eriknance: Glad you liked it!

    Magic Umbreon: Whoa, that's great to know. I didn't play competitively back then so I had only a memory of a decklist I saw back then and wondered why there were 3 of everything. Well, at least there was only threes and none ones or twos. But thanks for the fix, I learned a new thing!

    Dragon Strife: Thanks for the compliment!

    tristlin: Numbers between 10-12 are quite often numbers in Basic counts in this metagame because you don't have supporting Pokémons like Claydols or Uxie any more. You pretty much have your attackers and the 1-2 startes in your deck and that's all.
  8. gallade

    gallade New Member

    This is probably the only article i have enjoyed for a few years, expand it if you ever get the time :)
  9. MultX

    MultX New Member

    Great article!

    Just a small remark about 1-ofs: The extreme example of techy deck was i think, Chris Fulop's Worlds 2006 LBS deck, which ran 24 single copies of cards)
  10. ajwalker

    ajwalker New Member

    Thanks for a great article :thumb:

    I went back and looked at some of the numbers of things I played and made adjustments were necessary or patted myself on the back where I had already thought of it :lol:
  11. dogma

    dogma New Member

    INCREDIBLE Gary picture - that was seriously awesome.

    Hats off to you good sir
  12. thepliskin5005

    thepliskin5005 New Member

    I dont want to be negitive but i just want to be honest this article really dosent make sense. Well i mean of course a lot of decks have a lot of same numbers in them. It was instreating to see that a lot of worlds decks have around twenty drawing cards.
  13. TheRolesWePlay

    TheRolesWePlay New Member

    This article is great, and is a good reminder for deck building in general. I might even use this as a basic guideline in the future. Things like deck numbers are sometimes taken for granted and it's nice to see another player's outlook on the topic.
  14. Regis_Neo

    Regis_Neo Moderator

    Decent article, some good reminders in there.
  15. RB Golbat

    RB Golbat New Member

    Hey! Hey! Magic: The Gathering IS fun!
  16. TheDoctor

    TheDoctor New Member

    Loved the article but the only thing that makes me sad these days is the format, it's harder to get away with a 1-1 tech, I always have to beef it up to 2-2.
  17. badganondorf

    badganondorf New Member

    Thanks for everyone for the comments. I'll try to find time to expand the article once the new set is released.

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