The Pokemon TCG started in October of 1996 and has put out a plethora of cards in that time. Needless to say that some have been good, some have been bad and some have been stellar. Today it is the best pokemon cards ever printed that we will be covering. There is quite a bit to go over, so let’s jump right in.
There are tons of powerful cards out there and no two lists will look exactly the same. My picks for the best cards of all time are:
- Cleffa, Claydol
- Lapras VMAX
- Shadow Lugia
- Shadow Rider Calyrex
- Mewtwo & Mew GX
- Zoroark GX
- Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX
- Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX
- Lysandre’s Trump Card.
There are certain things about cards that are subjective and which ones are best is no exception. There are a lot of factors that could go into a card being considered good. With that said, each card below will have at least some reason that it is considered one of the best of all time. So, without further ado, let’s look at what makes cards good, what criteria I used for my list, and lastly, the cards themselves.
What Makes A Pokemon Card Good?
This is a very important question in the context of an article like this. What makes a Pokemon card good? In short, there is a lot of different things that could make a card good. Far too many things to list individually and many are situational. Instead, we’ll take a look at a few broader concepts that most good cards will have some combination of.
The first area that we’ll cover is what I call card advantage. Card advantage is a general term that usually refers to cards that give you access to more cards from your deck than just the one you draw each turn. This could be in the form of drawing extra cards and/or trading in your current hand for a hand of fresh cards.
Regardless of how it’s done, cards that give you access to a high number of cards from your deck are always pretty powerful. You can see the “Dedechange” ability of Dedenne-GX above. It allows you to discard your hand and draw six cards.
Abilities such as this have a ton of value. First, they give you the chance to ditch lousy cards and draw into new ones. Secondly, if you have less than six cards in hand, these abilities will net you cards. Lastly, they have the added upside of giving you the means to dump certain cards into your discard pile.
The next thing is a cards ability to disrupt opposing game plans. The ability to be disruptive can come in many different forms. However, it almost always stops your opponent from doing things they want to do or making them play less than optimally by doing things that tax their resources.
The heavily played trainer card “Boss’s Orders” seen above is a perfect example of how basic disruption can be game-changing. Simply switching their active Pokemon will delay their plans while also putting you in an advantageous situation most times.
Things like Boss’s Orders can go in nearly any deck and shine. While some other disruption or denial pieces will be more powerful, they’ll also require you to build around them. For example, abilities like Centiskorch V’s “Radiating Heat” that allow you to mess with your opponent’s energy can be extremely powerful when built around.
The last thing I wanted to touch on in this section is effects like Path to the Peak, which make all Pokemon lose their abilities can shut down entire decks almost all by themselves at times.
Regardless of what they do, things that make your opponent’s lives harder are often very good.
The last common thing that makes a card good is if it is powerful in combat. To elaborate, this usually means being hard to knock out or having attacks that deal lots of damage and can quickly knock out opposing Pokemon.
Not only do cards in this category deal a lot of damage but they also do so for a relatively small amount of energy. For example, take a look at the “Max Lance” attack of Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX. For two water energy it can deal up to 250 damage. This is extremely good for two energy.
Another good example of extreme efficiency in battle is Pikachu & Zekrom’s Tag Bolt GX attack. It does a solid 200 damage and if there is an extra three energy attached (beyond the three for the attack cost) it also deals 170 to an opposing benched Pokémon.
Granted there are a few requirements that must be met, and the damage is split between two Pokemon. However, whichever way you spin it a total of 370 damage for three energy is a great rate if you’re looking to knock out opposing Pokemon quickly.
Knocking out opposing Pokemon in battle and drawing your prize cards is how most games are won. Therefore, if a card is able to deal large amounts of damage for not a lot of resources it’s almost always going to be good.
What Criteria Did I Use For My List?
The criteria for which cards make the list is very important for “best of” lists. For my list, I tried not to be too specific on what a card needed to make the list. Instead, I looked back throughout the history of the game and pulled 12 cards whose presence had a significant impact on the TCG in some way.
Some made the cut because they completely overtook the meta they were played in. Others are here because they were so problematic that they ended up getting banned from the game altogether. Lastly, cards that have abilities or attacks that are so powerful that they have yet to be rivaled to this day were of course included.
With that said, I didn’t include many cards that are simply fun to play or cards having a high monetary value alone. Things like what makes a card “fun” are subjective and there are tons of fun cards that are underwhelming from a gameplay perspective.
There are also lots of factors that go into a card being expensive other than how good of a card it is. So, all the cards you’ll see below are, or at least were, the best in some way. With that out of the way, let’s dive into the best cards from throughout the game’s history.
The Top 12 Best Pokemon Cards
With some things that typically make cards good and our criteria defined, all that’s left to do is look at the best cards the game has to offer. Let’s start the list off with number 12.
12. Shadow Lugia
Shadow Lugia is a Nintendo World Promo and is only available in an “oversized” version. Sadly, this means it isn’t tournament legal and you can’t really play with it.
However, if you could, it would be an absolute beast of an attacker. Its “Shadow Storm” attack does a massive 1000 damage. For those of you who don’t know, this would be powerful enough to knock even the toughest Pokemon out nearly three times over, with a single hit.
So, while you can’t sleeve it up and play with it, I still felt it deserved a mention given how absurd its attacking power is.
|Very powerful if you could play it
11. Lysandre’s Trump Card
If you played back around 2015, you’re very familiar with Lysandre’s Trump Card. While the effect may not seem crazy on paper, it was powerful enough to turn the meta it was part of on its head. So much so that it was banned from the game.
Having each player shuffle their entire discard pile into their deck means that players were cycling through their decks with reckless abandon, knowing that anything they discarded would be put back into their decks later.
Furthermore, it completely stopped players from losing the game for not having any cards in their decks. Turns out that completely removing a win condition from the game and removing all consequences for recklessly discarding cards is pretty powerful.
|Gives you access to cards you’ve discarded
|Makes it hard to lose for running out of cards
10. Mewtwo Ex
Mewtwo EX was the poster boy for powerful for quite a while. It has the ability to be an incredibly efficient attacker thanks to the scalability of its “X Ball” attack. For two energy, the attack starts with a base of 20 damage. However, it deals 20 more for each energy attached to Mew and the defending Pokemon.
This means that once you’ve got enough energy to power up the attack it will already be doing at least 60 damage. Since you don’t have to remove energy for the attack and there is no cap the attack has a fantastic range of damage.
Mewtwo EX has fallen victim to power creep and isn’t the most powerful attacker in the game anymore. However, without cards like this raising the bar there wouldn’t be some of the cards we have in the game today and Mewtwo EX will forever be remembered by players that loved (or hated) it.
|Needs lots of energy to power up attack fully
|Great rate of attack
The “Cosmic Power” ability is what makes Claydol a powerhouse. On each one of your turns, you can put two cards from your hand onto the bottom of your deck, then draw until you have six cards. This repeatable way to keep your hand full of threats is invaluable to the decks that run it.
Back when it was first released (2008) it offered decks so much access to resources that nearly every deck was running it and not playing it meant you were sure to fall behind. However, 2008 was quite a while ago, and draw engines have since gotten even more powerful.
Related: Lost Origin: The Lost Zone Returns
With that said, even though it isn’t the beast that it once was, its former and domination in its prime have earned it a spot on my list.
|Powerful draw engine
|Has become somewhat obsolete
|Allows you to recycle cards you don’t need
8. Shaymin Ex
Shaymin EX is similar to the last entry on the list, Claydol. The “Set Up” ability of Shayin EX also allows you to refill your hand to six cards. However, Shaymin EX is one of the cards that has made Claydol fall from grace some. So what makes it so great?
First off, you don’t have to discard any cards for the Set UP ability. As soon as Shaymin hits your bench you’ll get to draw up to six cards. This offers an extremely fast way to refill your hand and keep the threats coming.
Secondly, the “Sky Return” attack lets you return it to your hand so it can be set out onto your bench again. The attack only costs two generic energy to activate and gives you a small amount of damage as well. The ability to repeat the Set Up ability created a very powerful draw engine.
In fact, picking Shaymin EX up with Scop Up Net proved to be so effective at drawing cards that this combination led to the banning of Shaymin from competitive play.
|Banned from competitive play
|Powerful draw engine
|Needs to be brought back to hand
|Can be repeatable
Cleffa looks quite the opposite of powerful at first glance. But judging this baby Pokemon by its looks would be a grievous error indeed. Once upon a time, you’d be hard-pressed to find a deck that wasn’t running at least a few Cleffa.
The ability is sort of hard to read from the card so for those who don’t know I’ll put it here as well. Cleffa says, “If this Baby Pokémon is your Active Pokémon and your opponent tries to attack, your opponent flips a coin (before doing anything required in order to use that attack). If tails, your opponent’s turn ends without an attack.”
This passive ability is huge for slowing down opposing gameplans and can outright stall the game if you’re lucky with your flips. With that said, if Cleffa stays in the active spot long enough the chances are in your favor that you’ll end up negating at least a few attacks. As powerful as this ability is it’s only part of what makes Cleffa a beast.
She also has the “Eeeeeeek” attack (best attack name ever?) which allows you to shuffle your hand into your deck and draw seven new cards. Furthermore, you can do this for only a single generic energy. This means you can hide behind her coin flip ability while you draw cards each turn.
If you read my “What Makes A Pokemon Card Good?” section up above, you may recall that card advantage (drawing cards) and disruption (hindering opposing game plans) were two of the three things. Cleffa does not one but two of these things. And as if all this wasn’t enough, Cleffa also has no weaknesses and has a retreat cost of zero.
|Powerful card draw effect
|Disruptive to opposing attackers
|No weakness or retreat cost
6. Lapras VMAX
Lapras VMAX is an all-around solid card that keeps it simple but effective. However, that doesn’t mean that the card isn’t incredibly powerful. First, it has a pretty massive 320 HP that makes it very hard to knock out of the game.
Next, we have its lone attack “G-Max Pump” and again, it’s not flashy but it is very good. For three generic energy, the attack deals 90 damage plus an additional 30 for each water energy attached to Lapras. So, assuming you used water energy to power up the attack, it would already be doing 180 damage.
Considering you don’t have to remove any energy from it and there is no limit to how many you can have this Max Pump can get out of hand quickly. Especially in decks built to power out extra energy early and often. Lapras VMAX is an absolute unit both offensively and defensively.
5. Zoroark GX
Zoroark GX may be the most aggressive thing on the list so far. The “Riotous Beating” attack starts at 20 damage and does another 20 for each Pokemon you have in play. Considering it costs only two generic energy, it can deal a lot of damage early in the game.
This made it an all-star in aggressive decks looking to knock out early-game opposing plays as fast as possible. Furthermore, it has a solid 210 HP that allows it to face off with other early game plays.
Last but certainly not least, is the card advantage that it offers via its “Trade” ability. Trade allows you to discard a card once per turn and then draw two cards. Card draw, solid HP, and aggressive, well-costed attacks make Zoroark a jack-of-all-trades that many decks utilized.
|Offers card draw
|Needs you to have a big bench
4. Shadow Rider Calyrex
Shadow Rider Calyrex does a lot. It accelerates your ability to get energy into play, draws cards, and has a very potent attack. What’s more, is that all these abilities enable each other and work in tandem. So, not only does Shadow Rider Calyrex do everything you need it to but it does it all like a well-oiled machine.
First, let’s talk about the extremely powerful “Underworld Door” ability. It allows you to attach psychic energy from your hand directly onto your benched Pokemon once per turn. If you do this, you then get to draw two cards. This ability is amongst the strongest in the game.
Next, there is the “Max Geist” attack for three generic energy. It starts at 10 damage and does an additional 30 for each psychic energy attached to all your Pokemon. This means Shadow Rider Calyrex has given you every piece of the puzzle all by itself; It lets you attach extra energy, draw cards for it, and then turn that energy directly into damage.
Shadow Rider Calyrex can run off with games all by itself and is truly one of the best cards of recent releases.
|Lets you play extra energy
|Payoff and enabler for its own abilities
3. Mewtwo and Mew GX
There were a lot of powerful Tag Team Gx pairs from Sun & Moon’s Team Up expansion. None were as powerful as Mewtwo and Mew Gx. What made this duo so powerful? Ultimately it is its versatility that makes it so powerful. Let me elaborate a bit.
The “Perfection” ability allows Mewtwo and Mew to use the attacks of all Gx and/or Ex Pokemon on your bench or within your discard pile. If that’s not the definition of versatility, I don’t know what is. The ability is so powerful in fact that it spawned a whole tournament-worthy strategy, where players quickly fill their discard piles with all the best attacks they can find and then abuse them with the Perfection ability.
Since it’s commonly using other Pokemon’s attacks its own “Miraculous Duo” sometimes flies under the radar. But it’s honestly quite good. First, it does a respectable 200 damage. Secondly, if you have at least one extra energy attached when you attack Mew will heal all damage on all of your Pokemon.
Mewtwo and Mew Gx can still be found as part of tournament-level decks and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. It’s that good of a card.
|Requires your deck to be built around it
|Can heal your Pokemon
2. Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX
Rapid Strike Urshifu VMAX is an absolute monster.. First, it has a massive 330 HP. Next, the “Gale Thrust” attack is possibly the most cost-efficient in the entirety of the game. The attack starts at 30 damage. However, if Urshifu moved from the bench to the active spot, the attack deals a massive 120 extra damage. This puts the Gale Thrust at a total of 150 damage for a single energy.
Related: Best Pokemon Starter Decks
Then, there is the “G-Max Rapid Flow” attack that can deal 120 to two opposing Pokemon. The fact that it can damage two at once makes it awesome for knocking out multiple Pokemon in a single turn. The only downside here is that you have to remove all the energy cards from it to do so.
|Extremely efficient attacker
|Very powerful attacks
1. Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX
We have arrived at the number one list on our spot on our list. The title of best Pokemon card goes to Ice Rider Calyrex VMAX. So, what makes this card so good? First, it’s tough. It has a very stout 320 HP. On top of being hard to knock out, it has some very powerful attacks.
“Ride of the High King” starts at 10 damage and deals an extra thirty damage for each of your opponent’s benched Pokemon. In the right situation, this can be quite an impressive attack for two generic energy.
However, where the card really shines is its “Max Lance” attack. For two water energy it starts at 10 damage, but you may discard up to two energy cards when you attack, and if you do, it deals an extra 120 damage for each energy card you removed.
This means that if you remove two energy cards the attack will deal a massive 250 damage for just two energy. These huge attacks and Ice Rider Calyrex’s formidable body make it the most efficient attackers in the game today. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an all-around better Pokemon than the Ice Rider.
|Extremely cost-efficient attacks
|Very high hp
There has been a lot of powerful Pokemon throughout the game’s nearly 30-year history. Some are great for what they offer you, some are great for what they deny opponents and others are simply huge threats to opposing Pokemon in battle. The best cards in the game usually do some combination of one or more of these.
If you’ve ever sat back and wondered what the very best the game has to offer is, you’ve come to the right place, and I hope you found my list agreeable. Now, get out there and build a deck with some of these powerful Pokemon.