Pokemon cards have a ton of information on them and it’s important to know where that information is located.
Based on the Standard Format, we are going to just look at Sun and Moon Generation forward- cards have changed some during certain Generations but I want to focus on the NOW and moving forward. While some XY Generation cards are still legal in Standard, if you know how to read SM Generation cards then it’s really easy to apply that to XY Generation cards or older.
Let’s look at my favorite Pokemon…Cubone.
Cubone is a Basic Pokemon, so in order to play his evolved state- Marowak, you have to first have a Cubone as your active Pokemon or on your bench.
Let’s start at the top and work our way down.
Top Left – This is where you can tell if the Pokemon is a Basic, Stage 1, Stage 2, Break, EX or GX. Cubone is Basic.
Top Middle-ish – This is the Pokemon name. Names are very important because you can only play up to 4 of the same named Pokemon; however EXs and GXs are considered different…as well as other names like Shining or Alolan. Cubone evolves into Marowak or Alolan Marowak, so you can play up to 4 Marowak AND up to 4 Alolan Marowaks because their names are different…however, you can still only play 4 Cubone because, at this time, there is no Alolan Cubone.
Top Right – This is where you find the HP of your Pokemon; this is how much damage they can take before they are knocked out. This is also where you can find the Type of Pokmeon (Energy/Type Symbol). Cubone is a Fighting Pokemon with 70 HP.
You have the picture of the Pokemon in the box near the top middle- this could change based on if the Pokemon is EX, GX, Break or if the card is a full art.
Below the picture, you usually have the Pokemon’s stats- such as height, weight, etc.
Attacks – this is the section that shows you the attacks available to that Pokemon along with the Energy cost to perform each attack. These are all different and it’s important to learn them. Some Pokemon may also have a special ability in this area as well; those are in red. Every ability and attack are different so you have to read them closely. Abilities do not cost Energy unless otherwise stated.
Cubone has two attacks – Leer and Headbutt.
Leer – this attack has an Energy cost of 1 colorless- this means you can use ANY Energy to power up this attack. When you use this attack you must “flip a coin. If heads, your opponent’s Active Pokemon is now Paralyzed.” If the coin flip result is tails- nothing happens and your turn is over.
Headbutt – this attack has an Energy cost of 2 colorless- this means you can use 2 of ANY Energy to power up this attack or a special Double Colorless Energy, which counts as 2 Energies. There are other abilities that could apply to this Energy cost. This attack simply does 20 damage to your opponent’s Active Pokemon’s HP.
Below that, in the “gray bar” area you will see things such as Weakness, Resistance and Retreat cost.
Weakness – this means that your Pokemon is “weak” towards specific type of Pokemon so attacks from those Pokemon do double damage. Cubone is weak to Grass.
Resistance – this means that your Pokemon has a “resistance” towards specific types of Pokemon so attacks do 20 less damage. Cubone has no resistance.
Retreat – this is the “Energy cost” you must pay in order to retreat your Pokemon to your bench- you must have another Pokemon available on your bench to move into the Active spot. Once you retreat, that amount of Energy is removed from your Pokemon unless you have a tool attached or there is an ability in play that allows for free retreat.
Bottom Left – this is usually the area where the illustrator of the card art is listed. You will also find the set logo and card number/set number along with an icon showing the rarity of that card.
Cubone is from the Crimson Invasion set, card number 52/111 and is Common. Any card numbered higher than the set number are considered “secret rare”.
Bottom Right – there is usually a little fact about the Pokemon.
“When it thinks of it’s deceased mother, it weeps loudly. Mandibuzz that hear its cries will attack it from the air.”
Now let’s look at an evolved Cubone; we could look at Marowak or Alolan Marowak – since we are focusing on the SM Generation, we’ll look at the Alolan version.
Based on what we learned above, we can tell that Alolan Marowak is a Stage 1 Pokemon and it evolves from Cubone. During the evolution, the type switched from Fighting to Fire and the Pokemon gained 30 HP. When Pokmeon evolve, they get stronger and their attacks get more powerful. They can stay or change types.
We see the amazing art and some info as well.
Alolan Marowak has 2 attacks.
Dance of Flames – this attack has a 0 Energy cost (free). Some Pokemon may have a free attack. When you use this attack “for each Energy attached to your opponent’s Pokemon, attach a Fire Energy card form your discard pile to your Pokemon in any way you like. “ This attack doesn’t do any damage to your opponent’s Pokemon HP but allows you pull Fire Energy and place it on your Alolan Marowak or a benched Pokemon.
Burning Bonemerang – this attack has a 3 Energy cost of 2 Fire Energy and 1 Colorless Energy. If you had put Energy on your Cubone, then it could be used for this attack as long as it was Fire or Colorless. Remember Cubone could attack for any Energy type but Alolan Marowak requires at least 2 Fire Energy. When you use this attack “Flip2 coins. This attack does 70 damage for each heads. If either of them is heads, your opponent’s Active Pokemon is now Burned.” If you flip two tails, nothing happens. The damage for this attacks shows 70x (not ##+).
We also see that Alolan Marowak is weak to Grass types, has no resistance and has a 2 Energy retreat cost.
This card is from Crimson Invasion, card number 12/111 and is Rare.
We also learn a little about Alola Marowak (actually my favorite because of its amazing yet sad back story.) – “The bones it possesses were once its mother’s. Its mother’s regrets have become like a vengeful spirit protecting this Pokemon.”
When you evolve your Cubone, you place this Alolan Marowak on top of it.
Some Pokemon evolutions contain a Stage 2, Break or EX/GX- Marowak can evolve into a Break. Breaks are not a part of the SM Generation (at this point) so I won’t go into detail about them. Breaks are landscape cards that go on top of the Pokemon being evolved and simply adds a new ability or attack while rising the HP. They could be the same type or change the type and the attacks of the card it evolved from can still be used. Marowak Break is the full name of the Pokemon and IS different from Alolan Marowak or Marowak so you can also play up to 4 of these in a deck. Most of the information is still in the same place, only turned on its side.
EXs and GXs cards look very similar so we’ll only cover the SM Generation form- the GX. (most of the information or EXs are located in the same area or easily found.) You can have Basic EX/GX or evolved.
For this one, we will look at the most popular card in the Standard Format as of today – Tapu Lele. Most decks play at least 2 of this card with some playing 3-4! There are very few current decks that don’t play this card and it is considered a “game changing” card.
GXs have the same information, found in the same place as your other cards but they have a special attack called a GX Attack. You can only use ONE GX attack per game, so choose wisely.
Tapu Lele GX isn’t played for its GX attack but it’s ability- Wonder Tag.
Based on what we have learned, Tapu Lele GX is a Basic Psychic Pokemon with 170 HP. It has no weakness and no resistance with a 1 Colorless Energy retreat cost. We can see that it’s from the Guardians Rising set and this card is number 155/145 because this is the Rainbow Rare version of the card; you can tell because the card number is HIGHER than the number of cards in the actual “set”- which makes it a secret rare. (Card number 155 out of a set of 145 cards.)
We see that Tapu Lele GX has an ability – Wonder Tag – “when you play this Pokemon from your hand to your bench during your turn, you may search your deck for a Supporter card, reveal it and put it into your hand. Then shuffle your deck. “
Wording is VERY important when it comes to Pokemon cards so be sure you understand exactly what the card is saying. For example- when you take this card from your hand and place it onto your bench, you get to find a Supporter card. If you start with this Pokemon as your active, you do NOT get to use this ability. If you play an Item card that pulls this Pokemon from your DECK and puts it on your bench, you can NOT use the ability. Wording is VERY important.
Tapu Lele GX has 1 attack and 1 GX attack.
Its attack – Energy Drive – has an Energy cost of 2 Colorless. When you use this attack “this attack does 20 damage times the amount of Energy attached to both Active Pokemon. This damage isn’t affected by Weakness or Resistance.”
This means that you ignore your opponent’s Weakness and Resistance and you do 20x the number of Energy attached to BOTH Active Pokemon.
Finally, Tapu Lele has a GX attack called Tapu Cure GX and has a cost of 1 Psychic Energy. If you use this attack “Heal all damage from 2 of your Benched Pokemon.” Remember- you can only use 1 GX attack per game. You flip over your GX symbol to show you’ve used it for the game so there is no confusion.
Based on this information, you should be able to read and understand most Pokemon cards or easily figure it out what you need but remember that we used cards from the SM Generation. Cards from earlier Generations or Generations to come could add information or have the information moved to other spots but once you know the basics, you should be able to easily adapt.