Bigger Kids

Pokémon cards: What parents need to know

Your kid’s obsessed with Pokémon cards, but you have no idea what to do with them or where to start. Here’s what you need to know.

Pokémon cards: What parents need to know

Photo: iStockphoto

So your kid has traded in his toy trains and cars for Pokémon cards but you don’t know what he’s talking about half the time. What is Pokémon? What’s a booster pack? What’s a trainer? And who is this Pikachu fellow he’s always mentioning? Your kid will probably always be one step ahead of you in his Pokémon knowledge, but this guide is a good start.

What is Pokémon?

Pokémon is a Japanese franchise that has been around for more than 20 years (2021 marked its 25th anniversary!). Short for “pocket monsters,” Pokémon exists as a TV show, a trading card game, video games and toys. The Pokémon themselves are creatures that live in the wild or with their owner (as in your kid), referred to as their trainer. The trainer’s goal is to “catch them all” and, by all, we mean all 900+ of them.

What are you supposed to do with Pokémon cards?

Younger kids (say, JK to grade one) tend to just collect and trade the cards. As they learn to read, they may also want to play the trading card game. The point of collecting the cards is to build a powerful deck of 60 that will help you win battles against other trainers. But your kid might just be interested in collecting the cards he likes best or deems most valuable. Each pack of cards is different, so if your kid doesn’t have any cards (or just a couple), you may want to get him started with a theme deck: a pack of 60 cards that comes in a small cardboard box or metal tin.

Theme decks also come with a coin and cardboard markers that can be used in gameplay when deciding which player goes first or when counting damage, but you can also use die instead. Cards also come in booster packs of 10, in tins or blister packs.

New cards are typically released every time a new season of the TV show comes out—your kid might refer to this as a new “generation” or "series." The new series usually also coincides with the latest video game titles. Right now, the trading card game is in its eighth generation, so all of the newer collections of cards will say "Sword & Shield" on the box. However, Pokemon more recently released its ninth generation at the end of 2022.

pile of pokemon trading cards


Photo: iStockphoto

What are the different types of Pokémon cards?

In the Pokémon universe, there are three different categories of cards that you’ll find in any given deck: Pokémon character cards, Energy cards and Trainer cards.

Character cards

Each Pokemon has a type (there are 11 in the trading card game), such as Fire, Water, Psychic, Metal or Dragon. Each Pokémon card will also indicate how “evolved” the character is—whether it’s in its basic form, Stage One form or Stage Two form—in the upper left-hand corner.

Those shiny cards your kids probably want most are the Legendary Pokémon. They don’t evolve and are some of the most powerful cards in the trading card game, and they’re also only found in booster packs.

Energy cards


These cards are needed to power your Pokémon throughout the game, and you’ll always find basic Energy cards in any pack you buy. There are also Special Energy cards that give a different kind of boost, depending on your type of Pokémon. Whole packs of 50 energy cards are an affordable entry to the beloved game at about $5.

Trainer cards

These are cards you use for the items, supporters and stadiums you can use during a battle. Any special rules on these cards are indicated at the bottom. Trainer boxes are highly coveted and make excellent gifts.

My kid wants Pokémon EX cards and GX cards. What are they?

These Pokémon cards, which literally say “EX” or "GX" right on them (beside the character name), are more powerful and have cooler illustrations. Because these can also sometimes be shiny or holographic, they're highly coveted among little kids.

What are Pokémon expansion and booster packs? My kid is asking for them.


An expansion is a new set of cards released within a certain generation or series. Each expansion release includes about 100-200 new cards. There is no way to purchase an entire expansion all at once. Instead, you purchase them in booster packs, which are sets of 10 cards that you can use to add to your current collection—usually these are themed within a specific expansion, meaning that the cards inside can be any of the cards that were released within that expansion set.

pokemon scarlet and violet booster packs, what is pokemon Merchant

With Pokémon's ninth generation video games, Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet, which came out in November 2022, the accompanying card series and expansion packs are available as add-ons. However, your kid might still be after cards from older expansion packs, which include ones from previous generations like Sword & Shield, Sun & Moon, XY, Black & White, Diamond & Pearl or the EX series.

How can you tell if a Pokémon card is rare?

A tiny symbol on the bottom right-hand corner will let you know the rarity of a card. A circle on your card means it’s common, a diamond indicates that your card is uncommon, and a star means it’s rare. For example, hologram cards will always have stars on them.

How do you play the Pokémon trading card game (TCG)? 

There are lots of ways your kid can learn how to play the trading card game. The best way to learn is with a Trainer Kit. It comes with two ready-to-play decks that will walk your kid and a friend through the game step by step. Once your kid is used to this one, you can get started with a theme deck.


There are also great resources online where your kid can learn how to play: The Pokémon website has a virtual tutorial, but you can also find game rules and guidelines for each generation online. When in doubt, tell your child to ask one of his friends who already knows the game to teach him.

This article was originally published on Oct 21, 2020

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