The TCG Design Thread


This is the place to discuss general aspects of TCG game and card design.

What trends do you see developing? What problems do we have? Should power creep be addressed? That kind of thing.

This is NOT a create-a-card thread. It’s not the place for posting stuff like ‘I think they should make Grass Pokemon awesome by printing this thing I just made up’. Let’s keep our discussion rooted in the game we actually have.

I’ve moved some posts over from the Phantom Gate thread to give some idea of the discussions we can have here.

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Ancient Origins [ENG] // Bandit Ring XY7 [JPN]
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I’m getting the feeling that Pokemon is slowly making Stage 2’s better and better. If you look at the XY series so far here are some notable examples:
Delphox - solid non supporter draw support, decent attacker when partnered with Emboar LTR
Greninja - manipulates energy into a resource for spreading damage, has a cheap and usable attack
Shiftry - It’s pretty much it’s own deck, turns energy into more cards and has a heavy hitting attack, albeit one that takes a while to power up
Duknoir - Allows Pokemon to tank and abuse Max Potion
Machamp - a bench sitting damage booster for fighting decks
Victreebel - inflicts status conditions with its ability, can create a lock with Dragelge and Trevenant
Phantom Forces
Crobat - more cheap damage
Chandelure - Fainting Spell. I don’t think I need to explain why that’s good
Hydreigon - energy acceleration

After looking at all of those examples, let me ask you this: In a format without Landorus, how many of these would be part of the top tier decks? The way I see it, quite a few of them probably would be. Once the BLW era sets are phased out, I fee like stage 2’s are going to become much more conpetitive, which should be a refreshing change of pace.


If they want Stage 2s to be more competitive, they need to think again about not reprinting key search cards (Level/Heavy Ball), and designing Pokemon that can Item lock from the first attacking turn.

That and the loss of Beach is making it harder to play Stage 2s than it has been since the Base set era.


If Head Noiser doesn’t get an Ace Spec type rule (as in one per deck) then it could end up being a 4 of in Stage 2 decks so Seismitoad needs more than a DCE to use Quaking Punch, and thus can’t item lock you first turn.


There are many other factors your leaving out. Landorus-EX is one Pokémon and “big Basics” were dominant before it… or any Pokémon-EX for that matter! Misdiagnosis always worries me, because it leads to fans clamoring for the wrong “fix”. I realize people will disagree with me over specifics, but it was a fact that Zekrom and Reshiram (especially Zekrom) were tearing things up when they debuted the Black & White expansion.

I was still getting back into the game for the format before that, and was on hiatus for the format or two previous (just barely checking in, maybe making the occasional pre-release), but before that (and Broken Time-Space) I seemed to recall that aggressive Stage 1 decks were threatening to take over the format.

Pacing is an issue that has plagued this game since day one. I think the main solution would be to stop designing cards that hit so hard so fast (and support that rewards focusing on such cards) while focusing on making set-up an important factor again… including giving Evolving Basics good attacks and/or Abilities to aid in set-up. Big Basics can still be strong, but they can’t be fast and strong, nullifying the point of running other “set-up” Pokémon so that they have both a speed, space and synergy advantage over Evolution lines.


You forgot aegislash.



What is even worse about Stage 2’s is that the basics cap out at 70HP, with the majority of them at 60HP. It should be case-by-case but isn’t it time in this format to frontload their HP? It just seems odd in a format where basic HP cap out at 130/180.

It really doesn’t seem like they are going to drastically change the big basic dynamic of the game, at least in the near future (unless Mega evolutions take off and you don’t consider them a cousin of the big basic family). I kind of see making evolution Pokemon basic EX their way of making peoples favorite evolution Pokemon playable and perhaps more fun to collect. Their focus seems to have been more on on EX vs. non-EX, not basics vs. evolutions.


This just seems “wrong” somehow; I mean Pokémon without Evolution isn’t really Pokémon… is it? It is one of the iconic mechanics of the franchise (not just the TCG). Plus some people like the lower Stages. For example, Abra is adorable but I don’t really like or dislike Alakazam. I think Charmeleon looks better than Charizard. If we just shift all the Evolutions to Pokémon-EX, I don’t get to enjoy these guys. Maybe they aren’t my favorites, but they could be someone else’s. Don’t forget popular lower Stages/pre-Evolutions; the former were once fully Evolved when they garnered their fans, while the latter has never been fully Evolved but was kind of a push for more mascot level characters.


This is a very difficult problem that goes to the heart of the TCG and Pokemon mechanics in general.

By-passing pre-evos with the EX Basics deprives us of so many Pokeman (as @Otaku rightly points out)

Front-loading pre-evos fails to reflect the Pokemon tradition of weak Basics becoming strong Evos and takes the shine off of Stage 2s. Can we expect 80 HP Magikarps and 100 on a Mudkip?

The whole in-game evolution thing in the TCG doesn’t reflect VG procedure. If I’m playing the videogame, I don’t have to spend two turns evolving my Charmander in battle: I just send out the Charizard I prepared earlier.

Perhaps the problem is having non-evolving Basics that are too powerful. But these are Legendaries we are talking about. Shouldn’t a Dialga or a Groudon always be much more powerful than a Crobat or a Chandelure? (Random examples). In past Legendaries were often awful cards (look at the pre-SP Dialgas we got). Does it make sense to treat game mascots like this?

Seems almost impossible to reconcile all these expectations and traditions into a balanced game.


B_M is right in that the frailty of the basic is the risk that allows a powerful Stage 2. A Deino in DEX-era with 90HP would have been insane and OP. I think they could have a Stage 2 with a basic with high HP but it would be a rare occurrence and carefully planned out. Maybe a Stage 2 attacker with an outrage like attack?

That’s true about the video game. When comparing the 2 (TCG and VG), having evolutions in a battle does seem a bit goofy. What we really like about the evolution in the TCG isn’t necessarily the Pokemon transforming, but the mechanic of having Pokemon cards that need to be ‘unlocked’ by having the proper card already on the field. I never played with Lv. X but it seems to be very similar to the idea of using evolutions without them really being evolutions. The Mega evolutions we have now is also similar, and from a VG point of view, evolving Mega’s in battle makes sense.

@otaku Yes, I primarily got the idea for front-loading from your previous posts haha.


So, I would like to add to the “card design” part of this thread. This is something my friend noticed that until then, I had totally overlooked. So, you know on a card, next to the name on the right side, there are those lines going down on a diagonal. On a basic pokemon, there is 1 line. On a stage 1, there are 2 lines, and on stage 3, you guessed it, 3 lines. EX cards and Megas have 1 thick line.

Did anyone else notice this? (This doesn’t impact the game at all, but I though it had to do with card design)

EDIT: @Baby_mario what do you mean by “power creep”?


The thread is about game design and mechanics, not artwork and card layout. No more of that, please.

‘Power Creep’ is when cards get more powerful over time: HP goes up and attacks do more damage.


Oh. Ok. Sorry about that. When you said:

I thought you meant card layout also.


I do agree that there is power creeping going on. Especially with the EX’s. I also feel like certain cards are made “too strong”. Like Seismetoad EX, and (before the rotation) Yveltal EX.


It’s self-evident that power creep is going on

This was a massive card back in the day . . . almost overpowered, really

Now look at this

It’s virtually a non-EX version of the same card, but the second attack does 50 more damage and has a less painful discard.

The really funny thing? It’s not even considered a good card.

Power creep is an issue for all TCGs, not just Pokemon. It’s very hard to address. If you do start printing less powerful cards, no-one is going to want them until the old stuff rotates out.


The Power Creep had to have started with the first printing of EX Pokemon. I think Mewtwo EX was one of the first EXs printed. As soon as those Big Basics hit the field, stage 2 Pokemon fell under the radar very quickly. Right? So as long as EX Pokemon are in cycle, stage 2’s are going to have a rough time trying to break out unless they’re really good, such as Dusknoir BCR (which isn’t a good card by itself because of it’s poor attack and very valuable Ability) or Empoleon DEX (which has a whole deck built off of it).

Someone please correct my reasoning if I’m wrong here.


Power Creep didn’t start with the new EX Pokemon, it’s always been happening.

Here is an article about it from back in 2008.


Besides making the stage 2 pokemon better, in the most recently released set we were also given stadiums to help evolution decks survive in the form of mountain ring and training center. With the loss off beach in evolution decks these cards could easily fit in to these empty spots. I like these cards because you can play them under item lock and they don’t take up bench space.
Mountain Ring is Mr. Mime in a stadium. Blocks bench damage so your precious basics wouldn’t be obliterated by a Landorus or an occasional Genesect.
Training Center gives stage one and 2 Pokemon 30 extra HP. This is extremely good. Dragonite with the stadium has 180HP, Delphox has 170, Flareon has 130 and Elektrik will have 120.
There are obvious issues with stadiums such as counter stadiums but you will more than likely play three or four if you have the space.
I really think that stage 2 pokemon would have made a comeback this set had they not printed Seismitoad EX. Being item locked from the start of the game is devastating for a lot of decks. Even some big basics decks take a hit (for example TDK). Blocking your T2 Delphox, Emboar, Greninja, etc. Really screws up your game.

Moving off the subject of evolutions, I think that pokemon tends to make cards that counter cards or decks that are very popular from the set before. This has been obvious especially during XY series. Base set was just an introduction to the new series and faeries made an appearance. This was early this year. Cities were still going on and Blastoise and VirGen variants were winning them by far. Flashfire comes out. What do we get in this set? Fire Pokemon, VirGen’s weakness and Druddigon, a single prize pokemon that can one shot BKEX after taking a KO. Now we have furious fists. Its based around fighting types but we get Seismitoad which blocks trainers and is what hits for weakness on the fire pokemon from the last set. This set dropped after nationals and guess what T2’d in masters? Pyroar/Charizard which relied heavily on item cards. We already have garbodor so taking care of pyroar is a breeze. Our next set (although it has not dropped yet) will offer pokemon that hit for weakness on fighting pokemon as well as give some new mechanics that may or may not have been fully realized.

Tl; dr I like the stage twos we are getting and the support we are receiving for them. Pokemon is preventing best decks in format. I don’t like Seismitoad EX.


I tried Troll and Toad and just felt unsatisfied with how it performed, in all honesty. I expected something stronger. A better lock deck, you know? I guess it comes from playtesting a lot with Accelgor in Extended, something I never did until after 2014 Worlds.

But back on topic. I did read the article baby_mario and I think that the points were all valid. I can’t speak for the playtesting need but perhaps it would be wise to do such a thing or at least ask for something of that nature. It makes me feel nostalgic when I look back on old sets and see people flipping out over 130 HP stage 2 Pokemon. The way it is now, unless they go cold turkey and cut out the EX Pokemon totally (not likely due to the new Megas out now), stage 2 decks will continue to play second fiddle. It’s a crying shame too, because nothing is more satisfying than getting out that big stage 2 you’ve been looking for.


Here is where I will respectfully disagree… to an extent. Again, I am going to be sharing my current hypotheses with regards to this matter, based mostly on what hasn’t worked and what I would like to see done about it. Just as with more serious matters in the real world, there is a risk that I am also wrong, there is a risk that something else already tried would have worked except it was improperly executed, there is a risk that I am right but what I said would be improperly executed, etc.

Based on maximizing appeal to customers while following what appears to be the preferences of those in charge of the game, I believe the best approach (for both the business side of thing and the casuals, collectors and players) is for fully Evolved Pokémon to be on more or less even footing. If the name isn’t self-descriptive enough (and Mega Evolutions have kind of goofed this up), a fully Evolved Pokémon is one that cannot further Evolve. An example of three Fire-Type Pokémon that are each fully Evolved Pokémon are

  • Torkoal
  • Arcanine
  • Typhlosion

Another related aspect to this are roles: not all Pokémon need to perform the same function in a deck. The roles include things like “early game offense”, “mid-game offense”, “late game offense”, “early game support”, “mid-game support”, “late game support”, “early game disruption”, “mid-game disruption”, “late game disruption”, etc. I would love to boil these down to some simple categories, but I haven’t been able to do so accurately. Roles help us avoid comparing superficially similar Pokémon; while there is going to be quite a bit of overlap, the requirements of a “mid-game offense” are different than that of a “mid-game support”. It also helps to draw attention to how potent a Pokémon can be when it can fulfill multiple roles! Notice how being good to attack early, mid, and late game are all separate roles!

So while all fully Evolved Pokémon need to be equal, they do not need to be identical, but if their roles are similar or even the same, then while the cards should not be the same, they should be varying degrees of “similar”. The final aspect I think I’ll address (and this is what ties into front-loading HP scores on Evolving Basic Pokémon!) is pacing!

Pacing takes into account that different players like different lengths to their games. You cannot please everyone, but you can find a happy median that can safely deviate so some games are “faster” or “slower” without causing imbalance in the metagame. Something I will not be addressing this post is the role of the many non-Pokémon cards: a lot of what I suggest won’t make much different if you plugged in the current Trainers and Special Energy because many are so potent that they require a very specific card pool to be safe, in some cases “pre-nerfing” Pokémon.

Pacing is why I believe, instead of cumbersome first turn rules, it is better to just create cards that are unable to attack for damage first or second turn. This is purely a TCG design process; taking into account all acceleration, stuff shouldn’t be able to attack for damage on a player’s first turn, and even second turn is a bit sketchy. Why? Because this both gives time for Evolution and an additional balancing mechanic when roles are respected. If a “big Basic” Pokémon has one or even multiple “offense” roles, but pacing is also being adhered to, opening with it is not a strong play.

The “big Basic” will just sit there, because it should not also be a good early game support Pokémon! If the player of such a Pokémon doesn’t want to waste his or her first few chances to attack, that Basic Pokémon will need at least a different Basic Pokémon to function as “early game support”, using its attacks to provide said support (which is why I used “offense” and not just simply “attacker” - attacks can be part of a support role!). For a Stage 2 attacker, on the other hand, if its Basic Stage is a good early game support Pokémon and its Stage 1 form also provides useful support (or is a better early game attacker), the lower Stages are no longer dead weight! Giving them access to more of the overall forms “HP” is still necessary, because unlike the video games, you may have to rely on them mid or even late game. Barring terrible planning, specific combos or bizarre self-challenges you’re not going to take on the Elite Four in the video games with a Charmander instead of your Charizard. However something like Charmander isn’t going to have close to the same HP as a Torkoal or Entei or Moltres. Charmander’s HP would be derived from Charizard’s HP. Split Evolution lines are another complication, but as they are an exception and not the norm and this post is already huge, addressing them at another time seems appropriate. If Charizard is “balanced” at 160 HP, then Charmeleon probably needs to clock in at 100 to 130 and Charmander at 70 to 100. Moltres, in a similar role to Charizard, is going to have similar HP; for the sake of this exercise we’ll just assume that Moltres and Charizard as justified in having identical HP scores, in which case Charmander at most will have two-thirds the HP score of a Moltres; still quite the significant difference!

As always, there is a lot more! There is a whole system of rules (both in play and in card design) behind a game. I definitely want feedback, but I politely ask that it be given with such things in mind; maybe I have an answer but held back because this was already so long (and confusing >.>), maybe I have a half formed answer. Maybe I do need help finding an answer, if one exists! For example, how you can make sure that a Moltres is “better” than a Charizard while retaining game balance; I’ve got answers, but this is too long as is. >_<