Table of Contents

The back of the PTCG Game Boy game box


Your choices for starting decks

In April 2000, the same month the Team Rocket expansion was debuting, the Pokémon Trading Card Game made its way on to Game Boy Color in North America. Following the same theme of traditional Pokémon video games, the game early on presents you with a choice: which one of the three starter decks will you use to begin your journey? After selecting your deck, you can then explore eight different type-themed clubs, all of which have their own members and club leader that you’ll do battle with. Each opponent you defeat awards you booster packs, building your card collection and allowing you to gradually improve your deck as your journey progresses. Your ultimate goal is to defeat all eight club leaders, earning you the right to challenge the Grand Masters (the TCG’s equivalent of the Elite 4). The Grand Masters each use their own exclusive legendary Pokémon cards in their decks. Defeat them all and you inherit their legendary Pokémon cards!

Also in the same theme as the original video games, you could pair up with human opponents by connecting your Game Boys via link cables. Once you were connected, you could battle, trade, or activate Card Pop!, a feature that generated a random card for each player. With the 2023 release of the game on Nintendo Switch Online, no link cables are needed, and you can now battle and trade with players across the world.

A PTCG GB battle in progress

The Game Boy game replicates the Base–Fossil format of the time. That is, it contains cards from the game’s first three sets: Base Set, Jungle and Fossil. If you need a refresher on this era, I recommend starting with this article: The Era of Big Basics: 1999’s Base–Fossil Format. Reading that first will acquaint you with the key cards, decks and strategies that you’ll need to know to play this format effectively.

A fan-made rendition of the Game Boy exclusive Ninetales

One thing that made the Pokémon TCG Game Boy game fun is that it didn’t contain only the cards players were already playing with. (That would be a bit boring, after all, wouldn’t it?) Instead, it added approximately 20 Game Boy exclusive cards that would never exist in real life as physical cards. Many of these exclusive cards triggered random effects (like targeting a random Pokémon)—something that didn’t exist in the cardboard form of the game. And while most of the Game Boy cards were nothing more than a novelty, there were a few that were pretty good.

All of the game’s basics were covered in detail in this 2000 player’s guide

Before we go any further, it’s worth mentioning here that the purpose of this article isn’t to help you navigate through the single-player portion of the game and its computer opponents. If you’re looking for tips on doing that, the incredibly comprehensive Nintendo Power Player’s Guide published alongside the game in 2000 already has everything you need to know. This article, rather, will focus on the strongest of the Game Boy exclusive cards and how to build decks to play both with them and against them, particularly against human opponents.

The Legendary Birds

The most impactful Game Boy exclusive cards are the three legendary bird Pokémon awarded to you after beating the game. (You also receive a less impressive Dragonite.) These cards never received actual paper prints—their random effects would be too difficult to generate in a live game, anyway. However, you can see what they would look like in paper form with these fan-made images.

Each of the Legendary Birds has identical stats: 100 HP, Fighting Resistance, no Weakness, and a two Retreat Cost. And while you’ll rarely attack with them, their Pokémon Powers alone are strong enough to warrant their addition into decks.

  • Articuno can be used to stall your opponent, as well as lock up a Pokémon so that it can be knocked out in two hits before it has a chance to fight back. It can also disable pesky Pokémon Powers, like Mr. Mime’s Invisible Wall.
  • Zapdos works best in decks entirely focused on it so that you can spam your opponent with Peal of Thunder enough times to ensure they’re getting hit by it.
  • Moltres helps build a hand with enough Fire Energy cards to withstand Energy Removal & Super Energy Removal, allowing you to then proceed with using your Energy Retrievals to recover this Energy.

The Promos

In the earliest years of the TCG, some promotional cards released in Japan never made their way overseas. Other times, promo cards received an English print, but were delayed by several sets. The Pokémon TCG Game Boy game follows Japan’s promo timeline, so you gain early access to a few promos that came out later overseas.

Each of these cards received an English print, but all debuted alongside expansions that followed the Fossil set. While they weren’t part of the international Base–Fossil format in real life, they are part of the Game Boy format.

  • Super Energy Retrieval did not debut internationally until the Neo Genesis set, but Japan first received this as a glossy CD promo during their Jungle era. It gives decks a better defense against Energy Removal & Super Energy Removal, and it’s particularly useful in Rain Dance decks.
  • Mew did not debut internationally until all the way in the Neo era, but, like Super Energy Retrieval, debuted during the Jungle era in Japan. Mew is a moderately useful Pokémon for Lickitung and Psychic-type decks, but in general, is weaker than Mr. Mime. (Note: Mew’s attack has an errata; it should Paralyze the Defending Pokémon. The Game Boy game reflects the proper translation.)
  • Venusaur was issued in the Nintendo Power Player’s Guide for this game, but the Team Rocket set had already made its debut by the time the magazine hit the shelves, so it wasn’t accessible until the Base–Rocket format. Venusaur’s Solar Power is a neat trick to add to decks built around Base Set Venusaur.

Missing Cards

Two cards from the Base–Fossil sets are missing from the Pokémon TCG Game Boy game: Ditto & Electrode. It can be reasonably assumed that these two cards were left out because they proved too difficult to program into the game. Because both of these cards were competitively viable, the format is affected (albeit minimally) by their absence.

  • The absence of Electrode makes decks that are designed to explode on the second turn with Buzzap (and then Lass) no longer a thing. Of course, delivering a powerful attack and Lass on the second turn is always possible, but the strongest attacks (like Arcanine’s Take Down) require a Buzzap to be delivered on Turn 2.
  • The absence of Ditto makes promo Mewtwo stronger, as this was one of the effective counters to it. (Mewtwo can still be kept in check by a variety of Psychic-resistant Pokémon and Mew.)

The game designers tried to make up for these missing cards by adding Game Boy exclusive versions of both Electrode and Ditto, but neither were particularly impressive.

Rule Differences

The Game Boy game employs the same rules that governed the physical card game in 1999, with one exception: mulligans do not award your opponent any extra cards. Because Japan was amending the game’s original rules (including their rules for mulligans) at the time of this game’s initial release, it’s possible the 2-card reward for mulligans we ended up with had not yet been finalized and we ended up with this as a kind of placeholder rule.

Also, while Pokémon matches are of course played with 6 Prize cards, many of the computer opponents you encounter will challenge you to games with 2, 3 or 4 Prize cards. When battling against a human opponent, you will also be given the option to play with anywhere between 2–6 Prize cards.

Obtaining Cards

Grinding against the game’s computer opponents to get cards can become monotonous, especially given that none of these opponents will pose a serious challenge once you have a halfway decent deck built. If you aren’t above exploiting a few glitches in the game, this process can be sped up drastically.

  • If you’re playing on Nintendo Switch, you can create a save state at the end of a battle, right before the battle screen exits. After being awarded your Booster Packs, if you aren’t happy with the cards you received, you can reload your save state and try again. Because the random card generator changes multiple times per second, you’re unlikely to get the same cards.
  • The In Play Area overview that allows an immediate win glitch
  • If you want to skip battling altogether, you can actually exploit a glitch that ends the battle instantaneously and declares you the winner. To do this, while in a game, Check the In Play Area, then hover over your Active Pokémon. While hovering, hit Down+A. Sometimes it’ll take a few tries, but it will eventually exit the battle, declaring you the winner. (Caution: This method sometimes erases saved data inside the game, so be sure to create a save state before trying it.)
  • The game will only award you two copies each of the legendary Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres and Dragonite cards. In order to get a playset, you will need to trade with someone.
  • To send cards to a friend without losing any of your cards, simply create a save state before going online to trade. After trading away your cards, you can load this save state to restore all of your cards. The cards traded away will still remain on your friend’s account.
  • Promo Venusaur and the Game Boy exclusive Mew, informally referred to as the phantom cards, are only generated through Card Pop! (These cards cannot be obtained from booster packs.) Additionally, due to a bug, Venusaur cannot be generated through Card Pop! in the North American version of the game, so you can only obtain this card through trading.

If you’re looking for people to trade (or battle!) with online, you can join the 1999 Pokémon group on Discord.

Playing Online

Nintendo Switch Online allows you to join a friend’s game to battle and trade with them. If you’re new to this, here’s Nintendo’s step-by-step instructions for playing classic games online.

Talk to the clerk on the left to initiate a battle with a friend

Once you and your friend are connected, head into any one of the eight club’s lobbies (the room on the left when you first enter). You’ll see two women at the desk. Talking to the woman on the left allows you to start a battle (with your choice of 2–6 Prize cards). The woman on the right allows you to send or receive cards.

It’s important to note that when initiating a duel, the player that presses start to begin the match will automatically win the coin flip and play first. If you play a rematch with your opponent, this seems to no longer be the case, but be aware that the first battle has this limitation so that you and anyone you battle with can decide on a fair way of who plays first.

Deck Lists

Now that you know the basics, let’s get to the best part: the decks. Below are five decks built specifically for the Game Boy game, including one for each of the three Legendary Bird cards. All of these decks are built for 6-Prize Card battles.

Freezing Rain Dance

🏆 Top Deck

Pokémon (20)Trainers (26)Energy (14)
4x Squirtle
4x Wartortle
4x Blastoise
4x Kangaskhan
3x Articuno
1x Articuno
4x Professor Oak
4x Bill
4x Super Energy Retrieval
3x Item Finder
2x Scoop Up
2x Super Energy Removal
2x PlusPower (Errata)
2x Lass
1x Super Potion
1x Gust of Wind
1x Pokémon Trader
14x Water Energy
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Articuno’s Quickfreeze has a few ways to be useful: it can stun up a high-HP Pokémon, allowing Blastoise to deliver a two-hit KO without taking a hit itself. It can also disable Mr. Mime’s Invisible Wall, which is notoriously difficult for Rain Dance to deal with otherwise. Scoop Up allows you to reuse Articuno’s Quickfreeze (and also remove it from the Active spot, where you’ll rarely want it), but this addition of Scoop Up also allows you to build the deck in an unconventional manner. Instead of aiming for a Turn 2 Blastoise via Pokémon Breeder, this deck can instead proceed slowly with Fetch attacks from Kangaskhan, then remove Kangaskhan from the Active spot with Scoop Up when it is ready to go off.

Tip: After setting up, keep your extra Kangaskhans in your hand to pay for Super Energy Retrieval’s discard requirement.

Turn 1 Zapdos

🏆 Top Deck

Pokémon (8)Trainers (52)Energy (0)
4x Zapdos
4x Chansey
4x Professor Oak
4x Bill
4x Computer Search
4x PlusPower (Errata)
4x Scoop Up
4x Mr. Fuji
4x Recycle
4x Maintenance
4x Poké Ball
4x Pokédex
4x Item Finder
3x Pokémon Center
2x Gust of Wind
2x Gambler
1x Pokémon Trader
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This Trainer-filled monstrosity—thankfully only playable on Game Boy—is deadly when playing first. That’s because your opponent is unlikely to survive a single turn if they haven’t had a chance to put at least three Pokémon in play.

Maxing out on every form of draw available during the time, this deck has the ability to draw its full library on the first turn. The goal? To deliver enough Peal of Thunders to wipe out every Pokémon on your opponent’s board—all in one turn. You’ll be at the mercy of luck for whether Peal of Thunder hits you or your opponent (side note: though it reads random, the card is programmed to hit your opponent’s Pokémon more than yours), but with 4 Scoop Up, 4 Mr. Fuji, 4 Recycle and 4 Item Finder, you’ll have plenty of chances to use and reuse Peal of Thunder. Chansey parks in the Active spot while all of this is going on, its 120 HP allowing it to survive the misdirected Peal of Thunder hits. Chansey is the perfect Pokémon to equip PlusPower since (for some reason) PlusPower allows Peal of Thunder to deal an extra 10 damage when it hits an Active Pokémon. This could be considered a glitch as it is corrected in the game’s sequel, but let’s be real: if you’re playing this deck in the first place, you aren’t above exploiting a glitched card.

Tip: Use Gust of Wind to bring your opponent’s highest HP targets in the Active spot so you can place extra Peal of Thunder damage on them with PlusPower.


Pokémon (23)Trainers (19)Energy (18)
4x Bulbasaur
4x Ivysaur
3x Venusaur
1x Venusaur
4x Kangaskhan
3x Doduo
3x Dodrio
1x Chansey
4x Bill
3x Energy Retrieval
2x Pokémon Center
2x Professor Oak
2x Pokémon Trader
2x Item Finder
1x Super Energy Removal
1x Gust of Wind
1x PlusPower (Errata)
1x Super Energy Retrieval
17x Grass Energy
1x Double Colorless Energy
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In the Game Boy Game, Venusaur decks gain early access to two cards: Promo Venusaur and Super Energy Retrieval. Both of these cards are useful against Lickitung decks, which storm you with Energy Removal while repeatedly inflicting Paralysis with Tongue Wrap.

Tip: Play around Mr. Mime’s Invisible Wall Pokémon Power by attacking it with Ivysaur’s Poisonpowder.


🏆 Top Deck

Pokémon (15)Trainers (28)Energy (17)
4x Jigglypuff
3x Wigglytuff
4x Magmar
3x Scyther
1x Moltres
4x Professor Oak
4x Bill
4x Energy Retrieval
3x Energy Removal
2x Super Energy Removal
2x PlusPower (Errata)
2x Gust of Wind
2x Scoop Up
2x Item Finder
1x Pokémon Trader
1x Super Energy Retrieval
1x Lass
13x Fire Energy
4x Double Colorless Energy
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The popular duo of Wigglytuff & Magmar makes use of the Game Boy Moltres, whose Firegiver Pokémon Power allows the deck to better withstand Energy Removal & Super Energy Removal. Scoop Up allows you to reuse Firegiver while also preventing Moltres from getting stuck in the Active spot.


🏆 Top Deck

Pokémon (14)Trainers (28)Energy (18)
4x Lickitung
4x Scyther
2x Chansey
2x Electabuzz
1x Mew
1x Psyduck
4x Professor Oak
4x Energy Retrieval
4x Scoop Up
4x Item Finder
4x Energy Removal
3x Super Energy Removal
2x PlusPower (Errata)
2x Gust of Wind
1x Pokémon Center
6x Lightning Energy
6x Grass Energy
2x Psychic Energy
4x Double Colorless Energy
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It wouldn’t be the Base–Fossil format without a Lickitung deck, would it? While traditional Lickitung decks run Mr. Mime alongside Lickitung & Scyther, this version instead plays Electabuzz. Why, you ask? Well, Billy, allow me to explain. One of the main decks you’ll have to worry about in the Game Boy format is the Freezing Rain Dance deck. While Mr. Mime is usually a pest for Rain Dance decks to deal with, the Game Boy version of Rain Dance decks have Articuno to disable its Invisible Wall Pokémon Power, making it an easy one-hit KO for them. So instead of walking into Quickfreeze one-hit KOs with Mr. Mime, we aim to attack the Rain Dance deck in a different way: by hitting Blastoise’s Lightning Weakness.

Tip: Avoid playing this deck in matches with less than 6 Prize cards, as it often aims to win via deck out.

Pokémon Trading Card Game 2: The Invasion of Team GR!

While Japan would receive the sequel to the Pokémon Trading Card Game, the rest of the world unfortunately would not. This card-packed sequel was expanded to include the Team Rocket set, the Japanese Vending Series, and even more powerful new Game Boy exclusive cards. Additionally, the game’s computer players were given better decks that gave them much-needed boost in difficulty.