On February 27, 1996, Game Freak published Pokémon Red and Green on Nintendo's Game Boy handheld system, with Blue following later the same year. Coinciding with the latter's Japanese debut, the Pokémon Trading Card Game officially became a reality. By the turn of the century, Pokémon could not be escaped. Pocket Monsters ruled the world.
Nintendo users had their pick of five extensive JRPGs; if the franchise's commercial performance serves as any indication, it is safe to assume several satisfied customers returned for Pokémon Gold and Silver. Putting aside a tiny speedbump that inadvertently sent children to the hospital, the anime adaptation appears set to produce new episodes until the end of time. In 1997, the Pokémon Adventures manga began its run, and chapters continue to be released until this very day. Pokémon conquered Asia and the rest of the world soon followed.
This brings the discussion to the Pokémon Trading Card Game. Depending on the person, TCG represents the height of the license's brilliance or a minor diversion to keep children entertained for a couple of hours. 1996's original set included 102 cards, but each year has brought forth new items to the deck. For some, TCG's competitive scene is the only important element; for others, cards are primarily about bragging rights.
Did you collect Pokémon cards as a kid? If yes, we recommend searching the attic to check whether they are still in decent shape. For all intents and purposes, you might well be sitting on a gold mine. Here are the most expensive Pokémon cards, officially ranked!
26 Shining Charizard - Neo Destiny ($117)
Released in 2002, the Neo Destiny Expansion brought to a close a series of packs focusing on corrupted Pokémon. Basically, these sets dragged random creatures to the dark side. Many are stronger than their normal counterparts, but the cards themselves are readily available to purchase.
With eight to find, the shining variants are the rarest of the rare. One might assume Celebi or Mewtwo to be the most expensive – spoiler, neither feature on this list – but Charizard takes the cake. Shining Charizard is simply enough to locate, but expect to spend approximately $100.
25 Metagross - EX Delta Species Singles ($119)
Each year brings forth multiple expansion packs, ensuring customers continue to dig deep into their wallets with the hope of landing a super rare card. EX packs take pre-existing items and update them to match the current generation. Competitively, Pokémon-ex cards tend to have an edge, but two Prize Cards are rewarded for knocking one out.
EX Delta Species boasts 114 cards. Out of all of them, the Ultra Rare Metagross is the expansion's Holy Grail. Usually, the item can be found on sale, but the price seldom dips below three figures.
24 Deoxys Ex - Promo Card ($149)
Along with special promotional cards released solely in Japan, certain booster packs are tied to events or tournaments. POP Series 4 serves as one such example. In 2005, players had to compete at the Pokémon TCG World Championships and defeat the champion, Tsuguyoshi Yamato, to earn the right to open a POP Series 4 pack.
In due time, the expansion saw a wide limited release. Due to there only being 17 cards in the set, none of the items are exceptionally rare. Deoxys ex is the one exception.
23 Treecko Gold - EX Team Rocket Returns ($171)
The TCG quickly assumed a life of its own; however, a successful publisher taps every possible market. Consequently, countless expansions prioritize familiarity over functionality. Does it matter if 99% of sets fail to leave much of an impact on the competitive scene? As long as they sell, nobody cares.
2004's EX Team Rocket Returns consists solely of Generation 1 and 2 Pokémon with a history of succumbing to the villainous organization's control. Weirdly enough, Treecko is among the expansions' more expensive cards. Is it useful? Not really.
22 Mudkip Gold - EX Team Rocket Returns ($189)
Exceptions notwithstanding, shiny Pokémon tend to be worth a sizeable bounty. The TCG's rarest treasures chiefly consist of promotional cards produced for tournaments or special events. Scoring one of these items is akin to discovering the Lost Ark, but they are near impossible to obtain. Shiny variants are somewhat accessible, at least compared to several other cards featured in this list.
Like Treeko before it, EX Team Rocket Returns' Mudkip is shiny. Strange Pokémon to bestow this privilege upon, but it worked splendidly!
21 Rayquaza Gold - EX Deoxys Singles ($204)
EX Deoxys carries three Rayquazas. The normal model is approximately worth the same amount as a McDonald's Happy Meal, while Rayquaza-ex comes in at a more respectable $30. Last but definitely not least, Shiny Rayquaza demolishes its brethren in terms of value.
When dealing with collectibles, prices fluctuate quite severely. Taking this entry as an example, a used Rayquaza can be purchased for just over $200, but this article undercuts the rest of the market. An item's condition must be also taken into account. How do "brand new" cards even exist?
20 1999 Charizard Japanese Holographic ($349)
1996's Base Set Expansion got the ball rolling and, technically, only includes one Charizard. Even though the card's stats remain the same, the artwork was altered three times, leading to the earliest model earning a spot as one of the game's most sought after creations.
$50 should be enough to add the Stormfront or Unnumbered Promotional prints to a collection, but the 1st Edition Wizard of the Coast version costs more than a brand new PlayStation 4. The days when Charizard could demand $1,000 are long gone, but the dragon still demands top dollar.
19 Umbreon Gold - Pop Series 5 ($450)
Pokémon Organized Play gathers players from all around the world to compete in the card game. In 2007, the final promotional set associated with the competitive program was released. Along with having the honor of seeing off a unique series of expansions, POP Series 5 marked one of the last times Japanese promo cards earned English translations.
POP Series 5's Shiny Espeon and Umbreon comfortably outshine the rest of the small set. Equally rare and expensive, the cards start at $450 and $490 respectively. Please note, Espeon and Umbreon can easily fetch more than $1,000 each. $450 is cheap!
18 Championship Arena ($499)
From 1998 until 2003, Hasbro's Wizards of the Coast was responsible for bringing Pokémon cards to an international audience. The publisher's experience handling Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons meant the company was a logical candidate to manage Media Factory's cards. Once Wizards of the Coast's run came to an end, Nintendo of America took over distribution in the West.
One of Nintendo's Black Star Promos, the Championship Arena was limited to tournament events. Unless someone participated in 2005's Pokémon World Championships or one of a handful other competitions, they were not getting their hands on this stadium card.
17 Machamp - Expedition ($699)
Typically, expansions update the roster to match the JRPG's current generation. Occasionally, a POP Series might hit shelves to celebrate a landmark event or tournament. Once in a while, an expansion outright alters the trading card game.
2001's Expedition Base Set shall feature prominently throughout this article. While none of its cards fetch a price anywhere near the absolutely rarest entries, no other expansion produced as many prestigious items. In order to be compatible with Nintendo's e-Reader, Expedition cards boast a unique design that lasted for only two subsequent expansions.
16 Machoke - Expedition ($699)
We love The Legend of Zelda and Super Metroid as much as the next person, but Nintendo likes its accessories a tad too passionately. In order to work with 2002's e-Reader, Expedition's cards were noticeably larger than their predecessors, even though they contained less immediately readable data. Competitively, few used Nintendo's accessory, so this was solely for Game Boy Advance owners.
Due to the larger design, booster packs had to be decreased from 11 to 9. Not a massive difference, but nonetheless a noteworthy one. Within two years, TCG dropped the e-Reader and reverted back to the original design.
15 Hoppip - Expedition ($799)
Seeking to convince international customers of the e-Reader's viability, Nintendo prompted Media Factory to publish ten cards from the soon to be released Expedition expansion as a Sample Set. Wizards of the Coast often altered the art for the Western versions, but the Sample Set merely translated the Japanese originals. "Sample" is scribbled on a card's bottom righthand corner to help differentiate these items from their younger siblings.
Uniqueness is prestigious. Without exception, the most expensive Expedition cards form part of the Sample Set.
13 Pichu - Expedition ($999)
In the world of collector's items, the Sample Set utterly overshadows the Expedition Base Set. Going by the narrative proposed by the last batch of entries, one may reasonably assume the common variants are not worth the plastic and paper they are printed on. Obviously, a normal Pichu cannot compare to its rarer sibling, but Expedition cards have aged better than most other expansions.
12 Gastly - Expedition ($999)
With the exception of one card, Gastly ranks as the Sample Set's top seller. Of all the potential Pokémon, these absurdly weak sentient clouds cost nearly $1,000. Once postage is taken into consideration, Hunger's useless predecessor breaks through the four-digit threshold. If nothing else, this article should clearly illustrate that a card's competitive significance has absolutely no correlation to its commercial value. Nobody uses Gastly in a match. Nobody!
How many children swap expensive cards due to disappointing stats? A fortune traded for a $4 Charizard. Who's bitter? We are not bitter.
11 Pikachu - Expedition ($5,999)
Pikachu rules Pokémon. The electrifying rat refuses to play second fiddle to any other Pocket Monster, and the same can be said for its cards. That's not to say all Pikachus are born equal, but Ash's lovable companion's presence tends to automatically promote a card's worth.
Now, in all fairness, eBay presently has only one listing for a Sample Set Pikachu; meanwhile, the other cards offer at least two options. If a collector ponies the $999 necessary to purchase Gastly, the ghost Pokémon's value suddenly skyrockets to $1,999.
10 Computer Error - Kamex Mega Battle ($9,999)
Promo cards are inherently difficult to obtain for anyone outside of the immediate target audience. Originally included with a monthly issue of CoroCoro comic, Computer Error was later distributed to players competing in 1998's Kamex Mega Battle tournaments. At the time, the Pokémon Trading Card Game had yet to garner an international release; consequently, barely any Western players own this card.
Computer Error earned a couple of reprints, but the Kamex Mega Battle iteration is far more costly than any of the others. Generally, Japanese cards trounce their English counterparts.
9 Articuno - Tropical Mega Battle ($9,999)
1997's Fossil Expansion marked the point all 150 Generation 1 Pokémon could be obtained as cards. Mew was released in Japan, but this privilege was not extended to everyone else. Fossil produced three Articunos with their own respective artwork. The majority of players should be familiar with the standard model, but the other two are worth a fortune.
The Articuno featured in the above picture was handed out as a prize during 1999's Tropical Mega Battle tournament. $9,999 is an insane amount of cash; however, the final Articuno is somehow rarer. In fact, there does not seem to be a copy on sale.
8 Tropical Wind ($10,000)
From 1999 to 2009, Tropical Wind scored six unique cards. As a rule, an artifact's age correlates positively with its commercial value. The English Tropical Wind awarded to participants of 2004's Worlds tournament should only set a buyer back approximately $7. Possibly breaking the $100 barrier, 2009's iteration warrants careful consideration.
Tropical Wind's original two models exist on a whole different level! Particularly, 1999's participation prize distributed at the Tropical Mega Battle tournament. Who knew a Japanese card could cost more than a car?
7 No. 3 Trainer Promo Card ($32,499)
Just for a minute, let's ignore a card's resell potential and focus solely on its personal value. After all, children and competitive players are presumably not to interest in whether they can turn a profit. The Pokémon Trading Card Game provides a sense of pride and satisfaction, especially if victory comes at the expense of a competitor's own pride and satisfaction.
No. 3 Trainer was handed out to the third highest ranked player of the annual World Championships. Who cares some of these cards fetch $30,000? Money does not compare to owning a No. 3 Trainer card. Wear it like a badge of honor.
6 Tropical Mega Battle No. 2 Trainer Card ($60,000)
Scattered across Japan, the Tropical Mega Battle consisted of 7 tournaments split by player level. Winners earned an invite to the finals held in Hawaii. A regions' top three players were awarded trainer cards with an Exeggutor on the cover. Champions could present their prize to benefit from preferential treatment at a Tropical Mega Battle event.
Topical Mega Battle trainer cards are astonishingly hard to locate. Currently, the No. 2 is listed for $60,000, but the others are nowhere to be found. Considering the silver medal costs so much, the gold must be worth more than a $100,000.
5 No. 1 Trainer Promo Card ($70,000)
The year is 1997. Pokémon's popularity spawned an anime, manga, multiple RPGs, and a card game. Nintendo, Game Freak, and Media Factory are surely aware they gave birth to a beast. An entity capable of owning the known universe! What better way to celebrate the franchise's achievements than a two-day competition? Hence, the Pokémon Card Game Official Tournament was born.
As multiple reprints were used in a handful of subsequent competitions, Pikachu's No. 1 Trainer card just falls shy of the most expensive cards ever produced. Nevertheless, a 5th place finish is nothing to cry about.
4 Kangaskhan - Parent/Child Promo Card ($133,000)
Thousands competed for the right to be named Pokémon's ultimate piece of merchandise, but promotional cards are the only candidates left standing. With the exception of one remaining entry, the most prestigious items are Japanese. Is this just the case in America and Europe? Are Japanese Collectors fighting over English cards?
Awarded as a prize at a 1998 tournament for teams featuring a parent and a child, Kangaskhan was instantly retired following the end of this single competition. $133,010 seems fair for such a unique piece of merch.
3 No. 2 Trainer Promo Card ($200,000)
Why does the No. 2 Trainer Card cost more than twice as much as the No. 1 Trainer card? A private seller does not equate a market. Certain cards are so impossible to find, buyers are fortunate to discover a single listing. Consequently, the owner has every right to attach whatever price they see fit.
Now, that does not mean customers are willing to pay $200,000 for a Pokémon card, but there is no harm in trying. In six months, the same card could easily be listed for less than $50,000.
2 Prerelease Raichu (UNKNOWN)
Hailed as Pokémon's Holy Grail, Prerelease Raichu refers to an estimated eight cards carrying a "PRERELEASE" stamp. Created by Wizards of the Coast, this card started out as little more than a myth, but they have been confirmed to exist. Raichu looks exactly the same as the Base Set standard version, with the stamp on the artwork serving as the sole differentiator.
Once news broke out about the existence of such a precious piece of merchandise, fakes quickly flooded the market. The above photo should be a legitimate copy, but Prerelease Raichu is so rare, doubts tend to persist.
1 Pikachu Illustrator (UNKNOWN)
Here it is! A card so rare, it is assumed fewer than 40 exist. As of this moment, an Illustrator card is not on sale anywhere on the internet. Regardless of what the future holds, this item is practically priceless. What is the story behind this drawing Pikachu? In the late '90s, CoroCoro Comic ran three contests inviting readers to design their own artwork.
The winning artists received a pack of cards branded with their own drawing and an Illustrator card. Hopefully, they took good care of the latter.