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How To Evolve Pokemon In The Pokemon TCG

Three Pokemon cards held in Jason's hand feature image

If you’re new to the Pokemon Trading Card Game (TCG), it can be a little daunting to know exactly when you can carry out certain actions, let alone how.

It’s something that long term players and those of us intimately familiar with how the Pokemon TCG works can easily forget, but there’s quite a few pieces of jargon and several quirky elements that may not be that easy to get your head around as a new player.

One of those elements is evolving your Pokemon. 

With thousands of different Pokemon cards available, how do you know which ones you can evolve? How can you tell which Pokemon they evolve into?

Come with us as we answer these and many other questions, as we take you step by step through the process of how to evolve Pokemon in the Pokemon TCG!

What Pokemon Can I Put Into Play Without Evolving?

When you start a game of the Pokemon TCG, you must have at least one Pokemon in your hand, as you’ll need to place one in your Active Spot, face down, to begin.

The Pokemon you choose must be a Basic Pokemon

Basic Pokemon Examples

You can see from the image above that a Basic Pokemon can look very different, depending on the type of card it is; however, don’t worry too much yet about the card’s design or extra designations such as ‘ex’.

Just know that all three of the cards in the above image are Basic Pokemon, so let’s just make sure you know exactly how to identify them.

Basic Pokemon Example

What you’re looking for is the word Basic in the top left of the card, which we’ve highlighted for you in the above image.

As long as that’s there, regardless of what type of Pokemon you have in your hand, it can be played to your Active Spot immediately.

You can also have up to 5 Basic Pokemon on your Bench, which is the space behind your Active Spot.

Before your first turn only, these will need to be played face down until both you and your opponent have finished placing Pokemon on your Active Spots and Benches; then you can turn them face up.

On every other turn after this set up phase, you play Pokemon face up; unless specific card effects say otherwise, you must always be careful to obey the 5 Pokemon limit on your Bench.

How Do I Know Which Pokemon To Use When Evolving?

Your Basic Pokemon can evolve into Stage 1 Pokemon, then Stage 1 Pokemon can evolve into Stage 2 Pokemon.

If a Pokemon is Stage 1 or Stage 2, this is noted in the top left of the card, just like Basic Pokemon.

Stage 1 Pokemon

In the above image, you can see an example of a Stage 1 Pokemon; just like with the image of the Basic Pokemon, we’ve circled the evolutionary stage text to make it clear where it is.

Stage 2 Pokemon

Above, you can see an example of a Stage 2 Pokemon; once more, we’ve highlighted the Stage designation so it’s easier to see.

There are exceptions and ways around following the Basic to Stage 1 to Stage 2 pattern, but that is the general rule for evolution chains in the Pokemon TCG.

Not all Basic Pokemon evolve and not all evolution chains have a Stage 2, so it’s just a case of looking at each card you have, to see which Pokemon can evolve from which cards.

Again, in the top left of a Stage 1 or Stage 2 Pokemon, you’ll see a Pokemon named just underneath its Stage 1 or Stage 2 designation.

Tadbulb to Bellibolt Evolution

You can use any Pokemon card with the specific name on the card; don’t worry if the image of the Pokemon doesn’t quite match with what you have or if the cards look drastically different, as you can see from the image above.

As long as the name matches entirely, that’s all that matters.

By matching entirely, this means that if it says your Clodsire evolves from a Wooper, you can use any Pokemon card that’s specifically called Wooper.

You can’t evolve a normal Clodsire from a Paldean Wooper, for example.

Paldean Wooper to Paldean Clodsire

In order to evolve a Paldean Wooper, you’ll need to have a Paldean Clodsire; this specifies that it evolves from a Paldean Wooper, rather than just ‘Wooper’. We’ve shown this in the image above and have highlighted the specific wording to make it clearer.

When Can I Evolve Pokemon?

Though you may have evolved forms of Pokemon in your hand, you cannot play them until the turn after you play its Basic Pokemon form.

So if you play a Charmander to your Bench or Active Spot, you must wait until the next turn before you can evolve it into a Charmeleon. 

You can evolve more than one Pokemon during your turn as long as you have the correct cards to use and each one you’re evolving has been in your Active Spot or on your Bench for at least one turn.

How Do I Evolve Pokemon During Play?

It’s very straightforward to evolve any Pokemon, as long as you’re following the rules above.

You simply place the Stage 1 Pokemon on top of your Basic Pokemon, completely covering it.

Your Pokemon now has the HP, abilities, attacks, retreat cost, weakness and resistance that the uppermost card shows; you now ignore everything on the card underneath, though the attached Energy cards remain in place.

The same thing happens if you evolve a Stage 1 Pokemon into a Stage 2 Pokemon.

You must always wait one turn before evolving a Pokemon.

So if you evolve a Pokemon from Basic to Stage 1, you cannot evolve the Stage 1 Pokemon to Stage 2 on the same turn.

Are There Other Types Of Pokemon That Can Evolve?

When opening packs, using cards from your collection or taking on other players, you will see Pokemon that are known as ex or V Pokemon (as well as many others that are less common or no longer in newer Pokemon TCG sets), but if you have these you will see that they still clearly show whether or not they’re Basic, Stage 1 or Stage 2 Pokemon.

Alcremie VMAX Evolution

One exception to the general rule is VMAX Pokemon, which don’t have Basic, Stage 1 or Stage 2 in the top left corner. Instead, they say VMAX, but also show clearly which Pokemon they evolve from, which we’ve highlighted in the image above.

No matter whether or not you have a Pokemon that follows the standard art design, is a special type, has a special illustration or holographic foil treatment, its evolution type should always be very clear.

Other keywords may be present at the top of the card, such as the more recently introduced Ancient or Future designations; however, these are not related to evolution and can be ignored unless referenced in a specific card’s text.

Is It Ever Possible To Skip A Stage Of Evolution?

Yes! There are several ways that you can play a Stage 2 Pokemon onto a Basic Pokemon without using a Stage 1 card.

Sometimes, Pokemon card ability text may allow you to do this, but the most common way of skipping an evolution stage is by using a Trainer card such as Rare Candy.

Rare Candy is a type of Trainer card known as an Item.

Rare Candy Card

Item cards are played from your hand, then you follow the instructions on the card itself, before placing it on your discard pile.

Playing a Rare Candy allows you to immediately place a Stage 2 card onto a Basic Pokemon, though do be aware that you still cannot do this on the turn that your Basic Pokemon card was played. 

So for example, I could use Rare Candy to evolve my Teddiursa into Ursaluna, skipping Ursaring entirely.

This method does require some knowledge of the cards you’re using, because the Basic Pokemon is not shown on the Stage 2 card.

Continuing with this specific example, as long as both you and your opponent are aware that an Ursaluna is the Stage 2 in the evolution chain for Teddiursa, there won’t be any problems during play.

Can I Devolve A Pokemon Once It’s Evolved?

Unless a specific ability, attack or card mentions devolving a Pokemon, it’s not something you can choose to do. 

Once you’ve evolved the Pokemon from its Basic form, it will remain in its Stage 1 form unless you evolve it to Stage 2

What Benefits Are There To Evolving?

When you evolve your Pokemon, its original attacks and HP (as well as other aspects of the Pokemon) are replaced with the ones on its new form, which will tend to be more powerful and higher, respectively.

If your Pokemon already has damage counters on it, these remain; however, as your evolved Pokemon will have higher HP, it’s chance of survival will increase.

Teddiursa Evolution Chain Example

For example, as you can see from the Teddiursa evolution chain above, you’ll start with 70 HP, then have 130 HP at Stage 1 and 180 HP at Stage 2.

If your Pokemon has 40 total HP damage (4 damage counters), that becomes much less of a problem as it evolves and its total HP increases!

If your Pokemon currently has a Special Condition, such as being Poisoned, Burned, Asleep, Confused or Paralyzed, these are removed immediately when it evolves.

What If I Need To Learn Other Aspects Of The Pokemon TCG?

Of course, evolving Pokemon is just one aspect of the Pokemon TCG; if you need to learn more, head on over to our how to play Pokemon TCG guide, which takes you through what you’re able to do on each turn, covering the basics to get you started.

Though evolving and other elements of the Pokemon TCG can seem like an awful lot of information to take on board and remember, especially if you’re new to the game or even card games in general, remember that it becomes second nature once you’ve had a go for yourself.

If you still feel overwhelmed but you, or any younger fans in your family, are still keen to get involved with the Pokemon TCG, we’d highly recommend finding and attending a local Pokemon group.

You’ll find that these are surprisingly widespread and it’s highly likely that there’s a group who regularly meet near you; to find these, head on over to the event locator on the official Pokemon website, using this link.

We’d also highly recommend checking out our best Pokemon card packs guide, which will point you in the right direction for the right sets to buy, even if you’re an absolute beginner and have never played Pokemon before. You can even use that guide once you’re more familiar with the basics of the game, in order to find out which sets are right for you as your skills evolve with experience! 


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