The Pokemon TCG Standard, Expanded, Unlimited, and Theme Formats

Possibly the first thing that pops into your head whenever someone says "Pokemon" is its famous slogan: "Gotta catch em all!". That remains true with the Pokemon Trading Card Game (PTCG) for card collection purposes. However, it doesn't necessarily apply to decks you're hoping to use for official PTCG events. From there the slogan should be adjusted to "Gotta know the differences!" in order to keep your deck legal and able to be played in the tournaments.

If you're relatively new to the PTCG and Pokemon TCGO (online version), you may not have known there was such thing as a Pokemon TCG standard. Here are the differences between the four different formats in the trading card world.

What Factor Do They Play?

Your leading question about the three formats of Pokemon decks (other than What's the difference?) is probably What factor do they play? That's a very valid question! To put it simply, the various Pokemon TCGO tournaments are broken into four different formats for you to use. These formats are standard, expanded, unlimited, and theme. The first three of those can be used for all live Play! Pokemon events as well.

Even if you don't wish to enter into tournaments, it's still helpful to know the differences between them for future reference. Who knows? You may get a kick to enter one someday!

What Are the Differences Between Them?

While it may seem tedious for Pokemon to separate their own cards into four different formats, there's a valid reason for it. Each format is used to keep the tournaments competitive and provide a level playing field to all who enter it.

Here is a brief description of each and how they play into the greater Pokemon Trading Card Game Online (PTCGO).

Standard Format

As the name would imply, this is the O.G. deck format. It's the one that can be labeled as the default format for most major tournaments in both the United States and in Europe. However, that doesn't mean you can still use cards from the original 150 Pokemon days in your tournament decks. Pokemon Organized Play (POP) starts every tournament "season" by cycling out older expansion decks and replacing them with new expansions. They've found that it helps with the competition and helping players prepare.

Essentially, this format applies to a select amount of sets in order to limit the number of cards a player can choose from. Thus increasing the intensity with which a trainer has to customize their decks. Currently, the 2019 standard format rotation includes sets as early as the Sun and Moon Base sets and as recent as the Sun and Moon Cosmic Eclipse. It also includes the 2017 Mcdonald's collection, Sun & Moon trainer kits, and black star promo cards that are SM1 or higher.

Expanded Format

The expanded format offers its players a longer list of legal card sets that they can choose from. In other words: the list is more expanded (starting to see a trend here)? If constantly switching out cards in your deck to play along with the changes in the "Standard format" rules sounds tedious to you, this may help. You'll be able to use a PTCGO expanded deck. Expanded offers all the same sets as Standard, plus a lot older sets such as the Black & White and X & Y sets. It also includes the Mcdonald's collections from 2011-2017, all X & Y trainer kits, and black star promo cards that are BW01 or higher and XY01 or higher.

Be warned: the expanded format is the only format with banned cards. To view that list, check out Pokemon's banned card list.

Unlimited Format

Once again, as the "unlimited" title would give you the impression of, there are almost no illegal card sets in this format... almost.

While you're still not able to use the original booster packs from the original 150 Pokemon days, you will be allowed to include anything as old as the HeartGold & SoulSilver sets.

Basically, any card that was once playable under the Play! Pokemon rules are allowed in this format of the game. 

Even though it may sound best to have no restrictions on the cards, this format comes with its drawbacks. Players can simply gather cards from any deck and aim to go for the instant KO, rather than develop a strategy to their deck.

While it can be fun to play and see who gets knocked out quickest, this style gets old after a while. Which is why only Standard and Expanded formatted card sets are allowed at Play! Pokemon events.

Theme Format

Possibly the least common format, and one that's only used for Pokemon TCG Online is the Theme format.

In this format, you can only use the preconstructed theme decks that you would find at participating stores such as Target and Walmart.

This is a great format for beginners while you learn the rules and strategies that come with playing the Pokemon Trading Card Game.

PTCGO Standard vs Expanded: Find the Format You Enjoy Most

One of the main reasons the Pokemon TCG Standard and Expanded formats are so prevalent is because they appeal to the masses.

Many different players can get behind a set of rules that filter out certain cards for the sake of fair competition.

Excited to get your hands on the upcoming Pokemon Sword & Shield sets? Check out our Pre-Order page to seal yours up before they get released.

For more inquiries, please reach out either by phone at 781-281-8595 or by email at [email protected]

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