On October 9th, influencer Logan Paul opened a sealed box of 1st Edition Base Set Pokémon cards on stream, finding (among other things) an incredibly rare 1st Edition Charizard. Also on the 9th, a pristine version of that same card went up for auction, ultimately selling to rapper Logic for $183,812.
As covered by our finance guru Cassie, this set off a price spike among old, rare Pokémon cards as the internet caught fire with the news that cardboard from the 90's could be worth thousands of dollars. It's been six months since those initial spikes, so today we're going to see whether those cards held their value.
But before we do that, let's warm up with a card that current players of the Pokémon TCG will be familiar with.
Here's the price history for Dedenne-GX (sm10-57), a competitive staple of the Standard format, from when it was first printed until the end of March 2021. The blue line is the average price at which the card sold, and the green bars indicate the relative number of copies sold. The red-highlighted bars mark the week of March 15th, when the CDC issued guidelines recommending against gatherings of 50 or more people. The pink highlights mark the week of the first Logan Paul unboxing.
As you can see, the pandemic coincided with a substantial drop in Dedenne's price as in-person events were put on hold. The price recovered, but fell again when an alternate art version of the card was printed in the product-hover id="214360" on June 26, 2020. There's a slight climb in Dedenne's price a few weeks after the Logan Paul unboxing, but it's nothing compared to the card's previous highs.
That's what "normal" looks like. For modern Pokémon cards (anything printed in the last five years), Logan Paul's unboxing was just a blip on the radar.
Now let's look at some cards with a closer resemblance to the ones Logan Paul unboxed. Here's the price history for Venusaur (base1-15). Like Logan Paul's Charizard, this card is a rare holo from the first set of Pokémon cards released in the US. However, I'm looking at the more common (and less expensive) version from the Unlimited print run instead of the 1st Edition, since it moves hands more often and will give us clearer data.
Now we can see the Logan Paul Effect in action. The week after his unboxing, the price spiked hard when a copy sold for $250 for the first time. That's 1250% above the $20 this card was averaging consistently through 2019.
The price immediately plummeted from that high, but it never returned to $20, instead, it has ricocheted wildly between $57 and $210. This extreme variance is likely due to the premium that Pokémon collectors place on the condition of their cards. The difference between near mint and lightly played can be 25% or more, easily. If more LPs get sold on a given day, the average price sold goes down; if more NMs, it goes up.
It's worth noting that the price started picking up well before Logan Paul's box opening, with the first $100 copy sold in June 2020. Paul has claimed that the rise in Pokémon card prices preceded his involvement, and it looks like this wasn't false modesty. The actual reasons for the mid-pandemic Poké-rush are murky, but contributing factors include:
Let's see if Venusaur's price trend is matched on other Base Set cards. Like Charizard (base1-4).
It sure looks that way. This graph is harder to read because of the lone purchase at over $4500, but the pattern is the same. Charizard's price was consistent in 2019 (~$50), started climbing in May (~$250), spiked after the Logan Paul unboxing ($600), and has been high but erratic ever since. Charizard is even more erratic than Venusaur—even ignoring those massive outliers in November, just in March its average price has varied from $625 to $250. But it isn't $50 anymore, that's for sure.
The same pattern applies to Base Set uncommons…
...and even to commons.
It also applies to cards from Jungle, the Pokémon set after Base Set.
After finding the pattern so many places, I wondered if it applied to more recent cards. If people are willing to pay hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars for a Charizard from 1999, how much are they willing to pay for Charizard-EX (xy2-11)?
More than they were before Logan Paul screamed for two hours. Does this apply to cards not named Charizard?
It does! But Venusaur is another Gen I Pokémon. Surely this pattern won't hold for Pokémon that the average Millenial won't recognize, like Xerneas-EX (xy1-146)?
The magnitude of the Effect varies by card, but the same pattern holds for nearly every rare Pokémon card prior to 2017: they picked up in value around May, then took off again after Logan Paul.
That said, there are limits to the Logan Paul Effect. Cards had to be some combination of old, rare, and recognizable to see a lift. Looking at cards from the Sun & Moon era, Logan Paul is irrelevant, even to Charizard-GX (sm3-20).
2020 looks a lot like 2019 in this graph.
So what does this mean for you? If you own rare cards from the XY era or earlier, congratulations! They're probably worth more now than they were a year ago.
Where will they go from here? If this is a price bubble, it's an especially tenacious bubble to still be buoying prices six months later. On the other hand, very few cards have risen above the peak they hit in the few weeks after the Logan Paul stream, so maybe that was the bubble, and this is just the new normal?
When Cassie was first covering the LPE, Chansey (base1-3) had just spiked from a $5 card to a $50 card. I've yet to meet someone whose favorite Pokémon is Chansey, so the 1000% jump was in some ways even more impressive than Charizard's meteoric rise. Let's look at what's happened to it since then.
(I'm ignoring 2019 to zoom in further.) We can see that Chansey held its $50+ high for exactly one day, before it dropped back down to $25 dollars. In the months since, it has gone as high as $45 and as low as $5, while usually hovering somewhere around the $20 mark.
That sudden drop sure looks like a bubble bursting to me. What distinguishes it from all the other one-day price spikes is that it was preceded by unique spike in demand.
Remember, the green bars are the relative number of copies sold (TCGplayer doesn't share precise sales figures). There are multiple spikes in demand over this period, but all the others were caused by a tiny number of buyers picking up multiple playsets each. Generally buyers do that when they are planning to resell the cards at a later date—in that sense, it's not "real" demand, but anticipated demand. But on October 24th (and only October 24th), the number of individual buyers greatly surpassed the average number of copies they each bought. For one brief moment, the internet collectively said, "I'd like to own one Chansey now, please." And they were willing to pay around $20 each for the privilege.
A comparatively small number of people have bought Chansey each day since the 24th, including on the 29th when the average sold price hit its zenith. That makes me think the bubble has come and gone, and the higher prices over the last six months are just a normal market correction. It makes sense that Chansey's average price this year has been around $20—that's roughly how expensive it was when everyone bought their copies on the 24th. That's how much most Chansey buyers are willing to pay.
Chansey is the clearest example I could find of organic demand spiking and dropping so dramatically. But if we look at other Base Set cards, a similar pattern emerges in the months after the Logan Paul unboxing.
I've marked artificial demand spikes in yellow and organic demand spikes in red, with orange marking demand that could be either. Let's return to some of the Base Set cards we've already talked about.
Base Set Charizard and Kadabra both had very narrow bands of increased organic demand in October and November, which caused their prices to spike to their highest point (ignoring the extreme outlier of the $4500+ Charizard). After that, organic demand died down, and prices leveled off higher than they'd been pre-LPE.
Base Set Venusaur never had an organic spike in demand, but the artificial spikes drove it to the same pattern.
In all three cases, organic demand has petered off since the highs immediately surrounding the Logan Paul unboxing. But prices are still higher, and they're likely to stay that way. There are only so many Base Set Pokémon cards in the world, and every time there's a rush on them, the number of copies in the hands of willing sellers will decrease. This is the new normal for Base Set cards.
More recent cards are a different story.
Venusaur-EX and Xerneas-EX saw minimal speculation by resellers, but have enjoyed a lengthy period of organic demand. Xerneas is still riding the wave of its demand, though Venusaur's has finished cresting.
Charizard-EX had more price speculation, but it has also enjoyed sustained organic demand. We can tell that by looking at the number of days in each month that at least one copy was sold. January-March 2020 looks shorter than October-December 2020 or January-March 2021 because there were more days in early 2020 when this card didn't sell at all.
To me, this pattern of sustained, organic demand for recent cards looks both more "real" (organic), and more temporary, than the short bursts of demand for Base Set cards. In both cases, demand won't sustain indefinitely. Logan Paul is going to look for other fads he can exploit for views, and the cultural conversation will move on. When that happens, I expect interest in all but the most nostalgic cards is going to drop, and cards from 2010 and beyond just don't have the scarcity to hold on to their price gains in the same way. The Base Set price bubble has passed us by, but the general card bubble is moving in slow motion.
Then again, maybe the proper takeaway from this whole experience is that the future is hard to predict. Who'd have thought a terrible human screaming for two hours could affect the market this much? And who knows when another terrible human will scream again, sending Charizard and friends to even greater heights?