Pokemon cards have been popular collectibles since the 1990s. If you’re a Pokemon card collector, you may be wondering what factors make some cards rarer and more valuable than others.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: A Pokemon card’s rarity depends on its edition, condition, print run, competitive play value, and special qualities like errors or autographs. First edition, shadowless holographic cards in mint condition from small print runs, especially tournament winners and misprints, tend to be the rarest.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore all the key factors that determine a Pokemon card’s rarity and value in detail.

Card Editions

Whether you’re looking to buy or sell Pokemon cards, it’d be best to learn more about the card editions, particularly the editions from the late 1990s which are not only the earliest but also the most popular ones. Below, we’ll discuss the initial editions which are the most popular among trading card enthusiasts and collectors.

First Edition Cards

What Makes Pokemon Cards Rare - First Edition Cards

The First Edition cards were the first ones to be released to the public, and they grabbed a lot of hype. What makes these cards so sought after by collectors is that the first edition had only a limited run of cards. That’s what also makes them among the most valuable Pokemon cards ever made.

Usually, when the card is limited and there’s a scarce supply, that creates a secondary market where these cards were extremely popular and valuable, and they still are. They can be recognized by the little “First Edition” stamp located right under the card’s name.

All in all, if you’ve discovered your old First Edition card, no matter which Pokemon it is, it can be extremely valuable on the market. On the contrary, if you’re looking to buy a Limited Edition card, know that you’ll have to spend a lot of money and dedication to find a good buy.

It’s worth mentioning that the First Edition cards are not only scarce and hence valuable, they marked the widespread beginning of the Pokemon era, and whoever collected these cards in their childhood, will find them to be extremely valuable and provide sentimental value which encourages the enthusiasts to complete their editions.

The First Edition cards with holographic design known as Holos are even more valuable compared to the regular First Edition card and will have a higher market value. They will also be more difficult to find. Some collectors know how to recognize the extremely high value of these Pokemon cards and will create a secondary market monopoly to make these cards more expensive.

These cards kickstarted a global phenomenon that continues to motivate fans and encourage them to collect these cards around the world. They are what preserve the magic of the early days of the Pokemon TCG, but they’re not the only ones. Shadowless and Unlimited Edition are also still quite valuable.

Shadowless Cards

When The First Edition cards were released and their print time concluded new version of Pokemon cards was released, and those were the Shadowless Cards. What makes them different compared to the original set of Pokemon Cards is that the “First Edition” text under the Pokemon’s name is now missing, but they still make an important addition to the earliest set of cards and have a high secondary market value.

Another change is that these cards don’t have a shadow around the frame of the Pokemon artwork, which contributes to the Pokemon’s image looking brighter. If you’re someone who collects Pokemon cards, you will see that the future designs were changing more frequently as the company was experimenting with different looks.

Another notable change that can be recognized in the Shadowless cards is that they feature a thinner font on the Pokemon’s name as well as Health (Hit) points. There’s also no copyright information on the left corner of the card which makes some collectors find them more valuable.

Shadowless cards were present from the first to the seventh printing of the trading game. Shadowless cards make an important addition to the entire collection because they represent a transition in design between the older and more modern cards.

 Just like the First Edition cards, they’re extremely rare and have an important historical and sentimental importance for the most loyal Pokemon fans.

They have high market value and can be purchased for thousands of dollars if they’re in good condition. These cards were only produced for a limited amount of time, and that didn’t stop collectors from looking for these cards even decades later.

Unlimited Edition Cards

Unlimited Edition cards were featured to meet the growing demand, but they feature several changes that sort of alter the appearance Pokemon cards had in their first two editions. For example, the cards look much lighter and brighter compared to the Limited Edition.

Additionally, the designers included a drop shadow so the card would look more detailed and feature a deeper design. In this edition, the Pokemon HP value had a bolder font, as well as a few more changes that were introduced to the design.

The company featured six separate printings of the Unlimited Editions. The first five of those six editions featured a copyright line that read: “© 1995, 96, 98 Nintendo, Creatures, GAMEFREAK. ©1999 Wizards” Because of this addition, it’s hard to make the difference between, for example, 1st and 5th editions because there are no differences that would allow one to distinguish between them.

The sixth edition, and thus the final one is believed to only be featured in The United Kingdom with minimal change to the copyright line that later read ” ©1995, 96, 98 Nintendo, Creatures, GAMEFREAK. ©1999-2000 Wizards.”

The sixth edition cards are considered rarer compared to the first five editions of the Unlimited Edition, but not more compared to the Shadowless and First Edition cards. The other five prints, while valuable, won’t reach the heights of the other mentioned cards, as they were quite abundant in both primary and secondary markets.

Still, if your card is in mint condition, professionally graded, and well-preserved, then you’re expected to get a few hundred dollars for it. Regardless of their large abundance on the market, these cards also hold a huge sentimental value to Pokemon Trading Card enthusiasts.

Holographic Patterns

Some of the most valuable Pokemon Trading Cards contain holographic patterns that are unique to the collection and edition, which contributes to their secondary market value. Below, we’ll discuss some holographic traits that are commonly found on valuable Pokemon cards.

Holofoil Cards (Holos)

What Makes Pokemon Cards Rare - Holofoil Cards (Holos)

The Holofoil cards are also known as “holos” among the population that is enthusiastic about Pokemon cards. They’re quite iconic and very popular among collectors. They have a shimmering holographic foil pattern over the card that reacts to different angles of light making the card appear more appealing.

A good way to tell that a card is holo is by seeing the foil that covers the entirety of the card, rather than just an image. Holo cards exist to feature a powerful Pokemon species, but they are also used to highlight that some cards are rare.

Reverse Holo Cards

What Makes Pokemon Cards Rare - Reverse Holo Cards

Reverse Holo cards are different compared to regular Holos. For example, the design is imagined in a way where only the background of the card is holographic, while the Pokemon and the rest of the card remain without a hologram. This is a way to address the shimmering background in a way that is more contrasting with the design of the card.

These cards commonly appear in booster packs surrounded by non-holo counterparts, which brings them an extra value and rarity compared to other cards. Although some people prefer regular Holo cards over reverse Holo, collectors still consider them a highly prized collectible because of their unique aesthetics. They are also more elegant so they are well-sought-after in TCG sets and collections.

Shining Pokemon Cards

What Makes Pokemon Cards Rare - Shining Pokemon Cards

Among all holographic cards featured in the TCG sets, shining Pokemon cards cause the most attention. They’re super-rare, which is why so many collectors try to complete entire collections of shining cards. It’s not a typical Holo card. Instead, the Pokemon show a stunning “shining” pattern. They appear to radiate light and energy, creating the optical illusion of being more powerful than other Pokemon cards.

The first shining Pokemon cards were introduced in the Neo Revelation expansion set. Occasionally, they appeared in other sets too. They’re super-rare and in addition to that, look mesmerizing and attractive, which is why so many collectors are after them.

Rarity Symbols

There are plenty of rarity symbols showcased in the Pokemon cards that attract collectors. Whether you’re selling or buying a certain Pokemon card, these things will come in handy to know.

Common and Uncommon Cards

Let’s first distinguish between common and uncommon cards. If you’ve ever bought a PTC pack, you’ll find that the majority of packs feature common and uncommon cards, and a rare if you get lucky. Let’s break this down.

Each pack has most of the common cards in it. If you buy a regular booster card, you’ll find five common cards in it. Every common card is very easy to identify because it has a small circle next to the card number. The circle looks like this – ● 

Basic cards are also recognizable because they’re quite basic and don’t have a strong value in the game, or secondary market. The Pokemons on it have low hit points and deal minimal damage to other Pokemon. They’ve been featured in every set since the original base set that debuted in 1999. They haven’t changed over the years.

Uncommon cards are not as frequent as common cards in packs, but they’re still plentifully found in the set. If you buy a regular booster pack, you’ll find three uncommon cards. If you need a quick way to identify an uncommon Pokemon card, you’ll be able to thanks to the ◆ next to the card number.

It’s worth mentioning that special energy cards as well as trainer cards are made to be uncommon, appearing in every set since the original base set debuted. The layout looks the same as that of a common card.

Both common and uncommon cards are often sold in bulks, as they make the majority of cards found in booster packs. They’re not the most sought-after cards to collectors.

Rare Cards

There are many types of rare cards in the TCG industry. However, there’s no guarantee that any kind of set will include rare cards. It’s important to check the rarity symbol on the bottom of the card, next to the card number.

Cards that are classified as rare have a ★ (star) next to the card number. However, keep in mind that rare cards printed for a certain promo or event don’t have a star despite being rare. Some of them have a silhouette of the main Pokemon that is featured in the collection.

Rare cards usually include:

  • Rare Holo Cards
  • Reverse Holo Cards
  • Prerelease Cards

Rare Holo Cards

As mentioned earlier Rare Holo cards also have a black star on them, but also a foil over the artwork that shines. For sets that were released in English, there are counterpart cards that are less rare and have the same features as the rarer cards, but with a different collector card number, which is not the case for their Japanese counterparts.

Rare Holo cards also have their “Reverse Holo” counterparts. Because of the reverted hologram over the background, it gives special alterations to the original design which makes it attractive to collectors.

Ultra Rare Cards

Ultra-rare cards are among the rarest Pokemon cards. They are important because they have a specific game mechanic which is different from other cards. They are covered in foil and have a special design that makes them look better compared to Rare Holo cards.

Although these cards are extremely rare, there are various types of Ultra Rare cards such as Pokemon Ex, Pokemon Star, and Pokemon LV. X, Pokemon LEGEND,  Pokemon-EX, Pokemon Prime, Pokemon V and others.

Editor’s notes: It’s worth mentioning that there are also cards called Secret Rare cards with a collector number which is higher compared to other cards in the set. They have a unique appearance that sets them away from others and is covered in foil.

Limited Releases

Some collections are more common than others, while some Pokemon cards are only part of a bigger promo or a limited-time event. In other words, those cards are promotional, and not so abundant on the market. With that in mind, they are rarer and more valuable, which is why we’ll discuss them below.

Event-Exclusive Pokemon Cards

Event-exclusive promo cards are very popular among both enthusiasts and collectors. These cards are featured only at specific events. Some of those events may include the International Pokemon World Championship, as well as more local gatherings where Pokemon cards are a hot topic.

These cards are awarded to both attendees and participants, and they are often exclusive. Those cards feature some cool artwork that is unique compared to other cards, often to highlight some anniversary or commemorate a specific Pokemon design. Although many rare Pokemons make their way to exclusive event cards, some of the most common appearances are attributed to Pikachu.

For example, this 2006 World Championship Promo card of Pikachu was sold for £110,100 in an auction, just showing how event-exclusive cards are valuable.

Tournament Prize Cards

This is another type of exclusive that is a part of competitive achievement in the Pokemon TCG. Best Pokemon Card players are awarded these exclusive cards, although they can be found at other exclusive events. Tournament Prize Cards are often found in National and Regional Championships as well as World Championships, and they’re extremely rare.

Oftentimes, only a few players who excelled at performance against other players are awarded these cards, and collectors are ready to give a lot of money to have them. For example, in 2010, finalists of the 2010 Pokemon World Champion were given Master’s Key rarity, which is considered one of the rarest cards despite it being printed out later.

One such key was sold in 2020 for $66,000, at an auction, which just shows how valuable these cards and the prize behind them are.

Staff Promotional Cards

Staff promotional cards are dedicated to the company members who design cards, as well as members of organizations that organize and host Pokemon events.

Those cards are exclusive and want to reward staff members for their dedication and hard work. The cards are either improved existing cards or special cards with unique artwork. These cards are very popular on the secondary market, but you can also obtain them if you sign up to volunteer at a certain event. One of the most expensive and valuable staff promotion cards is Vivid Voltage Charizard. One such card is currently listed for $10,000 on eBay.

Card Condition

The rarity of the card is not the only parameter that determines the value of a card. Grading and overall condition contribute to the overall value. Here, we’ll discuss that.

Grading Systems

If you’re looking to have your Pokemon Trading Card professionally graded, you can do so with three official grading companies, which are reliable and reputable around the world. They are:

Grading your cards professionally is important because it gives a clear picture of the condition of your card, as well as rise its value on the secondary market. On top of that, your card gets a seal of legitimacy that is important when determining its value.

Since all grading systems would take a long time to get explained, we’ll explain one grading system for Pokemon cards, particularly the PSA system which is the most reputable service in the industry, especially for PTC. However, because of high demand, they can take time to grade your card and have a very strict grading system. Still, excellent or GEM mint cards sell the most so it’s worth it in the long run. Their grading standards are displayed here, but we wrote a summary of the grading scale.

  • GEM-MT 10 (Gem Mint): This is the perfect grade and says that your card is in a flawless state. All corners are sharp, there’s strong luster and gloss that is not damaged. There are no signs of wear and tear. The image is also centered flawlessly.
  • MINT 9 (Mint): It’s a near-perfect card with some minor flaws like a wax stain or minor scratches that are not so visibly noticeable.
  • NM-MT 8 (Near-Mint Mint): Although it looks like Mint 9, there are some flaws like a wax stain, fraying, printing imperfections, borders not aligned or there’s a small scratch.
  • NM 7 (Near Mint): Although it looks good, there are small stains and signs of wear and tear. The picture may not be entirely sharp or perfectly focused. Some of the gloss and luster may have possibly disappeared.
  • EX-MT 6 (Excellent-Mint): This type of grade shows surface wear and tear, as well as potential printing errors or defects. The card is slightly frayed at the corner, while the picture focus may not be the sharpest.
  • EX 5 (Excellent): With this grade, slight damage to the corners may be visible. There’s surface tear and wear, while some of the gloss may have disappeared. Centering may also be off the desired dimensions.
  • VG-EX 4 (Very Good-Excellent): Corners are visibly damaged and rounded, the gloss may be damaged at some spots, with evident scratches and borders that have started whitening. Centering could also be a bit off.
  • VG 3 (Very Good): The lower the grade is going, the more round the corners may seem, and the borders may also have gotten white. Scratches are more apparent and visible, with the original gloss potentially lost.
  • GOOD 2 (Good): Surface wear is visible without using any extra help, the corners are completely rounded, with the frame losing its color and being white in spots. Centering is worse than in the cards with better grades. There could even be signs of chipping.
  • PR 1 (Poor): The card is visibly defective, and this card hasn’t been taken good care of. The card looks bad on the eye, the gloss is gone, with visible scratches and signs of wear and tear.

Factors Affecting Value

As mentioned above, rarity is not the only factor that affects the value of a Pokemon card, here are all factors that play a role in value determining.

  • Condition: Condition determines the overall appearance of the card, but also its final grade if you do decide to get it graded. Cards that are in mint or near-mint condition will have the highest value. Inspect corners, borders, image, and luster and search for scratches, creases, visible wear and tear, and other damage to the card if you want to determine the condition on your own.
  • Popularity and Demand: The popularity of some Pokemon cards influences their value. Legendary Pokemons, loved by the fans, are favored in games and the anime influence the value of the secondary market.
  • Holographic and Foil Patterns: As mentioned earlier, holofoil cards are very valuable compared to non-holo cards of the same set. Search for Full Art, Rainbow Rare, and other different foils if you want to get a truly valuable Holo card.
  • Set: The earliest Pokemon cards have the highest value because of their limited supply. First Edition and Shadowless cards have the highest value among the older cards. In addition to rarity, the nostalgia factor plays an important role in determining the value.
  • Limited Edition: Cards with listings such as “1st Edition” or “Limited Edition” are more valuable than other cards. If the card was won as a prize in a tournament or some other Pokemon-related event, it will have a higher value.
  • Errors and Misprints: Cards that have printing errors on them can have extremely high value, especially if an error is significantly altering the appearance of the card and is tied to some special edition card.
  • Grading: Finally, cards that have been professionally graded and have certified authentications by a professional organization like the ones we mentioned above will be more valuable on the market.

Preservation and Storage

Anyone who intended to take care of their Limited Edition cards until their value skyrockets knows that they need to store them in conditions that will allow the card to survive various external factors and age. One of the best ways to preserve PTC is by investing in high-quality PVC-free card sleeves or some other sort of protective sleeves for trading cards.

Another thing that can help is using top loaders and card savers that are useful for special and limited cards. They’re made of plastic and help provide additional protection from wear, tear, and damage. Blinders and pages can also help in protecting cards from damage while allowing you to display your valuable card for your friends.

The cards shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight and UV radiation. Make sure to keep them in dark and cool storage without humidity and sunlight that could damage the card.

 Finally, you should avoid placing your card in a space that is prone to extreme temperature changes. Cold and hot climates can cause warping and cracking of the card. In rare cases, the ink could fade away from the card.  


In the world of Pokemon card collecting, a card’s rarity and value depends on many factors – its edition, holographic pattern, rarity symbol, limited release status, condition, and more. While new cards continue to be printed, the rarest and most prized cards are typically early edition holographics in pristine condition, with ultra rare symbols, from small promotional print runs or tournaments. Understanding all these elements provides deeper insight into the treasures of any Pokemon card collection.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *