Despite first hitting the scene over 20 years ago, Pokémon is bigger than ever. Over the last few years, Pokémon keeps rocketing back up in popularity, with new games, trading card sets and anime causing something of a golden era for the series. But what is the Pokémon Trading Card Game, and why is it suddenly so popular again?
Party like it’s ’98
The Pokémon TCG was first published in English by Wizards of the Coast in 1998. The first games, Red and Blue, had just launched on Gameboy to huge success, and it was the start of what we now know as “Pokémania”. By combining Pokémon’s collectible monsters with a simplified take on Wizards’ other card game, Magic the Gathering, the Pokémon TCG struck a note with fans and was an incomprehensibly huge success. To this day, the Pokémon TCG is the most successful card game in both the UK and Germany.
While ‘Pokémania’ did eventually calm down, the series blasted off in popularity again in 2016 thanks to Pokémon Go. The mobile game saw everybody hunt the real world with their phones for Pokémon. In the three years after its launch, Pokémon Go was downloaded over one billion times and brought Pokémon (including the TCG) back into the lives of millions, and introduced even more to it for the first time.
To capitalise on the renewed popularity, the Pokémon TCG released the set XY Evolutions. It was a set that combined reprints of Base Set cards, complete with the old-style frames, with newer flairs such as full-art M-Pokémon EX cards that reflected the X/Y games’ Mega Evolution mechanic. To this day, it remains a great way of getting old-style cards without breaking the bank… if you can get a hold of it.
Pokémon Go’s bump to the TCG was to be expected considering its smashing success, but interest in the cards has spiked yet again in recent months to almost the same levels they were in 2016. The last games – Sword and Shield – and the Detective Pikachu movie launched last year, so why is everyone suddenly clamouring for Pokémon cards?
In October, the Pokémon TCG hit headlines twice. First, YouTuber Logan Paul cracked open a booster box of Base Set cards, which cost him over $200,000. The investment was worth it, though, as the video has since wracked up over 10 million views.
Then, just a few days later, it came out that rapper Logic had splashed $183,000 on a single Base Set card: a PSA10-graded Shadowless Charizard. Talking about the purchase, Logic said he “couldn’t afford the cards” as a child, and so buying the rarest card of all is a way of “buying back a piece of something I could never have”.
Shadowless Charizard is special. On most Base Set prints, the frame surrounding the art has a drop shadow to make it stand out. Only the very first prints didn’t include this, meaning a Shadowless Charizard is a definite first edition. First editions will more than likely increase in value over time, making buying one even at this price a good investment (in 2009, the card was valued at around $700, meaning its worth has increased over 20 times in the last 11 years).
A PSA 10 grade, meanwhile, means the card is in the most perfect condition it possibly could be, and has been verified as such by independent evaluators. A certified PSA grade will make almost any card more valuable than one without, simply for the guarantee the card is genuine and in the condition the seller claims it is.
While an element of the current popularity is undoubtedly nostalgia during a stressful time like a global pandemic, the impact Logic and Logan Paul have had on the Pokémon TCG scene is incredible. The game’s always had a loyal fanbase, but search trends for it doubled overnight, and boxes of the certain sets (such as Champion’s Path and the retro-focused Evolutions) have sold out almost immediately.
Modern Day Pokémon
Since its launch, there have been 90 new sets released for the Pokémon TCG (more than its sibling, MTG!), each bringing their own rosters of Pokémon and new mechanics to the game. The latest expansion is Vivid Voltage, and it introduces a whole new rarity tier, called Amazing Rare. There are six cards in the set with this new rarity, including Jirachi, Rayquaza, Celebi, Raikou, Zacian and Zamazenta. Each have their own ‘Amazing’ move that can turn the tide of your match, so make sure you put one or two of these in your deck!
Vivid Voltage also continues the Sword & Shield sets’ theme of V and VMAX cards. VMAX are supersized Pokémon that can devastate the board. Knocking out an opponent’s Pokémon with a VMAX card lets you draw three prize cards over the usual one, making it a certified game-finisher. Headlining the Vivid Voltage set is the highly sought-after and ridiculously powerful Pikachu VMAX; not only is he delightfully chonky, his 310 HP and 120+ damage G-Max Volt Tackle attack make it one of the best Pikachu cards ever printed. causing a frenzy of people hoping to pull it from their booster packs.
Pokémon was many peoples’ first introduction to TCGs. But whether you’re someone returning after years away or coming into it new for the first time, there’s never been a better time to get into it! Pick up a starter deck or a fat pack and give it a whirl!