Trading Card Games as a Learning Tool

Trading card games like Pokémon can offer more than entertainment. They can also help promote social emotional learning and concrete educational outcomes for students.

Pokemon cards (Photo: Thimo Pedersen, Unsplash)

By Logan Perryman

Trading Card Games (or TCGs) like Pokémon, Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh can be a fun way to pass the time at home or with friends. But TCGs also offer a unique opportunity to improve educational and social skills, as shown by a recent study from the University of Columbia.

Finding a budget-friendly, accessible game can be scary, but Pop Culture Classroom is here to help! Below are a few reasons parents and educators to be excited about TCGs — and some tips for getting started.

Trading Card Games and Critical Thinking

TCG’s improve critical thinking skills while players play the game. Players must consider cards in hand, the life total of their opponents, and available resources for offensive and defensive moves. At the same time, players must think about what their opponents are planning.

You might want to play that awesome dragon card in your hand, but what if your opponent can counter your move? What if they have an even bigger dragon? Navigating these questions becomes natural as players develop their abilities to analyze any given situation through gameplay.

Math in TCGs

TCGs and mathematics go hand in hand. In TCGs your goal is to reduce your opponent’s life total to zero. Players must calculate the optimal moment to strike and if they have the numbers to do so safely. Each player must also keep track of how much damage other players have taken. Failing to do so can result in a quick loss.

Probability also plays a crucial role in any TCG. Players must think ahead, but can never know what lies on top of their deck. They must use the knowledge of what cards they have already drawn to guess the probability of what might be drawn next.

The TCG Community

Getting into a TCG means becoming a part of the community surrounding the game. TCGs are multiplayer games that are usually played in person, and the community can motivate players to learn social skills and improve at the game.

Finding like-minded people to play with can be as simple as heading to the nearest card or game shop and finding an open table. Even if players would rather play at home or school, TCGs (including digital editions) can be a fun way to connect with friends and family. Building a trading card collection together is exciting for everyone involved.

Getting Started

The first step to starting any TCG is finding someone to play with. Finding someone who is also new means you both start on even footing. You may be able to find a game night at a local store. And almost every TCG has a digital counterpart where you can play the game online for free. Digital editions also have interactive tutorials for learning the basics.

New players will also need some cards! Many TCGs have various cards and packs for sale making it difficult to know where to begin. Thankfully, most TCGs sell starter decks that can get your foot in the door. These match well against other starter decks and contain cards that are simple in design. Starter packs also include a pamphlet with all the rules you will need to know to play the deck.

It can be difficult to learn the rules and build a competent deck using only assorted booster packs, so it is better to buy a starter deck before buying any individual booster packs.

Choosing a Game

Below are a few of the most popular TCGs to help guide you towards one that you will enjoy.

Pokémon

  • Simple to learn
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Focus on collecting

Pokémon is well known from its video games and TV show, but the TCG has enjoyed its own popularity for decades. Pokémon is designed with children as the intended audience. Because of this, the rules for Pokémon are the easiest to learn of any TCG.

Pokémon is known for being highly collectable, with special versions of cards. This makes opening packs even more exciting than other TCGs.

You can watch a tutorial from the Pokémon YouTube channel here.

For Ages 8+

Hand holding Pokemon card (Photo: Erik Mclean, Unsplash)

Magic: The Gathering

  • Extremely Popular
  • Multiple formats
  • Multiplayer

Magic: The Gathering, simply called MTG by fans, is one of the oldest TCGs in the market. MTG has multiple ways to play, including formats that allow you to play with more than one opponent, or with teammates. This allows you to play MTG in a way that conforms to your budget and social circle. Local game stores that sell MTG products offer free starter decks new players can learn the game with.

For an introduction to MTG, the YouTuber TolarianCommunityCollege made a guide to getting started here.

For Ages 10+

Magic the Gathering (Photo: Ryan Quintel, Unsplash)

Hearthstone

  • Digital
  • Beautiful Animations
  • Balance Changes

Hearthstone is the largest digital TCG around. Because of Hearthstone’s digital design, it can introduce more random effects than other TCGs. It has detailed sound effects and cool animations when you play cards, and the developers have the option to change cards after they’ve been released. Hearthstone is also very budget friendly, allowing players to earn packs of cards simply by playing the game. Hearthstone even has a single-player mode for those who want to learn alone.

We encourage players to be informed consumers. To learn more about recent news surrounding Hearthstone’s developer and publisher, Blizzard/Activision, click here.

For Ages 13+

Hearthstone (Blizzard/Activision)

Learn, Trade, Play

Now that you’re armed with the knowledge to succeed, the best thing to do is get started! Start your collection by finding a friend to crack open a few packs of cards with. Or, download one of the digital clients to get playing right away.

More Pop Culture Hobbies for Learning 

If you’d like to read more about how hobbies can be used for academic and social-emotional growth, check out Pop Culture Classroom’s blog posts on Dungeons and Dragons and Using Comics to Teach Math.

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