February 7, 2022
The value of Pokémon cards has exploded in recent years, with some of the rarest selling for life-changing amounts of money. Grading Pokémon cards has basically become its own science, and you might be surprised at what cards are most coveted by collectors. Let this guide be your Pokédex to all the rarest and most expensive Pokémon cards, what makes them valuable, and how to buy or sell them yourself.
If you were a 90s kid, there’s a good chance you collected your fair share of Pokémon cards, and if you kept them in good condition, you might be sitting on a small fortune. Pokémon card collecting has exploded in recent years, with the rarest cards selling for many times more than what they did just five years ago.
Whether you’re an aspiring collector or just curious if you’ve got a way to pay off your mortgage hiding in your parent’s basement, join us as we vine whip our way into what makes Pokémon cards valuable, what the rarest and most expensive cards are currently, and how you can buy or sell them with ease.
A brief history of the Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG)
Launched in October 1996, the Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG) became one of the most successful spin-off products of the entire Pokémon franchise. Just like the games, players assume the role of a Pokémon trainer, but TCG had kids fulfilling their fantasy of battling each other long before the games had any multiplayer features.
To date, TCG has sold over 30 billion cards worldwide and has been constantly expanded with new cards since its release. Besides the game itself, collecting has become a popular hobby, with certain cards becoming insanely valuable.
With several high-profile sales making headlines, more and more people are digging up their old binders, desperate to find buried treasure. The TCG collecting community is now more active than ever, with no signs of slowing down.
What makes a Pokémon card valuable?
Pokémon cards are a lot more complex than they appear. Plenty of small details that might seem insignificant could be the difference between a card being worth a few bucks or the down payment on a new house.
While there are a lot of factors that go into how collectors value a Pokémon card, you don’t need to be as clever as Professor Oak to understand them.
Here’s a basic breakdown for newbies.
Card rarity symbol
Most Pokémon cards feature a small black symbol in the bottom right corner that denotes their rarity (how likely they are to appear in a booster pack).
Circles are common, diamonds are uncommon, and stars are rare. Common and uncommon cards normally aren’t worth very much, so they are typically sold in bulk. As you might expect, rare cards are the most scarce and have the highest potential to be valuable. And as if that wasn’t enough, there are also ultra-rare cards marked by unique colors or symbols (for example, an ultra-rare might have a white or gold star instead of a black one).
The very bottom of each Pokémon card will list the card’s edition and print date: the earlier the edition, the more valuable the card. First edition cards are the most coveted by collectors. Even common and uncommon first edition cards can fetch a decent price online.
Wondering how to tell if a Pokemon card is first edition? Look for a small 1 in a black circle to the bottom left of the card’s artwork (and feel free to say “cha-ching” when you find it).
For a literal extra layer of specialness, some Pokémon cards (known as holos) are printed with a holographic foil that makes the artwork shiny and reflective. Other cards (known as reverse holos) leave the art matte while the rest of the card is holographic. Some rare cards even have a unique holographic border.
In the bottom right of nearly every Pokemon card is a collector number (e.g. 55/105). Collector numbers that fall outside the range (e.g. 110/105) indicate a secret-rare card. If the number has an ‘SH’ before it, you’ve got a Shining Pokémon with unique artwork (worth much more to collectors).
Certain editions of Pokémon cards feature a level number next to the Pokémon’s name, indicating its power level. Sometimes this isn’t a number but a special symbol, word, or letter combination. For example, Special Pokémon (SP) from the Pokémon Platinum: Rising Rivals set will have a stylized G, GL, 4, C, FB, or M following their name.
Misprints and errors
It may sound bizarre, but many Pokémon cards are worth more due to having a unique printing error. These errors are usually quickly corrected in production, making cards with specific errors incredibly rare and valuable.
This is HUGE! Just like baseball cards, the condition of Pokémon cards has a massive impact on their value to collectors. The closer the card is to pack-fresh, the better!
In fact, many of the most valuable Pokémon cards are graded by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being a never-used, mint condition card. For the rarest Pokémon cards, a one-point difference in their PSA grade can mean the difference between tens of thousands of dollars.
Beckett Grading Services (BGS) is the other popular service used to grade Pokémon cards, with a BGS 10 considered the ultimate gold standard by collectors.
Fun fact: When Logan Paul bought his shiny Charizard from famed Pokémon card collector Gary Nusse, he actually wanted one of Gary’s BGS 10 Charizard cards. The BGS 10 was too precious to Gary, and Paul only narrowly negotiated his way into getting a PSA 10.
The cool factor
Other than the rarity of a card and its physical condition, a card’s cool factor definitely plays a role in how much collectors are willing to pay. This is why Charizard cards are valued much higher than cards of similar scarcity.
10 rarest and most expensive Pokémon cards
Many of the most expensive Pokémon cards are tournament prizes that were produced in very limited numbers and aren’t actually playable in the game. We’ll get to them later, but let’s first take a look at the rarest and most expensive Pokémon cards that you have a chance of actually owning already.
First Edition No Rarity Poliwrath ($25,015)
You might be surprised to know that some of the rarest Pokémon cards aren’t rare at all (well, at least according to their lack of rarity symbol). The first printed sets of Japanese base set cards don’t feature any rarity symbol like their English-language counterparts and are some of the most expensive Pokémon cards on the market.
This no rarity Poliwrath is extremely rare, with only three known to exist with a perfect PSA 10 rating, one of which sold for over $25,000 in late 2020. Even near-mint PSA 9 copies will sell for around $2000 on average.
Skyridge Holographic Crystal Charizard ($28,100)
Besides having arguably the best artwork of any Charizard card, 2003’s Skyridge Holo Crystal Charizard is notable for being a part of the last set produced by Wizards of the Coast when interest in the game started to wane. Due to the lessened interest in the game at the time, fewer sets were produced, making this card even rarer.
As of writing, there are just 211 mint condition copies of this card graded by PSA. The value of this card has skyrocketed with the recent surge in interest around the hobby (this card hovered around $1000-$3000 in 2019 but now has an average price of about $15,000).
To date, the highest sale of this card was for $28,100 in November 2020.
First Edition Shadowless Holographic Chansey ($36,877)
It’s a good thing Chansey likes to care for the sick and injured because you might pass out when you learn how much this card is worth. Several of the 48 recorded PSA 10 copies of this rare first edition Chansey have sold for over $25,000 at auction, with the highest sale sitting at $36,877.
First Edition Shadowless Holographic Blastoise ($31,334)
Although shiny Charizard gets most of the attention (and let’s face it, he deserves it), his water-type contemporary Blastoise is still one of the most popular and recognizable Pokémon ever, and this is reflected in his value as a collectible. With only 100 mint condition copies graded by PSA, this squeaky clean shiny Blastoise can easily sell for over $30,000 at auction, with the most recent sale making the lucky owner $31,334.00 richer.
EX Deoxys Gold Star Rayquaza Holographic ($44,400)
While first-generation Pokémon typically get all the hype, this Rayquaza card is basically just as rare as the most coveted first edition cards, with only 47 PSA 10-graded copies recorded in circulation. The mascot for 2004’s Pokémon Emerald, mint condition copies of this powerful card have been sold for up to $44,400 (with the lowest five-figure sale for $34,440.00).
Torchic Gold Star Holo Team Rocket Returns ($25,400)
One of the rarest Gold Star cards to be released, this adorable birb was part of 2004’s Team Rocket Returns expansion set. Not many were printed, making this card even more valuable.
A PSA 10 copy of this card sold for $25,400 in 2020. According to the PSA website, at least 17 mint condition versions of this card exist, with their value now estimated at $48,000.
Dragon Frontiers Gold Star Holographic Charizard ($60,066)
Despite being released in 2006, this shiny black (and very edgy) Charizard has become an incredibly valuable Pokémon card. According to PSA, only 59 of these cards have been graded a perfect 10, and these mint condition copies have regularly sold for between $20,000 and $30,000 at auction.
This card’s highest recorded sale to date took place on eBay for upwards of $60,000 in 2020. Impressively, this Delta Species Charizard competes in value for some of the rarest first edition Pokémon cards.
No Rarity Holographic Venusaur ($55,000)
Another card from the legendary Japanese base set. One particular holo first edition Venusaur had the bonus of being signed by legendary Pokémon artist Mitsuhiro Arita and sold for $55,000 in 2021.
Another card from the legendary Japanese base set. One particular holo first edition Venusaur had the bonus of being signed by legendary Pokémon artist Mitsuhiro Arita and sold for $55,000 in 2021.
Since the recent boom in Pokémon card collecting, gem mint versions of this card are being auctioned at incredibly high prices to rival shiny Charizard himself. As of writing, there’s an eBay listing starting at $325,000.00 AUD (around $230,000 USD) for a card graded PSA 10, with another listing for a BGS 9.5 for $82,500 AUD (around $62,000 USD).
It looks like those Aussies have been hiding some seriously rare Pokémon cards!
Neo Genesis 1st Edition Holographic Lugia ($144,300)
As one of the rarest and most powerful legendary Pokémon in the GameBoy titles, it makes sense that Lugia’s trading card game incarnation would be equally hard to catch. Not only is this a rare and powerful card, but it’s also from the Neo Genesis set (the first run of second-gen Pokémon to be introduced to the trading card game).
The first run of Neo Genesis cards was plagued with various print errors that make cards like this notoriously tricky to grade. As of writing, only 43 holographic Lugia’s have been graded a perfect 10 by PSA.
One PSA 10 card was sold for $50,000 in 2020. A year later, a holo Lugia graded a Pristine 10 by BGS (one of only three to attain this grading) sold for an incredible $144,300.
1: First Edition Shadowless Holographic Charizard ($420,000)
Ranking the rarest Pokémon cards without covering shiny Charizard is harder than choosing your starter Pokémon. Collectors have always coveted rare Charizard cards, but this one is the undisputed king!
Like many of the most valuable Pokémon cards, this 1st edition Charizard is cherished for being the victim of an early printing error that resulted in the absence of a drop shadow on the character art (hence the ‘shadowless’ classification). As such, this card is incredibly hard to find in mint condition (only 121 copies have been recorded with a PSA 10 rating).
In recent years, this hot property has become the face of Pokémon card collecting, with high-profile sales to Logan Paul ($150,000) and Logic ($220,574) in 2020. Two other copies of the card were sold the same year for $350,100 and $369,000.
Another shiny Charizard was recently sold for an eye-watering $420,000 in March 2022, making it the third most expensive Pokémon card ever sold at auction.
Ultra-rare promo cards
Released in small numbers, these promo cards are the most scarce and will command a high price at auction, even without a perfect gem mint grading.
Holographic Master’s Scroll Card ($35,200)
The Pokémon Daisuki Club is Japan’s official Pokémon fan club which awards points to members for competing in tournaments and participating in the community (like doing surveys and quizzes). Players can turn in these points to obtain exclusive cards that aren’t available anywhere else.
In 2010, the Pokémon Daisuki Club offered this exclusive Master’s Scroll card to players for 8,600 points. The exact number of copies of this card is unknown, but we do know that only 26 have earned a PSA 10 grade.
Since 2020 this card has consistently sold at auction for over $24,000, with the highest sale to date at $35,200.
Tropical Mega Battle, Tropical Wind Japanese Promo Trainer Card ($65,100)
An ultra-rare Pokémon card created exclusively for participants of a 1999 tournament in Hawaii. A mint condition copy of 1999’s Tropical Mega Battle, Tropical Wind Trainer Card sold for $65,100 in October 2020. Part of a set of only a dozen cards, it’s now estimated that the value of this collectible has gone up to nearly $150,000.
With simple artwork featuring Psyduck chilling with Jigglypuff on the beach, this card hints at the kind of holiday we’d all take if we were lucky enough to sell one. Of course, if you’re a passionate Pokémon card collector, owning this piece of history would be better than any vacation!
Super Secret Battle No. 1 Trainer Card ($90,000)
This super rare Pokémon card was given to finalists at the Secret Super Battle Tournament held at, you guessed it, a super-secret location in Tokyo in 1999. Only seven of these cards were ever made, and only one has ever gone up for sale (a PSA 10 auctioned for a cool $90,000 in mid-2020).
This card is a holy relic in the TCG community, featuring a unique illustration of the series’ resident badass Mewtwo and the original Pocket Monsters Trading Card Game logo.
2006 Pokémon World Championships No. 2 Trophy Trainer Card ($110,100)
If we didn’t know better, we’d say these trophy cards were deliberately made to frustrate collectors determined to catch ’em all. These ultra-rare cards were given to finalists of the 2006 World Championships in California, and it’s rumored that only three exist, making this one of the rarest Pokémon cards ever.
This is another one of those rare Pokémon cards that’s so extremely scarce they can sell for six figures even without a perfect 10 PSA grade. In early 2021 this card sold for an impressive $110,100.
Featuring the always adorable series mascot Pikachu holding up a silver trophy, it’s not surprising that the other owners of this card haven’t had the heart to put it up for sale.
Kangaskhan Holographic Trophy Card ($150,100)
Regarded as the third-rarest Pokémon card in the world, this holographic Kangaskhan is a special Japanese promo card awarded to participants of the 1998 Parent/Child Mega Battle Tournament. Apart from having unique artwork, this glorious card features the original Pocket Monsters Card Game logo on the front and back, and only 46 copies have ever been officially graded.
This card is so rare that only three have ever been sold publically, with a PSA 7 copy selling for $35,000 in 2020. However, everyone was shocked when a mint condition copy of the card sold for $150,100 on eBay in October of the same year.
Signed Tsunekazu Ishihara GX Promo Card ($247,230)
This appropriately overpowered card was created to celebrate Pokémon creator Tsunekazu Ishihara’s 60th birthday back in 2017. The cards were given out to Pokémon employees by Ishihara himself, and there are estimated to be only 30-60 in existence.
Because Pokémon employees are forbidden from selling this card, serious collectors are frothing to get their hands on one. In fact, one of these cards signed by Ishihara sold at auction for an astounding $247,230 in 2021 despite only being in near-mint condition (PSA NM 7).
Pikachu Illustrator ($5,275,000)
Oh, Pikachu Illustrator card, where do we begin? This card recently broke the internet when Logan Paul bought it for a jaw-dropping 5.275 million dollars in a private sale. That’s absolutely insane. Think about it, more money than most people will ever see in their entire life was spent on a Pokémon card of Pikachu holding a brush…crazy.
This card was originally given to winners of promo contests held by Japanese magazine CoroCoro Comic in the late 90s. The card itself is unique in several ways, with the most obvious that it says “Illustrator” and not “Trainer” at the top. It also features a small pen symbol in place of the rarity symbol, and the artwork was drawn by the graphic designer who originally designed Pikachu, Atsuko Nishida.
Now cemented as the most expensive Pokémon card in the world, there are an estimated 41 copies of the Pikachu Illustrator card in existence, with only 23 being PSA-graded. Logan Paul now has the only PSA 10-graded Pikachu Illustrator (although it’s rumored this card was originally graded 9 and continually resubmitted to get a perfect 10 score).
So, with only one official mint condition copy of this card, it makes sense that Pikachu Illustrator tops the list of the world’s most valuable Pokémon cards.
Secret-rare Pokémon cards
These cards are the stuff of legends.
Prerelease Raichu ($10,500, allegedly)
Have you ever heard the tale of the Prerelease Raichu? It’s an old Pokémon card legend. The story goes that 100 of these Raichu cards were accidentally printed with the word “PRERELEASE” on the bottom right corner of the card’s artwork in the lead-up to the Jungle expansion in 1999. It’s rumored all but ten of these mysterious cards were destroyed by manufacturer Wizards of the Coast, with the remaining copies given to employees.
There was only ever wild speculation about the existence of these cards until one that seemed to be genuine reportedly changed hands for $10,500 in a private sale. But since the sale is alleged to have taken place on April 1st, the story could have just been an elaborate prank.
Suffice it to say, if a verifiably genuine copy of this card were to come to light, it could easily knock Pickachu Illustrator out of the top spot as the most expensive Pokémon card in the world.
Prototype Holographic Blastoise ($360,000)
One of the rarest Pokémon cards in existence, this shiny Blastoise is a true holy grail card. What makes this card so special? It’s one of four prototype cards produced by Wizards of the Coast to convince Nintendo that a Pokémon trading card game was a good idea (yeah, no kidding!).
The strange fonts and lack of trading card game printing on the back make this prototype distinct. The card that sold at auction for $360,000 in 2021 had a stock white card backing. However, it’s known that one of the other prototypes has a Magic The Gathering card backing (another game produced by Wizards of the Coast), which is speculated to make it worth even more if it was ever put up for sale.
How to sell Pokémon cards in 2022
Want to turn your Pokémon cards into cash? The first step is to organize your collection by rarity and start pricing each card. Sites like pokemonprices.com are a convenient way to determine what your cards are selling for on average.
If you think you’ve got a precious Pokémon card, the first step is to get it authenticated. Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) is the largest and most widely trusted card authenticator. While the authentication process will cost time and money, it’s the only way to ensure you get the most cash for your high-value cards.
In terms of selling platforms, eBay is the most widely used. Other venues include TCGPlayer, Cardmarket, and Facebook Marketplace. Each forum has its advantages and drawbacks, so research them to find what works best for you (for example, eBay has the widest reach, is easy to use, and is trusted by buyers, but it also takes a 10% commission from your sale).
No matter what platform you use to sell your cards, make sure you take high-quality photos of them. Also, be sure to list all the relevant details of the card in the listing title and description so buyers can find them when they perform a search.
How to buy Pokémon cards in 2022
Whether you’re trying to build a collection or just making a strategic investment, the simplest way to buy Pokémon cards is to purchase booster packs at retailers like Target, Amazon or your local games store. However, if you’re looking for rare, out-of-print cards from days past, your best bet is to head online.
Before you start bidding on any auctions or messaging private sellers, research the value of the card you want to acquire. Use our guide at the top of this article to gauge the card’s rarity, and make sure to scrutinize the photos to ensure you’re not buying a fake.
Professionally graded cards sealed in a display case will have a number that you can check with the authenticator to determine if it’s real.
The rest is really up to you and your bidding/investment strategy. If you’re buying a rare Pokémon card as an investment, it will always be a gamble. But hey, even if you lose, you’ll still have a cool Pokémon card to show off.
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MINI GUIDE: How to tell if a Pokémon card is fake
- Check for obvious errors like the wrong name and picture combination, or spelling and grammar errors, like the word Pokémon printed without the accented e.
- Compare the back of the suspected fake to the back of a real card and look out for washed-out colors, misalignments, and other imperfections.
- Use a trusted online database of scanned cards like pkmncards.com to bring up the real card and scrutinize details like the stats, abilities, and artwork of the suspected fake.
- If possible, compare it with a genuine version of the same card (or at least a card from the same set) to test differences in weight, texture, and other physical elements.
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What is the most expensive Pokémon card in the World in 2022?
As of writing, the most expensive Pokémon card in the world is a mint condition Pikachu Illustrator card which PSA now values at 6 million dollars!