If you're a millennial, you've probably never held a Black Lotus or a Mickey Mantle rookie card. But I bet you've held this:

When Pokéfever took over playgrounds in 1999, Charizard was the card everybody wanted. I don't remember anything from my fourth grade rock science unit, but I clearly remember assembling a portfolio of holographic cards so I could trade them all for a single Charizard… which I then traded away for a Haunter when my friend wouldn't accept anything else. Chances are, you have a similar story of love, loss, and regret involving this card.

Charizard's supremacy wasn't inevitable. In those halcyon days, all Holo Rare cards from Alakazam to Zapdos were printed in the same quantities. Charizard wasn't any more scarce than Chansey or Hitmonchan. The actual trading card game was dominated by strong Basic attackers like Electabuzz and Scyther.

None of that mattered in the barter-and-burglary economy of late-20th century grade schools. Charizard was indisputably cool. It was a dragon! It was the final evolution of one of the three starting Pokémon, but it wasn't a bulky turtle or a wide-mouthed houseplant. In the anime, Charizard was Ash's strongest Pokémon but refused to obey him. Fierce and untamable, Charizard had more personality than every other Holo Rare in the set. And if you had one, you were cool by proxy.

To the surprise of industry outsiders, Charizard's schoolyard popularity translated into real economic value. Archived versions of the Beckett Pokémon Collector magazine (launched in September 1999) show that Charizard quickly became the most valuable Holo Rare in the set.

These raw prices only tell part of the story. To quantify exactly how popular Charizard was, we have to look at how trading cards accrue value in the first place.

A Crash Course on Trading Card Economics

Like any other commodity, trading cards are ruled by supply and demand.

Publishers control the supply by printing different cards at different rarities. Base Set booster packs for example contained five commons, three uncommons, two energy cards, and a final card that was either a normal rare (~66%) or a holo rare (~33%).

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Since there were fewer holo rares in the world than commons, holo rares like Poliwrath were (and are) more expensive than commons like Pikachu.

The other variable that determines price is demand. If you've played Magic: The Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh, you're probably used to cards being expensive because they're powerful. Playability matters in Pokémon too, but not nearly as much. More 90's kids cared about collecting and trading Pokémon cards than actually playing with them. Charizard's a prime example: as a Stage 2 Pokémon, Charizard was too slow for competitive play, and its fearsome Fire Spin attack ate energy like a dying desktop. But kids wanted Charizard anyway, for a complicated matrix of reasons we can adequately summarize as, "it was cool."

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Modern Pokémon prices work the same way. While tournament staples like Crobat V are typically worth a bit more than cards of comparable rarity, they're outclassed by cards featuring beloved Pokémon like Mew V.

Putting a Price on Love

Like all Pokémon cards, Charizard's price was determined by its scarcity and its popularity. So to properly quantify its popularity, we have to factor out its scarcity.

Imagine if every Base Set Holo Rare had been equally popular. For every kid who wanted a Gyarados, there was another kid who wanted a Nidoking just as much, and so on. Since all Holo Rares were printed in the same quantities, every Holo Rare would have had equivalent supply and demand, and therefore, they'd all have had the same price. What would that price have been?

(Note that it doesn't matter how popular each card was, as long as they were equally popular. That's because in TCGs, demand directly impacts supply. If a set is popular, more packs get opened, and more singles enter circulation. If a set isn't popular, fewer packs are opened, and the number of singles available goes down.)

To find the answer, we simply average the price of every Holo Rare in the set. Machamp is excluded because it wasn't available in regular booster packs.

Card Market Price Average Price Percent Over Average Value
Alakazam

$14.95

$12.22

22.37%

Blastoise

$18.95

55.12%

Chansey

$8.95

-26.74%

Charizard

$59.95

390.72%

Clefairy

$5.95

-51.30%

Gyarados

$4.95

-59.48%

Hitmonchan

$4.95

-59.48%

Magneton

$4.95

-59.48%

Mewtwo

$7.95

-34.92%

Nidoking

$4.95

-59.48%

Ninetales

$4.95

-59.48%

Poliwrath

$6.95

-43.11%

Raichu

$9.95

-18.55%

Venusaur

$14.95

22.37%

Zapdos

$9.95

-18.55%

The average price of a Base Set Holo Rare in 2000 was $12.22. Given that, Charizard's actual price was 390% higher than it would have been if every Holo Rare had been equally popular. To put it another way, if you bought a Charizard card in 2000, you were paying 390% more for the privilege of getting a Holo Rare with Charizard on it, instead of any other Pokémon.

We might call this the Charizard Tax: the premium a Pokémon card accrues due to having Charizard on it.

Death, Taxes, and Charizard

What's surprising is that the Charizard Tax still applies today, even to cards printed in the last two years. Two decades after Base Set, Charizard cards still command a premium over cards of comparable scarcity.

The exact size of this premium varies. For example, let's look at two versions of Charizard GX from 2019's Hidden Fates.

Card Market Price Average Price Percent Over Average Price
Charizard GX

$5.71

$2.42

136.28%

Gyarados GX

$1.99

-17.66%

Mewtwo GX

$2.17

-10.21%

Moltres & Zapdos & Articuno GX

$4.26

76.28%

Onix GX

$1.71

-29.24%

Pinsir GX

$1.48

-38.76%

Raichu GX

$1.47

-39.17%

Starmie GX

$1.45

-40.00%

Wigglytuff GX

$1.51

-37.52%

The Ultra Rare (read: normal) version of Charizard GX in Hidden Fates was the most valuable Pokémon GX, but it only barely edged out Moltres & Zapdos & Articuno GX.

Card Market Price Average Price Percent Over Average Price
Alolan Ninetales GX

$17.07

$31.16

-45.21%

Altaria GX

$11.96

-61.61%

Articuno GX

$16.40

-47.36%

Banette GX

$4.88

-84.34%

Buzzwole GX

$4.06

-86.97%

Charizard GX

$429.26

1277.69%

Darkrai GX

$25.39

-18.51%

Decidueye GX

$10.65

-65.82%

Drampa GX

$7.78

-75.03%

Electrode GX

$12.50

-59.88%

Espeon GX

$62.28

99.88%

Gardevoir GX

$25.84

-17.07%

Glaceon GX

$20.70

-33.56%

Golisopod GX

$4.77

-84.69%

Greninja GX

$28.75

-7.73%

Guzzlord GX

$6.71

-78.46%

Ho-Oh GX

$20.58

-33.95%

Kartana GX

$3.90

-87.48%

Leafeon GX

$35.66

14.45%

Lucario GX

$20.85

-33.08%

Lycanroc GX (SV66)

$6.23

-80.01%

Lycanroc GX (SV67)

$8.02

-74.26%

Mewtwo GX

$47.19

51.45%

Naganadel GX

$6.33

-79.68%

Nihilego GX

$8.75

-71.92%

Noivern GX

$13.11

-57.92%

Reshiram GX

$16.23

-47.91%

Scizor GX

$23.31

-25.19%

Silvally GX

$8.29

-73.39%

Stakataka GX

$6.12

-80.36%

Sylveon GX

$72.55

132.85%

Tapu Bulu GX

$17.74

-43.06%

Tapu Fini GX

$27.53

-11.64%

Tapu Koko GX

$19.91

-36.10%

Tapu Lele GX

$28.02

-10.07%

Turtonator GX

$6.29

-79.81%

Umbreon GX

$114.09

266.17%

Xurkitree GX

$7.28

-76.64%

The Shiny Holo Rare (read: actually rare) version of Charizard GX fares much better, and is currently more than 1200% more expensive than the average Shiny Holo Rare from Hidden Fates.

Why the huge difference? There are a few factors at play. First, it matters what other Pokémon Charizard is sharing the spotlight with. Moltres & Zapdos & Articuno GX is three Legendary Pokémon on one card, so it naturally eats up more of the value in the Ultra Rare slot, blunting Charizard's advantage. The competition among Shiny Holo Rares wasn't as stiff.

Second, card rarity and scarcity don't match up quite as neatly today as they did in 1999. The Pokémon Company likes to print cards of the same rarity at slightly different rates. They don't disclose their print rates, but retailers who open hundreds of booster packs routinely find cards that are more or less scarce than advertised. These variations are smaller than the difference between printed rarities—you'll never find a Secret Rare that was printed in higher quantities than an Ultra Rare from the same set. But they're big enough to impact prices.

According to reliable sources, Shiny Holo Rare Charizard GX had a pull rate of 0.26%, while other cards of the same rarity ranged from 0.60% to 0.09%. That lower-than-average rate certainly contributed to Charizard's outsize price—though not as much as Charizard's incredible popularity. Even accounting for these purported print rates, Charizard GX was still 1084.48% more valuable than it "should" have been, given its scarcity.

Card Market Price Average Price Percent Over Average Price
Charizard VMAX (Secret)

$187.15

$42.84

336.86%

Drednaw VMAX (Secret)

$7.44

-82.63%

Gardevoir VMAX (Secret)

$10.55

-75.37%

Kabu (Secret)

$4.04

-90.57%

Piers (Secret)

$5.02

-88.28%

Among the Secret Rares of Champion's Path, Charizard VMAX has a healthy premium of 336% over the average. It might have been higher if Charizard VMAX didn't have to share the spotlight with another Charizard card, product-hover id="223078". Since it's the only Shiny Pokémon V in the set, there isn't anything to compete Shiny Charizard V to.

Card Market Price Average Price Percent Over Average Price
Butterfree V

$1.39

$1.79

-22.47%

Centiskorch V

$1.19

-33.63%

Charizard V

$6.37

255.30%

Crobat V

$1.97

9.88%

Eternatus V

$1.61

-10.20%

Galarian Slowbro V

$0.99

-44.78%

Galarian Stunfisk V

$1.32

-26.37%

Grimmsnarl V

$1.09

-39.20%

Houndoom V

$1.26

-29.72%

Mew V

$2.77

54.50%

Rhyperior V

$1.15

-35.86%

Salamence V

$1.44

-19.68%

Scizor V

$1.49

-16.89%

Vikavolt V

$1.06

-40.88%

In Darkness Ablaze, Charizard V had to compete with Crobat V, a tournament staple, and Mew V, which has Mew on it. Both cards wrestled value away from Charizard V, leaving it with a relatively modest premium of 255%.

Card Market Price Average Price Percent Over Average Price
Butterfree VMAX

$2.83

$12.00

-76.41%

Centiskorch VMAX

$2.88

-75.99%

Charizard VMAX

$63.94

432.96%

Eternatus VMAX

$4.55

-62.07%

Grimmsnarl VMAX

$2.55

-78.74%

Salamence VMAX

$4.29

-64.24%

Scizor VMAX

$2.94

-75.49%

Charizard VMAX soundly crushed competitive big-shot Eternatus VMAX in Darkness Ablaze, even though Charizard VMAX is generally unplayable.

Card Market Price Average Price Percent Over Average Price
Toxtricity VMAX

$4.57

$24.52

-81.36%

Centiskorch VMAX

$3.62

-85.23%

Charizard VMAX

$153.38

525.63%

Ditto VMAX

$9.44

-61.49%

Eternatus VMAX

$10.59

-56.80%

Grimmsnarl VMAX

$4.67

-80.95%

Lapras VMAX

$5.74

-76.59%

Rillaboom VMAX

$4.12

-83.19%

Charizard VMAX went on to crush every other card in Shining Fates' Shiny Vault. Even restricting our view to other Pokémon VMAX, Charizard came out with a premium over 500%.

Card Market Price Average Price Percent Over Average Price
______'s Pikachu

$18.20

$18.66

-2.45%

Blastoise

$22.76

21.99%

Charizard

$158.11

747.45%

Claydol

$1.04

-94.43%

Cleffa

$4.17

-77.65%

Dark Gyarados

$4.10

-78.02%

Donphan (Prime)

$4.01

-78.51%

Garchomp C LV.X

$8.05

-56.85%

Gardevoir ex (Delta Species)

$12.04

-35.47%

Here Comes Team Rocket!

$1.43

-92.34%

Imposter Professor Oak

$1.19

-93.62%

Luxray GL LV.X

$7.25

-61.14%

M Rayquaza EX

$19.51

4.57%

Mew ex

$12.26

-34.29%

Mewtwo EX

$19.09

2.32%

Reshiram

$8.84

-52.62%

Rocket's Admin

$2.02

-89.17%

Rocket's Zapdos

$5.09

-72.72%

Shining Magikarp

$36.75

96.97%

Tapu Lele GX

$10.89

-41.63%

Team Magma's Groudon

$2.37

-87.30%

Umbreon Star

$70.17

276.10%

Venusaur

$17.93

-3.90%

Xerneas EX

$7.84

-57.98%

Zekrom

$11.32

-39.33%

Finally, in late 2021, it all came full circle. The Celebrations reprint of Base Set Charizard surpassed the premium its predecessor had in 2000, by a huge margin.

None of the cards in Classic Collection are playable in modern formats, so just like in 1999, the differences in price come down to aesthetics. In that department, Charizard has no competition. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that this isn't just any Charizard—it's a reprint of the card that broke so many hearts last century.

What Have We Learned?

No matter what year it is, Pokémon cards are worth more if they have Charizard on them. While some Pokémon came close, none of the cards analyzed above were more valuable than a Charizard in the same set of equivalent rarity. At this point, Charizard's mystique probably perpetuates itself. People expect Charizard cards to be valuable, so they are.

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This doesn't mean Charizard cards are always the most valuable cards, period. Rayquaza VMAX (swsh7-218), Umbreon VMAX (swsh7-215), and Pikachu VMAX (swsh4-188) all beat out Charizard VMAX (swsh45sv-SV107) for the title of highest-value card printed in the Sword & Shield era. But their respective sets (Evolving Skies and Vivid Voltage) didn't include Charizard cards. If they had, history suggests Charizard would have gobbled up more of the set's value, forcing the other cards lower in price.

How valuable will a Charizard card be in some future set? Unfortunately, this data can't predict that with any certainty. Between 2019 and 2021, the Charizard Tax varied from 136% to 1277%, averaging 512%. That's quite a range. Our approach also can't fully account for The Pokémon Company's opaque print rates. If they print Charizard cards in higher quantities than some cards of equivalent rarity—as they're believed to have done in Celebrations—that will keep the Charizard Tax in check.

In general though, if you're buying a Charizard card, you should expect to pay between 300% and 600% more than you would if Charizard were just another of the hundreds of Pokémon in the franchise. But of course, if you were there in 1999, Charizard isn't just another Pokémon to you. It's the sound of a bell calling you to recess, and rubber dodgeballs bouncing on asphalt. It's your friends gasping as you open your Power Rangers-brand card binder. It's your heart racing as you imagine, for the first time, what it would feel like if nobody in the world could tell you what to do. Because you were best friends with a dragon.

It's hard to put a price on that.