2021 was a big year for the Pokémon TCG. Pandemic-influenced spending habits, a resurgence of Poké-mania, and the 25th anniversary of Pocket Monsters: Red and Green in Japan all collided to create what may have been the most successful year in the game's history.

The Pokémon Company International committed early in the year to addressing the supply issues that had plagued 2020, so while the demand for cards was high, the supply was (eventually) there to match it. Chase Pokémon cards like Shadow Rider Calyrex VMAX (swsh6-205) all followed a similar pattern in 2021: they were very expensive during prerelease, then they dropped in price after their set released, and dropped again throughout the year as TPCi printed more booster packs from the set.

This policy of "rewaving" Pokémon sets meant that by the end of December, only the most sought-after cards could maintain high price. Here are the Pokémon cards from 2021 that managed to stay expensive for the whole year.

#10: Alt-Art Galarian Moltres V (Chilling Reign)

The Galarian versions of the Legendary Birds hit a nice balance between shiny-new-thing and nostalgia-bait that players and collectors loved. While Chilling Reign also featured alternate art versions of Galarian Articuno V (swsh6-170) and Galarian Zapdos V (swsh6-174), Moltres came out ahead of both of them, thanks in no small part to Shibuzoh's striking work with a restricted color palette.

While Galarian Moltres V's price has dipped since its highs in July, it seems to have stabilized at just over $80.

#9: Alt-Art Sylveon VMAX (Evolving Skies)

There's no question that Evolving Skies was the best-received Pokémon set in 2021, with 30% of the year's 10 most expensive cards. Sylveon VMAX has found a little competitive success headlining a Rapid Strike deck full of off-type Pokémon to maximize the damage of Max Harmony. But that probably had less of an effect on Sylveon's popularity than the gorgeous pastel wonderland Taira Akitsu illustrated for this alternate-art version.

Sylveon VMAX has bounced back from its historic low in late December and stabilized at just over $90.

#8: Alt-Art Espeon VMAX (Fusion Strike)

Spare a thought for poor Mew VMAX (swsh8-269). Despite getting top billing in Fusion Strike and dominating recent Pokémon Trading Card Game tournaments, the mythic Pokémon couldn't crack the top 10 most valuable cards of 2021. Instead, it was overshadowed in price by two different Pokémon from its own set!

The first usurper is this adorable Espeon, who seems to be taking a break from looking aloof to catch a cat nap on the roof of a European townhouse.

We can only hope Espeon VMAX's perch on that house is more stable than its perch on the top of the collector's market. Espeon VMAX has slid in price every week since its release, recently reaching a new low of $93. It's not likely to rebound until players stop opening so many packs of Fusion Strike—so, not until Brilliant Stars releases, at the earliest.

#7: Alt-Art Blaziken VMAX (Chilling Reign)

If you had given me three tries to predict the most valuable card from Chilling Reign back when it was released in June, I still wouldn't have guessed Blaziken VMAX. Shigenori Negishi's cartoony illustration mixes art styles and leaves me scratching my head. But clearly I'm missing something, because muli-story Blaziken has captured more collectors' hearts than Zeraora V (swsh6-166), Galarian Rapidash V (swsh6-168), or any of the 16 (!) versions of Calyrex on a horse. It pays to stand out.

That's not to say Blaziken VMAX's road to financial success has been easy. It too has been on the decline throughout 2021, hitting an all-time low Market Price just before Christmas. It's now a teensy bit higher, but I can't promise we've seen the bottom of this card's popularity.

#6: Alt-Art Gengar VMAX (Fusion Strike)

The second usurper of Mew VMAX (swsh8-269) rightful place is this alternate art version of Dynamax Gengar inhaling a small forest.

During preview season for Fusion Strike, Gengar VMAX was hailed as the Single Strike's best chance at being a relevant deck. In the weeks since release however, Single Strike Urshifu has found its own success as one of the few attackers fast and strong enough to disrupt Mew VMAX (swsh8-114) combo with Genesect V (swsh8-185). Gengar VMAX has fallen by the wayside, the "weaker" version of Single Strike against Mew.

Gengar VMAX may be only middling competitively, but it's the real deal financially. It hit its floor in early December at $100, and has hovered around $106 ever since. It's easy to forget, but Gengar is by some measures the most popular Pokémon in the U.S., with four other $100+ cards in the Pokémon TCG. If you're interested in this big-mouthed balloon, I would buy it now. Alt-art Gengar VMAX isn't likely to drop further in 2022.

#5: Charizard (Celebrations Metal Card)

This promo card is the fance-pantsiest reprint of the Charizard (base1-4), only available in the product-hover id="245140" from the most-hyped set of 2021.

So why is it only #5 on this list?

The product-hover id="245140" is bursting with value: eight regular booster packs, 17 Celebrations packs, and four guaranteed promos. Thanks to a wave of new Celebrations product in December, the UPC has a market price of $262—still above the MSRP of $119.99, but far lower than the $445 it was selling for in November. At that rate, anyone with a few hundred dollars to spend on Pokémon cards is much more likely to pick up the UPC itself than to buy the metal Charizard promo as a single.

To make matters more complicated, there's concern from the community that The Pokémon Company could further devalue Metal Charizard, either by distributing a third wave of Ultra Premium Collections, or by reissuing the promos from the UPC in a lower-end product.

At the end of the day, guaranteed promo cards are only as valuable as the products they come in. Even if they're made of metal.

#4: Charizard VMAX (Shining Fates)

Shining Fates Charizard VMAX managed to beat out the Charizard VMAX (swsh3-20) from Darkness Ablaze, but couldn't quite reach the heights of the Charizard VMAX (swsh35-74). It's currently hovering around $130, safely above its early December low of $119.35, and miles ahead of the next most valuable card in Shining Fates, Suicune (swsh45sv-SV022).

At this point, if you're buying product-hover id="232636", it's almost exclusively so you can open this card.

#3: Alt-Art Rayquaza VMAX (Evolving Skies)

With its card draw ability and fast, hard-hitting attack, Rayquaza VMAX (swsh7-111) once looked like the biggest competitive Pokémon card to come out of Evolving Skies. Rayquaza ultimately failed to perform at tournaments, but that hasn't stopped the Dynamax dragon from building a following among collectors.

After hitting a low in the week before Christmas, Rayquaza has soared back to over $160, and I wouldn't expect it to go lower anytime soon. Folks love dragons.

#2: Special Delivery Bidoof

That's right: the most valuable Charizard card of 2021 was actually a Bidoof.

In honor of Bidoof Day, trainers who signed up to receive the Pokémon Center newsletter before July 1st 2021 got a special email asking if they were interested in receiving this promo card. Of those who said yes, some got a promo code they could use on the Pokémon Center shopping cart to get their Bidoof card with a $20+ purchase.

All unclaimed codes expired at the end of 2021, so if you didn't get this card last year, your only option is the secondary market, where this hard-working Bidoof is currently over $160.

#1: Alt-Art Umbreon VMAX

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Most Pokémon are either designed to look cute (Pikachu (swsh7-49)) or dangerous (Charizard VMAX (swsh3-20)). But the franchise is at its best when it subverts the expectations of those two extremes: when Pikachu Pikachu Star (ex13-104), or when a giant dinosaur takes a Tyranitar V (swsh5-155).

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Umbreon's entire design is a subversion of the cute and cuddly appearance of Eevee's evolutions. At this point, there are so many depictions of Umbreon looking dangerous and intense we made them into a list. So it's unexpected, and refreshing, that when KEIICHIRO ITO got a chance to illustrate a version of Umbreon that by all rights should have been the most menacing, they took it in the opposite direction.

What does a Umbreon-GX (smp-SM36) do when it's Umbreon VMAX (swsh7-95)? It climbs the tallest tower it can find and poke, poke, pokes the moon.

KEIICHIRO ITO's art isn't the only reason Umbreon VMAX is so prized. Umbreon is insanely popular, Dark Signal is a wicked strong ability, and any card will be worth something if you have to open thousands of packs to find it. But I'm certain that alt-art Umbreon VMAX was the most expensive Pokémon card in 2021 thanks to KEIICHIRO ITO's clever, subversive illustration.