Pokémon cards – they’ve been around for over 20 years in the United States. Even if you aren’t a Pokémon person, you very likely have seen a Pokémon card or two in your life. You probably can pick Pikachu out of a crowd of Pokémon, and even Charizard or Eevee. These popular Pokémon are featured many times in different sets. Pikachu is on the rarest and most valuable card out there – the Illustrator Card.
Pokémon cards are fun to collect — And it helps that the creators take their time with the art. It takes roughly a year from start to finish to create a Pokémon card. They have to decide which Pokémon will be featured, the theme, who gets a special card (more on that later), and what story they will tell with the art. The cards also have to work with older cards that are still legal in the TCG (Trading Card Game).
If you are serious about starting a Pokémon card collection, the first thing to understand, and accept, is that it is not easy to make money off these cards. There are so many cards out there that the market is incredibly saturated. Card prices are based on how playable the card is in the TCG, and then the card rarity.
If a card is popular in the TCG, the price for it will be higher. Once that card becomes less playable and less popular, the price will go down and likely stay that way. Pokémon card prices can change several times a day, and there are people at big card resale companies that have the sole job of watching what the TCG is doing at any given moment. A card that becomes illegal (cannot be played) is a hit or miss in value – it can go up or down, and it’s anyone’s guess what it will do.
Accepting the volatility of card prices means we can move on to the rarity symbol. These symbols can be found on the bottom right corner for cards from Base set through Evolutions (the last set in the XY series). Every set from the Sun and Moon series forward will have the symbols switched to the left side.
A black circle indicates a common card – you will get a lot of these cards.
The next is the black diamond, which indicates an uncommon card. These are a bit rarer than the common card, but you will get a lot of these as well.
Next in line is your black star, which is usually a final evolution stage Pokémon. These are the rarest of the three. They do not come in every pack of cards.
Knowing rarity symbols is essential to a serious collector, as is this next part, which I can’t stress enough: know your sets. Every set of cards has its own symbol, except for the very first set, Base Set. Base does not have a symbol and is easy to identify due to that. This Machamp is from set Base Set, and there is no set symbol on the card.
When symbols started appearing on cards, they were to the bottom right of the picture. This Team Rocket set Dark Jolteon has the symbol just to the right of the picture.
Symbols were moved to the lower right corner starting with the Expedition set. This Dark Celebi, from Hidden Legends, shows the set symbol at the bottom right. It stays like this through the XY series of cards, which ends with Evolutions.
The current series, Sun & Moon, has the set symbol on the bottom left side. This Lycanroc from Burning Shadows shows the symbol on the left.
Some symbols are very similar to each other so make sure to look closely as it is very easy to mix up XY and Next Destinies or Burning Shadows and Crimson Invasion. Knowing the set symbols will help you in the long run when you have a better idea of what you’re looking for. It will help you keep track of your sets and know which cards you still need.
Types of Cards
Pokémon cards are printed in several ways. This part is confusing for a lot of new collectors. Let’s start with the most printed cards — these cards are not shiny at all and look like a lot of the cards you probably already have. This is a normal card and the least of the rare, like this Litten from Shining Legends.
Next in line is a reverse holographic, holofoil, or foil card. Today, they are included in every current pack. The card is shiny, but the Pokémon picture itself is not — it’s printed regularly, like a standard card. They are stunning and can be common cards (black circle) to rare cards (black star). This Torracat from Shining Legends shows a fire reverse holo print.
After that comes the holo card. These cards are not included in every pack. Holo cards have the picture of the Pokémon in a shiny format (holo), but not the card itself. Holo cards have been around since Base set. This Incineroar from Sun & Moon shows a holo photo.
Then there are EX cards (through XY series) and GX cards (Sun and Moon forward). EX and GX cards are scattered throughout the set. Some sets have them at the very beginning, like Generations with Venusaur, but most have them scattered throughout. This Ash-Greninja Promo is an EX card, and this Lycanroc from Guardian’s Rising is a GX card.
At the end of the sets come Full Art cards – the Pokémon featured takes up the entire card, with the writing closer to the bottom. The Full Art cards usually match the EX/GX cards in the set, but there are exceptions to this. This Lycanroc GX from Guardian’s Rising is a Full Art card.
After Full Art comes Rainbow Rare cards – the entire card looks like a rainbow. These are notoriously hard to pull from packs and usually hold their value over time. This Tyranitar GX from Lost Thunder is a Rainbow Rare.
Some Sun & Moon sets have Gold Cards after Rainbow Rare cards. The picture on the card is colored, but the border of the card and the background of the title is gold, as is the card background itself. These are even harder to pull than Rainbow Rare cards. This Double Colorless Energy from Guardian’s Rising is a Gold Card.
Two Sun and Moon sets have special Full Gold cards – Ultra Prism (Lunala and Solgaleo) and Dragon Majesty (Ultra Necrozma). The entire card is gold, and the Pokémon look like outlined shadows. The chance of pulling one of these, the last time I looked, was 1:1500 – not easy. This Ultra Necrozma GX from Dragon Majesty is a Full Gold card.
Now that you know all of that, where do you start? I strongly advise against just buying cards all willy-nilly. That is the quickest way to overwhelm yourself and have a huge mess. Pick a set you like and start there. S and I are fond of an app called Pokecardex to see sets and keep track of everything. It shows the cards in the sets (make sure to download scans), the set symbols, and the rarity of each card. You can mark which cards you have and how many of each.
You will need to have some sort of storage for your multiples. They add up really, really fast. There are 10 cards in a pack (or 3 in dollar store packs). Before you know it, you have a few hundred cards and nowhere to put them. Elite Trainer boxes are great storage systems for smaller collections. We use 5,000 count boxes for ours, and energies live in Elite Trainer boxes. I highly recommend you put your holo cards in sleeves and anything from the back end of the set (Full Art, etc.) into hard case top loaders to protect them or put them into a binder.
Another way to collect is by choosing a Pokémon you like and only collecting their cards. Knowing your sets is especially important in this case, as each set doesn’t feature every Pokémon. Let’s say you want to collect just Pikachu. That gives you a lot of variety, which is excellent. However, you wouldn’t be buying Guardian’s Rising cards looking for a Pikachu as it’s not featured in that set. You would never find one. You would want to look in Burning Shadows or Team Up instead, where there are Pikachu cards. This holds true for any and all Pokémon. You can only get the Pokémon featured in that set. Buying a set and hunting for a Pokémon that isn’t there is not just a waste of time, it’s a waste of money — And it can be very discouraging.
Some collectors focus on type – fire, psychic and so on. This can be confusing as not all Pokémon types are translated into the cards. Ghost type, for instance, never made it into the cards. Ghosts usually switch to Psychic and so forth. A card organization system is crucial here and so is knowing when types were released. Dragon and Fairy have not in the cards since the beginning so looking in old sets for them will yield nothing.
If you are just starting out and want to build a collection, start with what is new right now. Work your way backward instead of forward. Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) and EX (not to be confused with EX cards) are very confusing and require a knowing eye to collect them. Knowing this before you get going is essential. Some of these cards are worth a bit and some are worth a quarter. It can be difficult for someone starting out to know what they’re looking for and you will want to research these sets before you buy. These sets are put together differently than the later sets, not by type but by strength, and are often counterfeited. Research and then research more to be sure you’re getting the real deal.
Surviving a Dry Spell
You will go through droughts – that’s a given. This happens when you don’t find what you’re trying to pull. S and I opened about 500 packs of Fates Collide looking for one card in the set – Shuckle. We never pulled it. I finally bought three versions of it from an online card dealer – a normal, a reverse holo and a holo. I am done with Shuckle. We managed to complete our Fates Collide set with all those Shuckle-less packs.
The funny thing is, Shuckle has given us problems in every other set that it’s in, so I buy them when I see them. We even call Shuckle the bane of our existence – it’s harder for us to get than a Rainbow Rare! Don’t let these dry spells discourage you. I assure you, it will get better. This happens to all of us in the Pokémon card world. But when your drought ends, and you finally pull something you’re looking for, it’s a great feeling and makes all of the bad packs worth it!
A Final Thought
One last thing, from the heart of A: Pokémon card collecting comes with what we call Poke-Shaming. S and I are both 30-something, and our kryptonite in this world is Pokémon. We love our cards, as you’ve seen, but it comes at a price that has nothing to do with money. We have both lost friends and family over this. They’ve said we are “too old” for Pokémon cards or should be collecting more adult things (up here in the Frozen Tundra, it’s usually Packers stuff, camo something or another, or farm animals).
When we got together about a zillion years ago, we both came with Pokémon, each getting our first cards in 1998. Neither of us told the other right away that we liked Pokémon. That came later when we moved in, and Pokémon came along with us both. S has his original set of Base cards still! My cards were a bit newer except my Base Charmander.
Don’t let this get to you if it happens. Everyone has some kind of vice, yours and ours are Pokémon cards. Enjoy your collection and be proud of it. It’s no small feat to make a collection of these cards. The best of all, it’s fun and exciting, and something you can share with others. Go for it, try to Catch ‘Em All!