Here's What's a TCG and What's Not - Draftsim (2024)

Pedro Furtado (djorso) May 22, 2024Guide

Last updated on June 14, 2024

Here's What's a TCG and What's Not - Draftsim (1)

Strategic Planning | Illustration by Robbie Trevino

Not every card game can be a trading card game (TCG), but it’s a term we often see used incorrectly. TCGs and collectible card games (CCGs) are frequently interchanged, and MTG is often called a CCG and a TCG.

So, what are TCGs? What’s the difference between a CCG and a TCG? Here are your questions, answered!

Table of Contents show

What Is a TCG?

Here's What's a TCG and What's Not - Draftsim (2)

The Deck of Many Things | Illustration by Volkan Baga

A TCG (trading card game) is a card game that thrives in selling collectible cards via booster packs or booster boxes and incentivizes players to trade the game components: the cards. We can break this definition into two parts:

  • A card game is a game played through cards. In these games, the player can use their cards to build decks, often with cards that work synergistically well together.
  • Trading cards means that players usually don’t get all the cards they need by buying booster packs or card boxes, which means that cards need to be traded between players.

To make sure that players have some difficulty in getting the best cards, or the cards they need for a certain deck, TCGs often have cards with different rarities, which means that there are easy-to-obtain commons, but also rares, which you'll either have to get lucky to obtain, or you'll have to trade for/buy them.

Magic: The Gathering is a clear example of a TCG. There are more than 25,000 cards across multiple rarities with varying prices. To make sure you get what you need, you can trade with your friends or your local game stores, trade online, or even buy from retailers like Star City Games and TCGplayer.

There’s also the concept of a living card game (LCG). These are games that guarantee the contents when you buy a box or a pack. There are a few examples in the board game industry, like Arkham Horror LCG or A Game of Thrones LCG, both from Fantasy Flight Games. There’s more of a board game approach with LCGs, so you get 70-80% of the content you need right from the box.

What Is the Oldest TCG?

The oldest TCG and father/grandfather of all subsequent TCGs is Magic: The Gathering or simply MTG. MTG was created by Richard Garfield in 1993. Many TCG followed in MTG's footsteps, like the Pokémon TCG, Star Wars TCG, Android Netrunner, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Disney Lorcana, just to cite a few. Magic is also the most popular trading card game worldwide, with Pokemon and YGO completing the top three (and Pokemon being by far the biggest in Japan).


The difference between a CCG (collectible card game) and a TCG (trading card game) is somewhat blurry. Many people online say that MTG is a CCG, while others say that it’s a TCG, and there’s the whatever camp. It’s fair to say that games like MTG or Pokémon can be considered TCGs because you can effectively trade your physical cards if you want to. However, digital-only card games like Hearthstone and even MTG Arena are more on the CCG side since you can only buy/get more cards from the client. At most, you can use in-game mechanics like Hearthstone's dusting to get material to craft new cards.

To sum up, take a look at the image below. Wizards of the Coast outright tells us that MTG is a TCG experience, but Magic Arena offers a CCG experience because we can’t trade cards.

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Is Magic: The Gathering a TCG or CCG?

It’s both. Many players argue that MTG is a trading card game, and I couldn’t agree more. After all, it’s a card game and you can trade your cards, even in one of its online implementations (MTGO). We could say that MTG Arena falls more on the CCG spectrum, though, as well as certain products from WotC like the Secret Lairs. Many of the oldest MTG players boast collections worth thousands of dollars in Alpha cards, which is an important aspect of CCGs.

Is Pokémon a TCG or CCG?

Like MTG, both. Pokémon is a Trading Card Game (TCG). You can buy cards in booster packs and trade with other people. Pokémon also has a CCG online implementation, in the form of Pokémon TCG Live, where you can’t trade cards but use a “dusting” mechanism like Hearthstone’s.

Is Yu-Gi-Oh! a TCG or CCG?

Yu-Gi-Oh! is also a TCG, considered one of the three biggest alongside Pokémon and MTG.

Wrap Up

Here's What's a TCG and What's Not - Draftsim (4)

Serra Angel | Illustration by Jodie Muir

Only some games that have cards are effectively TCGs, as you need randomized products that don’t give you everything you need to promote trading cards with your friends and LGSs. Many online versions of card games fall more into the collectible card game camp, as you can’t trade, rent, or sell cards. And yes, Magic is still the king of TCGs. It’s the oldest, most iconic TCG, and the biggest in card availability. It’s fair game to say that CCGs are often digital games like Hearthstone and Legends of Runeterra, as well as MTG Arena.

Do you play other CCGs or TCGs? Do you think that digital CCGs will eventually surpass physical card games? Let me know in the comments below, or let’s discuss it in Draftsim Discord.

Thanks for reading, and stay say!

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MTG TCG Trading card game

Pedro Furtado (djorso)

Pedro started playing Magic way back when in Fourth Edition. After a long hiatus, he now plays mostly MTG Arena Standard and Limited. His biggest MTG regret is trading a bunch of Force of Wills for Serra Angels.

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