The Pokémon Celebrations Ultra Premium Collection is the absolute pinnacle of the Pokémon Celebrations releases.
It's got more boosters of product-hover id="248577" than anything else you can buy. It's loaded with extra packs from sets like Chilling Reign and Vivid Voltage. It comes with a super-cute enamel pin with Pikachu riding Charizard. You get a metal coin with the 25th anniversary logo. And it's the only place you'll find two exclusive Gold Secret Rare cards, as well as the mega-hyped metal card printings of the original product-hover id="252516" and product-hover id="252517".
The Celebrations Ultra Premium Collection's not just one of the coolest Pokémon TCG products ever — it's going to be one of the biggest must-have gifts of the holiday season.
And it is nowhere.
When the Collection hit shelves at places like Walmart, Target, and Gamestop on October 22nd, it was gone in minutes. Any that were listed online on sites like Pokemoncenter.com, disappeared even faster. If you want one now, you probably won't find one in stores, and buying it online could cost you almost $400; a far cry from the MSRP of $119.99.
As soon as the Celebrations Ultra Premium Collection was revealed as part of the Celebrations lineup, it was clear this was going to be the crown jewel of the year in Pokémon. When we got our first look at the metal Pikachu and Charizard cards, the excitement shot through the roof. And when stores started to see just how allocated this product was, all bets were off: retailers that ordered hundreds of units were getting three or four. Smaller stores were getting one, or none at all. And that kicked off the frenzy we're in now.
But how did we get here? The modern Pokémon TCG market was cooling down over the summer. Ample supply of Shining Fates, Battle Styles, and Chilling Reign led into a pretty good supply of Evolving Skies, too. So how are we suddenly back in a situation that feels like the shelf-clearing madness of 2020?
It's a good question, with some interesting — and at times surprising — answers. Today I want to tackle it head-on and ask: why is the Celebrations Ultra Premium Collection so expensive?
Okay, okay, that sounds like a commercial straight off a website where people are selling Ultra Premium Collections. Fair. But in any collectibles market, high prices are the end result of two factors: short supply and big demand. So if we're gonna talk about why the Ultra Premium Collection's price tag is currently located in the stratosphere, we have to start by acknowledging the obvious: the demand is massive, because this product is loaded with value.
At an MSRP of $119.99 in the US, this thing is an astoundingly good deal; with individual Celebrations packs going for about $6.50, it's like buying 25 booster packs at a discount with all the extra promos and accessories thrown in for free. Go ahead and check out the pricing piece by piece and see for yourself.
17x product-hover id="248577" - $6 each, $102 total
3x product-hover id="236257" - $3, $9 total
3x product-hover id="221312" - $3, $9 total
1x product-hover id="216852" - $3
1x product-hover id="229276" - $3
1x product-hover id="251103" - $38
1x product-hover id="251102" - $57
1x product-hover id="252516" - $59
1x product-hover id="252517" - $165
Right now, as of this writing, the total Market Price of the packs and promos in the Ultra Premium Collection is around $445 USD. TCGplayer doesn't currently list the Charizard and Pikachu pin or the 1x 25th Anniversary metal coin, but they're selling online for 15 to 20 bucks — even more value in an already crazy deal. The reality is that the Ultra Premium Collection was massively underpriced, delivering an aftermarket value somewhere between three and four times its MSRP.
And even if you don't want to think in terms of dollars and cents, you could still just talk about what a fun product the Ultra Premium Collection is, as a fan who wants to open cool stuff. Even the packaging is amazing, with those 25 packs, unique accessories, exclusive Gold Rares and stunning metal cards, all nestled into a beautifully designed foil-embossed box, with pull tabs and separate little drawers.
How luxe is the box opening experience? Even the cover of the freaking player's guide is covered in mirrored foil. Why would they care? It's a player's guide! That's literally the thing we all huck into the trash! At some point, someone just thought to themselves, "Hey, we could make this even cooler." And then they went for it.
So yeah. The demand is there because the Ultra Premium Collection's an over-the-top release with almost too much care in its design, that delivers almost four times the value of its retail price.
And then there are the supply problems.
If you're still waiting on that second wave of Evolving Skies, you may be well aware, but The Pokémon Company International (TPCi) is having big problems getting their products into their regular distribution channels. The situation is so bad, they went ahead and addressed it publicly in mid-October, with this announcement. To save you the click, here's the full text.
If that messaging sounds familiar, it's because that post is actually an update to an earlier one (with much of the same phrasing) that the official Play Pokémon account tweeted out back in February. At the time, TPCi was more concerned with customer demand and the solution of printing more product. But the new announcement from three weeks ago introduced an entirely new problem: getting that product shipped and into actual stores.
Like many companies, TPCi is effectively stuck standing around with boats full of product that just haven't reached their destinations yet. Virtually every industry that makes stuff is experiencing the backlash of a massive disruption in global supply chains, and there's really nothing anyone can do but wait it out. People stopped shopping when COVID shut down global economies, but when consumerism turned back on, the sudden crush of demand put massive stress on the global networks that get products from Point A to Point B. And as we ramp up to the holiday shopping season, the problem's only going to get worse.
It's very possible that every Ultra Premium Collection printed already made it to shelves, and demand was simply overwhelming. Maybe The Pokémon Company decided to vastly under-print what was obviously going to be their biggest hit of the year. But it's unlikely, especially since major retailers expected to get hundreds of them. Instead, it's much more probable that somewhere, there are cargo holds full of Ultra Premium Collections that are just trapped in limbo, unable to be delivered.
We don't know exactly why supply was so low. But we know that even if The Pokémon Company wanted to fix it by printing more product, it won't work, because there's no way to get that product to customers. At least not right now. But let's rewind that a moment…
Fixing the supply shortage of Celebrations Ultra Premium Collections would likely mean printing more, unless there really are just thousands upon thousands of them trapped in a supply chain snafu. But just like TPCi can't solve their global shipping problems, they may not be able to reprint this thing either.
Traditionally speaking, unique accessories are the hallmark of Pokémon products that don't get reprinted. Printing more cards from a pre-existing release is one thing; the digital files are in place, the print settings are generated, and there's a pre-existing relationship with the printing company. All of that is established with the first printing. From there, the challenge is just getting the materials to print the cards. Normally that's easy, but under COVID, even that's been a struggle for TPCi over the past two years. Still, at the end of the day, printing cards is a fundamental function of the industry.
Retailers are openly telling customers that they haven't been offered a chance to order more Celebrations product...
It's all the other stuff that gums up the system. That enamel Charizard and Pikachu pin? It isn't made by the same company that prints and packages cards. Neither is the metal coin, and while we don't know for sure, there's a good chance the metal Pikachu and Charizard cards come from a different producer too. All that special packaging is a unique order that has to be filled by a packaging company, and heck, even those foil-embossed player's guides I was marking out for are a unique order. Every one of those elements will be a complicating factor when and if TPCi tries to go back and reprint this product.
There are lots of Pokémon influencers on YouTube who don't think the Ultra Premium Collection is going to get a reprint, just because it's got so many parts. At the same time, retailers are openly telling customers that they haven't been offered a chance to order more Celebrations product of any sort, let alone the biggest, most complicated item from the release. The secondary market's taken this information and run with it; nobody looking to flip an Ultra Premium Collection will tell you that they think a reprint's coming. And so the rumor mill churns on.
But personally, I do think TPCi may reprint this product sometime in the next year, even if it's in a slightly different format. Nothing from the Celebrations line is officially limited edition, and time and time again, we see that when players want to buy a product, TPCi will print more of it. They go where the money goes.
In Japan, the 25th Anniversary Golden Box, which is the equivalent of our Ultra Premium Collection in Europe and the Americas, has officially been announced for build-to-order manufacturing in in Spring of 2022. You can find that announcement here, but translated it looks like this:
This print-to-order approach is new for The Pokémon Company, and it won't be up and running on a global basis anytime soon. But it represents a big commitment on TPCi's side to ensure that their most elaborate offerings are available to everyone who wants to buy them. Long term, I think it's a strong indicator that Celebrations product will be reprinted, including the Ultra Premium Collection. The problem is that it probably won't happen for several months, and the holidays are only a few weeks away.
Whenever a collectible product drops online and people miss out, the same line gets posted on Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook: "Bots bought all the stuff!"
You know the visual: ee even used it as the header image at the top of this article. The stereotype is that somewhere, in a darkened room, there's some guy wearing a hoodie sitting in front of a computer buying all the things you want. We have this idea of a sort of lone gunman-style hacker character that uses a magic computer program to beat you to the punch, leaving honest Pokémon fans in the dust whenever something like the Ultra Premium Collection, or a Pokémon Center Exclusive Elite Trainer Box, hits the market.
The reality is that the mental image of one person acting alone and using bots to outwit the rest of us is a bit naïve. Not because it's unrealistic that the situation could be that bad, but because the real situation is actually far, far worse.
In truth, the world of online resellers vying to leverage limited supply releases is massive. More than that, it's extremely well organized. Resellers looking to cop lots of the latest Jordans, or Supreme box logo swag, or Playstation 5s, or high-end graphic cards, have entire communities in private Discords referred to as "cook groups." There, industrious resellers work together to share information, keep each other aware of upcoming drops, and participate in group buys to get better prices on everything this kind of operation requires.
The interesting part is what happens when a bot-user gets caught and has their order cancelled.
If you thought bots alone were the issue, you might be surprised to learn that cook groups actually have several different types of tools at their disposal, all helping them get an edge on limited supply products.
Bots, utilities that allow a user to automate the ordering and checkout process online, are a big part of the picture, sure. "All In One" bots, also known as AIOs, can be customized to handle all the steps required to complete an order — even completing captchas — and they commonly range in price from a few hundred dollars to the high four digits.
The more expensive a bot, the better it will perform, and the more support it will have over time to keep it working. The best bots work across a wide range of websites, letting its user target all sorts of different products, and they're constantly being updated. That's the high end. But beginners may choose to rent access to a bot instead of buying their own; getting started can be surprisingly affordable, and from there the sky's the limit. And as sophisticated as AIO bots can be, they're only one weapon in the cooker's arsenal.
Site monitors allow a cook group to know when a product page appears online, and when an item goes live for purchase. If a product goes live earlier than originally announced, even by just a couple minutes — which is common — the cookers can find out about it instantly. Even without a bot to automate checkout, a good site monitor can be a tremendous advantage for any individual who's less concerned with making big flips, and maybe just wants one pair of sneakers for themselves.
To me, the most interesting part is what happens when a bot-user gets caught and has their order cancelled. In that case, the product is returned to a retailer's online stock and the Purchase button goes live again without any fanfare. But the cookers are generally the first to see that it's available again, because of site monitors. Cooked orders get cancelled pretty regularly, but since the restock of the canceled item happens basically at random, site monitor are often the only ones looking. So cookers are the only people who see it, and they just buy the item again.
Proxies are also a powerful part of the equation; lots of retail sites will ban users for constantly refreshing a page, or will limit orders to one per customer by detecting an IP number. But proxies are available in mass bundles, or priced by bandwidth used, depending on the type of proxy. Even a new cooker will likely have a few dozen proxies to work with, easily outwitting basic security on sites that are trying to restrict customer access.
If you've tried to order something from Pokemoncenter.com in the last few months you may've seen this approach yourself. While experienced cookers use optimized site monitors and piles of proxies to dodge IP bans, regular customers get blocked for weeks just for clicking refresh too many times.
I would know: I'm literally banned from Pokemoncenter.com right now. F*** me for trying to preorder Fusion Strike, I guess?
All technology aside, being a part of a community allows cookers to share information about what's worth buying in the first place. Playstation 5s from Best Buy are one thing. Less obvious scores from more obscure retailers are something else. Cook groups have specialized channels for lower margin flips and less acknowledged collectibles , and they're generally clever people who are good at spotting new opportunities.
And that brings us back to the Celebrations Premium Collection, which has become a favorite for cook groups. Well-established and well-organized communities of resellers are leveraging years of experience and millions of dollars in custom-engineered technology to buy out the supply of limited Pokémon items. I don't want to glorify any one community or individual, nor do I want to paint a target on anyone's back, so I won't post any photos. But lots of cook groups have Twitter accounts that do nothing but post screencaps of their members' successes; it attracts new members to the group, generating revenue and making the community bigger and stronger.
If you want to see photos of people buying out dozens, and in some cases a hundred or more Ultra Premium Collections all at once, they're just a few Google searches away.
Is it right that these long-standing, experienced reseller groups are capitalizing on the Pokémon craze? That's a question for a different article. Everyone has to make up their own mind, and then decide what, if anything, they're going to do about it. But in my eyes, it's just what happens when the collectible market and online retail collide. If e-commerce and limited collectibles are a race that we all agreed to run in, I'm not sure it's fair to complain that somebody else is winning.
What really matters is what you do with the information. The Celebrations Ultra Premium Collection is red hot right now, and if you absolutely need to have one, the price has been in a slow decline over the last four or five days. But with the holidays coming up fast, and challenges to both reprints and distribution likely keeping restocks off shelves, I don't think that trend is going to last. If you need it now, the price will probably get worse before it gets significantly better.
But at the same time, I really do think we'll see at least one reprint — likely several — some time in 2022. And I personally believe that there could be a ton of Ultra Premium Collections sitting on a boat somewhere. If you can wait, and you don't mind risking the FOMO, I think holding off is fine.
252517 || 252516 || 251102 || 251103
If you're not an absolutely hardcore collector of sealed product, you can always hedge your bets: snag the metal Charizard and metal Pikachu now, and try to get the full Collection later. Same goes for the Gold Pikachu V and Gold Poké Ball. Let's be honest: the promo cards are really the coolest part of the release, and I've seen some good deals on those cards here on TCGplayer. The market clearly hasn't made up its mind yet as to what they "should" be worth.
The Celebrations Ultra Premium Collection is a truly unique product, and right now it's getting pummeled by equally unique market forces. All of those factors have added up to tremendous demand, positioned against incredibly short supply — enough that it's created a spiral of reseller activity that's amplifying the problems of a global supply chain crisis.
That said, The Pokémon Company isn't one to leave money on the table, and there's no real reason to think that Celebrations will be a departure from their usual stance on reprints. Whether you buy the Ultra Premium Collection now, or choose to wait, or you just grab the pieces of it you want in the coming weeks, there may be no definitively bad choice.