Understanding Pokémon TCG Rotations and Formats

As a casual Pokémon TCG player or collector, you may not have paid much attention to card rotations. But, if you’re looking to join a local tournament, or even play online, understanding card rotations is necessary.

Here’s what you need to know:

What is a Rotation?

The Pokémon Trading Card Game is always evolving, with several new sets added each year. Sometimes these new sets simply feature reprints of older sets, and other times they introduce powerful new mechanics (Like EX, Break, and GX cards).

Because new sets can change strategies, rules, and balance of gameplay it’s necessary to remove some older sets from play. Sets and specific cards may be removed if they are simply too old, or if they are not compatible with newer rules. Additionally, a specific card may be removed for balance reasons, but this only happens in extremely rare circumstances!

The removal of older sets/cards and inclusion of newer sets/cards is what is called the rotation.

Introducing Formats

With rotations explained, we now need to understand card formats. In Pokémon TCG, there are 3 formats:

  1. Standard Format (Also referred to as Modified Format)
  2. Expanded Format
  3. Unlimited Format


The difference between the three formats has to do with the number of sets allowed in legal use. Let’s start by looking at the unlimited Format.

Unlimited Format

The Unlimited Format allows the use of any card from any set. It is the most open format, but is the least common format for Play! Pokémon sanctioned events.

If you’ve been collecting for a while, your deck may qualify as an unlimited deck and you wouldn’t even know it! This causes an issue for many first time tournament players. Often, they won’t be able to compete in their first tournament because they don’t own the cards needed to compete!

Standard Format

The next format we’ll cover is the Standard Format. This is the most popular format for competitive play, but also the most restrictive. Currently, the Standard format features:

  • Primal Clash
  • Double Crisis
  • Roaring Skies
  • Ancient Origins
  • BREAKthrough
  • BREAKpoint
  • Generations
  • Fates Collide
  • Steam Siege
  • Evolutions
  • Sun and Moon
  • Guardians Rising
  • XY Trainer Kit: Latias and Latios
  • XY Trainer Kit: Pikachu Libre and Suicune
  • XY Black Star Promos
  • and the McDonald’s Collection 2015


But this format will change – so make sure to stay updated by following the official Pokémon Strategy Blog. The standard format often changes more frequently than the expanded format, and it’s not uncommon to see four or more sets removed/replaced! Changes typically occur after the World Championships.

Expanded Format

After standard rotation is expanded rotation. Your expanded rotation features many more sets and cards. Here’s a quick list:

  • Black and White
  • Emerging Powers
  • Noble Victories
  • Next Destinies
  • Dark Explorers
  • Dragons Exalted
  • Dragon Vault
  • Boundaries Crossed
  • Plasma Storm
  • PLasma Freeze
  • Plasma Blast
  • Legendary Treasures
  • Black and White Trainer Kit
  • Kalos Starter Set
  • XY
  • Flashfire
  • Furious Fists
  • Phantom Forces
  • Primal Clash
  • Double Crisis
  • Roaring Skies
  • Ancient Origins
  • BREAKthrough
  • BREAKpoint
  • Generations
  • Fates Collide
  • Steam Siege
  • Evolutions
  • Sun and Moon
  • Guardians Rising
  • XY Trainer Kit
  • XY Trainer Kit Bisharp and Wigglytuff
  • XY Trainer Kit Latias and Latios
  • XY Trainer Kit Pikachu Libre and Suicune
  • BW Black Star Promos
  • XY Black STar PRomos
  • McDonald’s Collection 2011
  • McDonald’s Collection 2012
  • McDonald’s Collection 2013
  • McDonald’s Collection 2014
  • McDonald’s Collection 2015

The Expanded Format isn’t as popular as Standard Format, but it has gained popularity since its introduction. Players like the Expanded Format because you can still play with a deck competitively after it’s been phased out of the Standard Format. This results in a meta (most effective tactic available) that’s fairly consistent over the years. Standard Format on the other hand can see big changes to the meta each year.


The Standard and Expanded formats affect both collectors and competitive players. If you’re looking to get into tournaments you need to know which sets are allowed and which aren’t.

Collectors can benefit from knowing the rotation as cards which can no longer be used in tournament play may drop in value.