It's no secret: vintage Pokémon has never been hotter.
Old school Pokémon cards exploded in 2020, and for all the talk of market bubbles and a potential hobby-wide correction, prices are still continuing to climb. That Gem Mint 1st Edition Charizard that sold for $220,574 in October was huge, in fact it was the first time that card broke six figures at auction. But a month and a half later another PSA 10 copy auctioned for $295,300. Then, when a prototype "Presentation" Blastoise was auctioned in January, it tied the record for the most expensive English language Pokémon card ever sold, at a total of $360,000.
Logan Paul just publicized his most recent purchase last week, buying up half a dozen displays of Base Set 1st Edition for between $325,000 and $350,000 apiece. Not only does that remove a considerable number of boxes from the market, Paul's auctioning off 24 of the 36 packs from one of those displays in another box break; an online streamed event where he'll open the individual packs on behalf of their winners, for all the world to see. As of this writing, bids for each of the individual packs stand at anywhere from $16,000 to $26,000, with a day and a half of bidding left.
You're welcome to do the math on the immediate profit there, but the bigger question concerns the value of Paul's remaining five boxes; what will they be worth when the February 27th box break stream is over, and the secondary market has time to adjust? To some, it seems likely that the sheer hype of the event will drive the value of sealed vintage Pokémon even higher.
That's great if you've had a treasure trove of old Pokémon cards hiding in your closet for the past 20+ years. But for those of us that don't? Well, there's still good news.
The bulk of the hype surrounding the Pokémon TCG market in the past year has revolved around classic cards made in the Wizards of the Coast era - the span of time between 1998 and 2003, when the same company responsible for Magic: The Gathering was licensed to translate and distribute Pokémon. That license was transferred to The Pokémon Company International in October of 2003 by Nintendo, resulting in a lawsuit from Wizards and eventually an out of court settlement.
The license has remained with The Pokémon Company ever since, but the sets published by Wizards - sixteen of them in total, from Base Set to Skyridge - are now prized for the fact that they're far less likely to ever be reprinted. Reprints may in fact be impossible, depending on the legal details. It's those sixteen sets that most collectors now consider to be "vintage."
So does that mean vintage Pokémon is the only stuff worth collecting? For a while, the stability of those older sets led many to believe that was the case. But now, month over month we're seeing modern Pokémon cards perform in a stable fashion as well, and many are continuing to rise in value just like the old stuff. While vintage Pokémon was largely defined by Holo Rare cards that usually appeared in 1 out of every 3 boosters, modern Pokémon is loaded with all sorts of different types of 'hits', and that's created lots of potential for new must-haves in the eyes of collectors.
The term "hit" is borrowed from the sportscard world, and it refers to a more prized class of cards that usually stand out from more basic ones in a given set: you can argue where the line is, but cards like VMAX Pokemon, Secret Rares, Full Art variants, and Shiny Pokémon generally fit the definition. And while plenty of those hits are just bad GX Pokémon nobody really cares about (…at least for now), many of them cost hundreds of dollars on the secondary market, and some seem destined to become even more valuable in time.
So today I want to give you a look at the best cards you could pull from modern Pokémon packs. We're going to look at the biggest hits from roughly the last year and a half of the Pokémon TCG, and we've got a few rules: first, we'll only discuss cards from wide retail releases - no hyper scarce staff promos or error cards. Second, we're going by average Near Mint prices, not PSA 10 all-time highs. Lots of YouTubers love to crack open packs and then claim they just opened a thousand dollar card without getting it graded.
We'll stick to un-graded, "raw" values based on current Market Price in the TCGplayer marketplace - always a good indicator for the true value of a card as you might open it from a pack yourself. If you happen to pull a Gem Mint copy and you get it graded at a high rating, hey, congrats! But we're going to be realistic and just work off solid baselines.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, we'll try to keep to packs you can still find on store shelves. Depending on where you live a lot of these sets may cost a big premium at your local game store, or you might have to outwit the scalpers prowling your local big box on restock day. But if you're lucky enough, and you time it right, these cards are at least still out there to be found.
Let's start big. And I mean really big.
The latest core booster set in the Pokémon TCG, Vivid Voltage arrived in November of last year, delivering one of the highest value cards of modern Pokémon releases: the rainbow Secret Rare version of Pikachu VMAX (swsh4-188) (also known as "Thicc Pikachu"). While a regular version of Pikachu VMAX (swsh4-44) appears in Vivid Voltage as well, commanding a solid value of $30, the Secret Rare's the real prize with a whopping value of $375.
Also big in Vivid Voltage? The Pikachu V (swsh4-170) variant is the set's next biggest hit at $75 and up, while the rainbow Secret Rare Nessa is approaching 60 bucks.
Easily the most hyped release in 2020, Champion's Path had two massive hits: the rainbow Secret Rare version of Charizard VMAX, and the Shiny variant of Charizard V. Both cards are going for about $300 right now, with the rainbow Charizard edging out the Shiny by about 20 dollars.
Champion's Path was huge when it dropped back in September, and it was rolled out in small waves instead of one big drop. (Shining Fates is getting the same treatment starting this month.) You also couldn't buy booster packs like a regular release: Champion's Path was only available in a range of special boxes and collector's sets. That meant product was scarce, especially the fan-favorite Elite Trainer Box featuring Charizard. It also meant a ton of cancelled preorders as stores struggled to fill customer orders; the shortage threw collectors into a panic and whipped fans into a frenzy.
With collectors and flippers snapping up so much of the available product, stalking stores and buying out Pokemoncenter.com re-ups in minutes, those elite Trainer Boxes (ETBs) are still tough to find at retail. But other products like Champion's Path Collection [Dubwool V] and Champion's Path Collection [Hatterene V] have Champion's Path boosters too, and they're becoming a lot easier to find.
That rainbow Secret Rare Charizard VMAX from Champion's Path first appeared one month prior in August, without the rainbow foiling, as a regular Charizard VMAX (swsh3-20). That version's "only" worth about $100, but Darkness Ablaze is loaded with top competitive cards - stuff like Crobat V (swsh3-104), Eternatus VMAX (swsh3-117), and Decidueye (swsh3-13) - as well as plenty of hits in the 10 to 30 dollar range.
Darkness Ablaze isn't tough to find on store shelves and boxes are pretty affordable, so it's a great set if you're a tournament player, or a collector on a budget.
Charizard & Braixen-GX (sm12-251)
Looking back to November of 2019, sealed product starts getting tougher to find - and more expensive. But lots of local game stores still have packs and displays of Cosmic Eclipse, even if their prices reflect the limited supply. And with cards like Secret Rare Charizard & Braixen-GX (sm12-251), as well as Full Art versions of Rosa (sm12-236) and Lillie's Full Force (sm12-230), the set packs a serious punch. The Charizard teamup's currently $125 or more, while the full Arts of Rosa and Lillie's Full Force are around 80 dollars.
Cosmic Eclipse has held its value really well over time, and that's largely why sealed product is so expensive: more than a dozen hits fall into the 40 to 60 dollar range, and dozens more are worth $10 and up. The sheer number of good hits in this release outclasses the majority of sets in recent years, and it may be worth the upcharge for a chance at so many great cards.
Mewtwo & Mew-GX (sm11-242)
Looking back to August of 2019, Unified Minds offers almost as many good hits as Cosmic Eclipse, and leads with two heavy-hitters: the rainbow Secret Rare version of Mewtwo & Mew-GX (sm11-242) is a huge pull at nearly $140, while the Full Art version of Misty's Favor (sm11-235) portrays one of the biggest characters of Pokémon Fandom in an iconic illustration, commanding over $100.
Boxes of Unified Minds are nowhere near the price of Cosmic Eclipse, so it's a bit easier to find, and a bit easier on the wallet, too.
And if we're looking at August of 2019, well… we've gotta give a nod to the single biggest Pokémon release in recent memory.
This is the granddaddy of all modern Pokémon TCG sets, and it's going to stay that way at least until Shining Fates starts to appear in stores next week. Like Champion's Path, you couldn't just buy booster packs of Hidden Fates: it was released instead as an Elite Trainer Box, a series of Pin Collections, Poké Ball Collections, and Premium Collection boxed sets. That made booster packs more expensive as soon as the set arrived in August of 2019.
But the big difference maker was Hidden Fates: Shiny Vault, a subset of cards found only in regular Hidden Fates packs. Shiny Vault's a reprint set that reissued 94 cards as Shiny variants, and it's got some of the biggest hits in modern Pokémon. The best of the bunch is Shiny Charizard GX, currently worth over half a grand at a whopping $515. But that's really just the tip of the iceberg.
The set includes Shiny variants of Eevee and five of the 'Eeveelutions,' including Espeon-GX (sma-SV60), Sylveon-GX (sma-SV76), and Umbreon-GX (sma-SV69). Espeon and Sylveon are in the $85 range, but the Umbreon's more than 130 dollars. Leafeon-GX (sma-SV46) will set you back $60 or more, and Glaceon-GX (sma-SV55) hovers around $35 to $40.
Other big hits include Greninja-GX (sma-SV56) at $60, the Full Art version of Cynthia (sma-SV82) at $75, and Mewtwo-GX (sma-SV59) at almost $80. Lizard fans will even find Shiny printings of Charmander (sma-SV6) and Charmeleon (sma-SV7) at $50+ each. Hidden Fates: Shiny Vault is absolutely loaded with high-value hits, and because of the way the set was designed, you can usually expect to pull some sort of hit in every second pack - way better than most other sets!
Released back in 2019 and often sold out in minutes when stores restocked, Hidden Fates isn't easy to find; sealed Elite Trainer Boxes can cost hundreds of dollars. But there's good news: the set was reprinted just a few weeks ago, and product keeps popping up at both local game stores and big box retailers. If you're lucky enough to find some, it's one of the best scores on shelves today.
Evolutions was released all the way back in 2016, so why are we looking at it in an article about current product? Evolutions was so popular that it was rereleased in the Kanto Power Collection back in November of last year, a boxed set that was exclusive to Walmart. Each box comes with 10 booster packs of Evolutions, and you'll find both a Dragonite EX version and Mewtwo EX set.
Again, you'll have to catch some luck to find these in the wild - collectors and scalpers often snatch them up in minutes as soon as they see them in stock. But with the right timing, it's an awesome way to take your shot at Charizard (xy12-11), printed in a similar style to the original Base Set version worth over $110.
There's even a second Charizard in Evolutions: the Full Art version of M Charizard-EX (xy12-101) is a rock solid pull at 65 bucks.
Next week's Shining Fates release is going to be huge, and it may trump the incredible fandom and demand surrounding Hidden Fates! With another staged release, and the entire product line available only in Tins, Collections, and Elite Trainer Boxes, it's going to be tough to find in stores. Now that the final set list has been revealed, we know there are bound to be tons of valuable hits.
Vintage cards might be getting the most attention in the Pokémon TCG, for good reason, but don't sleep on modern Pokémon! There are tons of amazing cards in packs right now, and some of them are so valuable that they can go toe to toe with many of the old school classics.