Looking for rare Pokémon cards? Well, you’re in luck, because there’s a fair few out there. While you might love playing the Pokémon TCG for its snazzy card battles, some Pokémon cards are so rare, so scarce, and so legendary that you’ll be bewildered at the prices they fetch at auction.
We’ve rounded up all the rare Pokémon cards you should know about, listing the most expensive cards that have sold throughout the years. Some are fan favourites, some are powerful Pokémon, and others are one-off prints that were released as promotional material. Although many of the most expensive Pokémon cards are older prints, interest in the Pokémon Trading Card Game is thriving, with some of the most expensive Pokémon cards selling for record prices only this year.
Maybe you have some hidden gems piled in the back of your closet, or will one day stumble into an antique store to spy a rare Pokémon card waiting to be snapped up. In any case, get prepared so you know what to look for. When you’re hunting for rarities, however, it’s important to know how to spot fake Pokémon cards to prevent being duped.
These are the top rare Pokémon cards:
- Pikachu Illustrator
- Ishihara GX Promo
- Topsun Charizard
- Gold Pikachu
- No.1 Trainer
- Magkikarp Tamamushi University promo
- Kangaskhan Family Event Trophy
- Holographic Lugia Neo Genesis first edition
- Presentation Blastoise
- 1999 Tropical Mega Battle: Tropical Wind
- Black triangle base set booster pack
- Shadowless Charizard
- Master’s Key
- Pre-release Raichu
A promotional card originally handed out to winners of a 1998 illustration competition run through Japanese magazine CoroCoro, only 39 copies of Pikachu Illustrator were ever created. It’s the only card to feature the ‘Illustrator’ title, and its artwork was drawn by esteemed Pokémon illustrator Atsuko Nishida, creator of Pokémon’s main mascot, Pikachu. It also has a unique pen icon in the bottom-right corner, seen on no other card, presumably to remind us of its artistic roots.
It’s unknown exactly how many Pikachu Illustrator cards are still in existence, but ten PSA certified copies have been graded as ‘mint’. Until January 2021, it was the most expensive Pokémon card to ever have been sold at auction, with a PSA 9 Mint condition card selling for a whopping $233,000 / £167,600.
Ishihara GX Promo
A little different from the others on this list, the Ishihara GX card doesn’t actually feature a Pokémon, but the president and founder of The Pokémon Company, Tsunekazu Ishihara. The promotional card was printed in celebration of his 60th birthday, and handed to the company employees who attended his party – quite the corporate treat. The card’s ‘Red Chanchanko’ ability is a reference to the traditional Japanese garment often given to men when reaching 60 years old.
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Copies of the card have sold at auction for as much as $50,000 / £36,450, but that’s peanuts compared to what a signed copy can fetch. In April 2021, an autographed PSA 7 Ishihara GX Promo card went for $247,230 / £180,200. It’s unlikely we’ll see many more of these pop up, though. It’s rumoured that only a handful were ever printed, and only one signed copy has ever been shown to the public.
Topsun Charizard Blue Back
The Topsun Charizard card would be the most expensive Pokémoncard ever sold, if it could really be counted as a Pokémon card at all, that is. It features Charizard on the front and has all the right text, but this pick isn’t actually part of the official Pokémon TCG. Before Creatures Inc. developed the version of the trading card game we’ve come to know, Topsun gave it a go, and printed a few prototype cards.
This is one of them, and not just any one of them. Its blue back and unnumbered printing make it even more scarce. Rumoured to have originally been distributed in packets of gum in Japan in 1997, despite being printed with a 1995 trademark date. As you might expect, there’s not many of these left lying about; only 31, according to trading card authenticator PSA’s last count
That’s why in January 2021, a PSA 10 version of the blue-backed, unnumbered, Topsun Charizard card sold for a mega $493,230 at auction. It just goes to show, even unofficial products can be gold for some.
Nothing screams expensive like a flash of gold. And in this case, gold beats old. The gold Pikachu card isn’t an aged specimen originating in the early days of the trading card game, before the names Squirtle and Bulbasaur took the world by storm, but appeared in 2018, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Pokémon TCG.
Made of 11 grammes of solid 24-karat gold, the card is a replica of the original Japanese Pikachu card’s design, featuring a distinctly more rotund yellow mouse. To grab the card on release, would-be buyers had to enter a lottery, with winners given the chance to buy the limited edition card for a cool ¥216,000 / $2,000 / £1,700. But since then, its value has risen, selling for close to $8,000 / £5,750 in 2019.
Although not legal in tournament play, the card came with a handy glass frame, so you could store the artefact, while helpfully displaying it to any visitors that you deem worthy. You’d probably have to explain why spending nearly two grand on a single, unusable card was a good financial decision, though.
Possibly the rarest of all Pokémon cards, No.1 Trainer takes the concept of rarity, sprinkles in a dash of scarcity and exception, and basks in the light of secrecy to evolve into the highest stage of mystique that a collectable card can. A promotional card awarded to finalists of the 1999 Secret Super Battle Tournament – also functioning as the entry ticket to the tournament’s finals – it’s said that only seven copies were made. Six of them remain in perfect Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) Gem Mint 10 condition, one of which was sold at auction in 2020 for $90,000 / £64,750.
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The holographic card features a silhouetted Mewtwo and, according to the auction house responsible for last year’s sale, Heritage Auctions, the card’s description translates to: “The Pokémon Card Game Official Tournament’s champion is recognised here, and this honour is praised. By presenting this card, you may gain preferential entry into the Secret Super Battle”.
Magikarp Tamamushi University Promo
Magikarp might not be one of the best Pokémon cards to ever grace the games – the pocket monsters gormless expression and ineffective moves don’t make it particularly great – but this promotional card goes some way towards rectifying that.
Handed to winners of the 1998 Tamamushi University Hyper Test Campaign, this Magikarp includes the Dragon Rage special move – not usually learnable by the magical fish until it has evolved into Gyrados, and a tad more useful than its usual Splash ability.
Early promotional material suggests 1,000 copies of the card were originally produced, although it’s not known how many actually made it off the factory floor and are lurking around for public collection. But that only adds to the mystique. In February 2021, a Magikarp Tamamushi University card sold on eBay for $66,100.00 / £48,160. You’ve got to really love fish to part with that kind of money.
Kangaskhan Family Event Trophy
This rare Pokémon card was given as a reward to participants of a 1998 Pokémon TCG battle tournament. This was no a regular tournament, however, as each team was made up of both a parent and child, bringing some family spirit to the game. Those teams that reached a certain spot in the contest’s ladder were rewarded this trophy card.
Let’s hope they hung onto it. The card was never printed outside of the tournament, and features the original Pocket Monsters Trading Card Game logo as a set symbol (instead of the regular Pokémon TCG logo), making it quite the rarity. Collector’s seem to think so, too. In October 2020, a PSA 10 ‘gem mint’ copy of the card was auctioned for $150,100 / £109,350 on eBay, making it one of the most expensive Pokémon cards to sell in recent years.
Holographic Lugia Neo Genesis first edition
Lugia has a firm place in popular Pokémon history. A legendary bird that first appeared in Generation II, it quickly became a fan-favourite among players of the franchise’s videogames and trading card game alike. It even made an appearance on the front cover of Game Boy game Pokémon Silver, so you know it’s not playing around.
Unsurprisingly, the Pokémon’s popularity hasn’t waned. Back in May 2021, a first-edition Neo Genesis copy of Lugia, graded as a Pristine 10 by grading agency BGS, sold for $144,300 / £105,200. That’s no pocket change.
Auction house PWCC reckons only 41 PSA 10 copies of the card have ever been graded, and only three have received the BGS 10 Pristine label. The card’s scarcity and Lugia’s continued popularity will keep the value of this Pokémon card high for years to come.
The most expensive Pokémon card ever sold, ‘Presentation’ Blastoise took the heavyweight title in January 2021, fetching a fine $360,000 / £260,000 at auction. Although Blastoise doesn’t command the same fan adoration as Charizard or some of the other first-generation Pokémon , this isn’t any bipedal, turtle-like, walking cannon. The Presentation Blastoise was originally printed by Wizard’s of the Coast as a demonstration piece, used to pitch Nintendo the value of producing an English variant of the already successful Japanese trading card game.
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Although a prototype that features different fonts, a missing water energy symbol, and misspellings, it’s little wonder the card was so prized. With a role in sparking the card game’s international success, the Presentation Blastoise has a place at the centre of the Pokémon TCG’s history. Only two Presentation Blastoise cards were produced, with the location of the other card not publicly known, and auctioneers still questioning its present existence.
1999 Tropical Mega Battle: Tropical Wind
Another promotional card, Tropical Wind was produced in celebration of the 1999 Tropical Mega Battle tournament. A predecessor to the annual World Championships that still take place today, Tropical Mega Battle invited around 50 contestants to Huwaii, where they battled it out for fame, glory, and this promo card prize.
It’s not known exactly how many copies of Tropical Wind were produced, but there’s not exactly a crop of them kicking about. In October 2020, a PSA 10 Gem Mint condition copy sold at auction for $65,100 / £47,500.
Depending who you ask, it might also have the best artwork of any card on this list. No one can deny that a sleepy Psyduck chilling in a hammock, holding a ukulele, and joined by Jigglypuff isn’t incredibly adorable. Pokémon doesn’t get any cuter than this.
Black triangle base set booster pack
Not all manufacturing processes go to plan, and when Wizards of the Coast realised they had accidentally printed too many Base Set booster packs branded with the first-edition logo, they covered the errant symbol with a small black triangle. A simple attempt to avoid wasting resources has generated a much-prized collector’s item, as fans now collect the packaging of these old boosters.
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But it’s the packaging itself that’s valuable, not the cards inside, so don’t go cracking one of these black triangle packs open if you happen to find one sitting in the back of a drawer. But they’re occasionally found in standard Base Set booster boxes – so you’ll have to weigh up whether to gamble on the chance discovery of one of the black triangle booster packs, or whether it’s best to leave the box unopened for its pristine value. Some of the black triangle booster packs have fetched over $2,700 / £2,000 on eBay, depending upon their condition and which Pokémon is displayed on their cover.
Ask a casual fan what the most sought-after Pokémon card is, and there’s a good chance they’ll answer: shiny Charizard. Perennially popular since its release in 1999, holographic Charizards have been a staple on the wish lists of collectors and fans for over 20 years.
The first edition shiny Charizard is particularly valued, not only for its age, limited availability, and the recognisable image of one of Pokémon’s much-loved mascots, but because of a printing error that removed the shadow from around the card’s image box. Most cards with the error were corrected or removed from sale, leaving these ‘shadowless’ Charizards all the more unique.
In October 2020, a PSA 10 mint condition first-edition shadowless holographic Charizard was bought by ex-rapper Logic at auction for a sizeable $220,000 / £173,000, only to be surpassed a month later when another Charizard of the same specifications sold for $295,000 / £210,000. That sale currently places the shadowless Charizard as the second most expensive Pokémon card in the world.
A more recent addition to the coveted halls of Pokémon rarity, the Master’s Key Prize Card was awarded to competitors of the 2010 Pokémon World Championships. Each of the 36 participants in the TCG and videogame tournaments was given the card, along with a fly display case to show off their competitive card-playing abilities.
As much a myth as a rarity, legend has it that a handful of Raichu cards were wrongly printed with the word “prerelease” stamped on their artwork in the lead up to the release of the Pokémon Jungle expansion. The faulty cards were supposedly destroyed, but ten are rumoured to have been to be distributed among Wizards’ employees. They exist now only as legend.
The mere existence of the card was denied by Wizards until 2006, when a staff member released an image of what they claimed to be a genuine copy of the card. In the years since, other Pokémon collector’s have declared to own legitimate copies, while others have branded these attempts as nothing more than fakery. No professional certification body or auction house has ever certified a Pre-release Raichu.
Many cards are said to be the “Holy Grail” of Pokémon, but if that moniker should be used for anything, it’s this card. Its questionable existence alone would make the pre-release Riachu a sight to behold. We just have to wait and see if any copy is confirmed to be legitimate.