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Pokemon Cards Explained For Absolute Beginners

In the past 3 weeks I've spent well over 26 hours researching Pokemon and Pokemon cards... here's all the information I found condensed into 1 easy-to-consume piece of content.

By
Jacob Marciniec
Some card from the most recent set of Pokemon trading cards ("Darkness Ablaze")
Image from
pokemon.com
pokemon.com
(original modified)
Sorry, I don't have a feature image for this post yet!
Image from
DavidRockDesign on Pixabay
(original modified)
Published:
August 22, 2020 22:50
Published:
August 31, 2020
Last edited:
August 31, 2020
Last edited:

I've caught Pokemon trading card fever.

In the past 3 weeks I've spent well over 26 hours (I kept track) researching Pokemon and Pokemon cards.

I went from knowing basically nothing about Pokemon and Pokemon cards, to having a solid basic understanding.

I assume many first-time Pokemon collectors/investors will be looking for answers to a lot of the same questions I was... so here's all the information I found condensed into 1 easy-to-consume piece of content.

Keep in mind: more than anything, I'm looking at Pokemon cards for investment purposes, not as collectibles or as a card game (although I do look at them from those perspectives as well).

Enjoy.

General definitions

First of all, when you start watching videos and reading content online about Pokemon cards, you're going to run into a lot of these terms, so they are worth knowing.

Plus, I wrote the rest of this article assuming you know the meaning of all these terms:

booster pack

noun
A sealed foil packet which usually contains 9-11 Pokemon cards (the number of cards depends on which set it is from).


booster box

noun
A box which usually contains 36 booster packs. They are designed to be put on display at brick-and-motor retailers so that people can buy individual booster packs from them. You can also buy them as a whole, sealed from the factory.
e.g. "I've been saving up to buy a whole booster box for myself."


pull (verb)

verb
To take a card out of a booster pack.
e.g. "Did you hear that Ashley pulled a Charizard GX yesterday?!"


pull (noun)

noun
A card that has been taken out of a booster pack.
e.g. "My best pull to this day is the Etermatus VMax Secret Rare."


set

noun


TCG

acronym
"T
rading Card Game"
There are a lot of products in the Pokemon franchise: video games, merchandise, cartoon series, among others... which mean sometimes it may be necessary to refer specifically to the trading card game, and sometimes you will see it abbreviated like this.
e.g. "We're talking about the Pokemon TCG, not the video game."


playable

adjective

A card that is can be used in the official Pokemon Trading Card Game against very good players and actually be considered competitive. When it comes to playing the Pokemon TCG, most cards suck and will make you lose very quickly, a "playable" card is, as the name implies, actually worth playing with.


holo

synonyms: "holofoil", "holographic", "foil", "foil set"
Alolan Ninetales holo

adjective
A card with a holographic effect on the main graphic of the card. Often times rare cards have standard and holo versions, or only reverse-holo and holo versions. Standard, reverse-holo and holo versions of the same card are exactly the same, with the only difference being whether or not and where the card has a holographic effect on it. Holo cards are usually harder to find and more sought-after.


reverse-holo

synonyms: "reverse", "reverse holographic", "parallel", "parallel set"
Alolan Ninetales reverse-holo

adjective
A card with a holographic effect on everything except the main graphic of the card. Even common cards have regular and reverse-holo versions. The reverse-holo version is exactly the same as the regular one, except that it has the holographic effect on it. Just as with holo cards, reverse-holo card are usually harder to find and more sought after than standard cards (but not as sought after as holo cards).


rarity

What is the history of Pokemon cards?

October 20, 1996

The first ever Pokemon trading cards are released in Japan. They are only in Japanese.

January 9, 1999

The first ever Pokemon trading cards are released in the English language.

March 24, 2011

The Pokemon trading card game online is launched.

Are Pokemon cards a good investment?

Yes.

In my opinion, Pokemon cards are a great investment.

Just to be clear, this is a hugely subjective question. It's the same as asking if stocks or real estate are a good investment... the real answer is: it depends.

It depends on things like:

  • how much research you do
  • whether you know what kind of research to do
  • whether or not you make smart purchases (do you buy on logic or emotion?)
  • how well you tolerate risk (can you sleep well if your investments suddenly drop 20% in value?)
  • how long you are willing to wait to make a profit (could you wait 5 years? 10 years? 40 years?)

And, just as with stocks and real estate... theoretically, something could happen tomorrow that could render certain or all Pokemon cards completely worthless.

But... based on historically data, just as with stocks and real estate, there is a "proof of concept" that Pokemon cards can be a good investment. That along with future outlooks and many other external factors strongly indicate to me that Pokemon cards will continue to be a good investment for at least the next 50 years.

Although you can't play with numbers as big as you can in stocks and real estate, the barrier to entry is tiny (even a 8-year-old kid can come up with the money to buy some under-valued Pokemon cards) and the potential for profit is huge? Cards have been known to double in value in the span of weeks.*

Let's look as some of the things that back up the "investment" aspect of Pokemon cards.

The value of the Pokemon franchise

The Pokemon franchise as a whole is the highest-grossing media franchise of all time, having grossed over $90B in revenue.

For comparison, the Hello Kitty, Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises have grossed $86B, $70B and $32B respectively.

Think of all the Star Wars, Hello Kitty and Harry Potter merchandise, licensed products, movies, etc. that have hit the market...

Pokemon has out-sold them all.

... and keep in mind, Pokemon is not the oldest media franchise — not by a long shot. The first ever Star Wars movie was released about 20 years before anything from the Pokemon franchise ever even hit the consumer market.

Only about 10% of the Pokemon franchise's revenue has come from its trading cards. The Yu-Gi-Oh! trading card game was released the same year as the Pokemon trading card game and has grossed roughly the same amount.

The popularity of the Pokemon franchise

Since its origin in 1996, the Pokemon franchise has maintained a steady if not slowly growing popularity. It's had its "explosions" of attention with the releases of e.g. new video games (especially Pokemon GO in 2016), but has never severely declined in popularity.

If Google Search data is anything to go by, on average, Pokemon is about as popular as the NBA.

My opinion

As I said, I think Pokemon cards are a great investment, for the following reasons (among others):

  • The Pokemon franchise has a huge fan base, and if anything: it's growing, not shrinking.
  • I think the popularity of alternative investments will grow substantially in the next 50 years. Digital assets, private online businesses, trading cards...
  • I believe people from newer generations are much more likely to invest in things like trading cards (from trading card games like Pokemon as well as, if not even more, sports trading cards, etc.)
  • Things that used to be almost exclusively "nerdy" (like video games, Pokemon, Star Wars, etc.) are becoming "cooler" and cooler by societal standards and are even starting to see interest that could only be seen in the sports world in the past (large-scale sponsored events; paid professional "athletes" with sponsorship deals, etc).

What makes a Pokemon card valuable?

The Pokemon card market is just like any other open market: everything depends on supply and demand.

  • Older cards — especially those from the first ever sets — are generally more valuable than newer cards.
  • The condition of a card is critically important. A perfect card can be worth 2–10x more than the exact same card with a tiny imperfection that can only be seen with a magnifying glass.
  • Generally, how rare any specific Pokemon card is often has a lot of influence on its' market price. I am referring specifically to how rare a card actually is in the world, not its rarity (shown by the symbol on the card).
  • Cards that are highly playable are often valuable, but only for a short period of time... when newer, better cards come out they usually lose a lot of their value.

What is the best way to check the value of a pokemon card?

To find the current market price of a Pokemon card, your best bet is to go to ebay and search sold listings (not "for sale" listings):

  1. Go to ebay.
  2. Type in the name of a card, including its card number.
  3. Go to filters and in "show only" turn on the "sold items" filter.
  4. Aim to find at least 3, but ideally 5 or more cards that sold recently (within the last month), and average their sold prices.

This should give you a good idea of what any given card will sell for right now. Lesser-known cards may be hard to find data on, and in most (not all) cases, that means the card is not really worth anything substantial.

Can you play a game with Pokemon cards or are they just for collecting?

You can play a game with Pokemon cards.

The official game that was designed by The Pokemon Company International is called "The Pokemon Trading Card Game" (A.K.A. "The Pokemon TCG", or even "PTCG").

That said, there are a lot of people that never play the game and just collect the cards.

There is also an official online version of the game. As of writing this, it available for Windows, MacOS, and in the App Store and Play Store, but it cannot be played on smart phones (only on iPads and Android tablets).

What do all the different things on a Pokemon card mean?

A lot of the information on Pokemon cards has to do with The Pokemon Trading Card Game. The information includes: the types of attacks, abilities, defenses, hit points, ect. that the Pokemon have/can use during gameplay.

The anatomy of a Pokemon card

There are many different types of Pokemon cards, and their layouts/designs have changed throughout the years, plus their are also one-off and unique Pokemon cards that look completely different from regular cards, so there is no simple, definitive guide for the anatomy of a Pokemon card...

... but since this guide for absolute beginners, here is a very basic anatomy of a basic Pokemon card.

Just keep in mind that as you learn more about Pokemon cards, you will run into cards that look completely different from ones like this and that there is much more to a Pokemon card than just what is shown here.

There are also trainer cards and energy cards, but we won't get into them in this post.

If you want to learn more about the different type of cards and what everything on them means, I highly recommend you download and play the official Pokemon Trading Card Game Online, even if only for research purposes. Their tutorials very quickly teach you everything you need to know.

What is "weighing"? / What does it mean to "weigh" a Pokemon booster pack?

Holo cards are usually more desirable than standard cards.

Also, due to what they're made of... holo cards also usually weigh more than standard cards.

This means that if you weigh booster packs, you can usually tell which ones have holo cards in them.

So you can go to a store, bring a pocket-sized scale with you, weigh all the booster packs they have, and buy only the heavy ones... and you will basically be guaranteed to pull some very good cards.

... that is, you could: but The Pokemon Company claims* to have solved the problem by placing 2 different types of code cards (cards that are basically useless for collectors and players, but can be redeemed in the online game) into booster packs. The different code cards weigh different amounts and are supposed to compensate for the weights of the other cards in the pack... and ideally: make every booster pack weigh the same amount.

The Pokemon Company claims* they solved the problem. But people on online forums, Reddit, etc. claim the system does not work very well, and the weight of booster packs can still tell you whether or not a good card is inside.

I am doing my own research on the topic and plan to report back with a blog post or video in the near future.

Weighing is generally frowned upon

A lot of people say weighing booster packs is bad for collectors, players, and hobbyists because it ruins the "chance" aspect of pulling a good card.

If one person weighs all the packs in a booster box and buys all the good packs, everyone who comes after them will just unknowingly get packs of weak cards.

I support weighing

I may get off on the wrong foot in the community by saying this, but I will stand behind this.

I have nothing against weighing packs.

If you're not doing something illegal or damaging the booster pack in any way, I don't see any problem with taking advantage of an obvious flaw in the system and stacking the odds in your favor.

Plus, weighing is not some big secret. I literally just started learning about Pokemon cards and ran into the topic without knowing it existed many times. Therefore, anyone who has spent any amount of time researching Pokemon cards online should know that if you go to a store and see an open booster box, you should assume all the packs have been weighted and if you want to pull a good card, you should NOT buy any of those packs.

Opening packs is still fun for someone who doesn't know that weighing exists. And something like weighing packs just separates the casual hobbyists from the big-league collectors.

Plus, there's a solution that anyone can use: only buy sealed packages the contain at least 2 booster packs (but ideally much more)... it basically renders weighing worthless and guarantees you get a fair chance of pulling rare cards.

When opening booster packs, why do people move some of the bottom cards to the top?

If you watch "opening" videos on YouTube, you will notice that people usually move a few cards from the bottom of the booster pack to the top.

Fans of opening booster packs call this the "card trick". It is done because Pokemon booster packs are always packed with cards in a specific order, and the rarest card is often the fourth card from the bottom. When you move the less-rare cards from the bottom to the top, the last 2 cards you uncover become the rarest — usually most sought-after — cards from that booster pack.

It's just a psychological thing that makes opening booster packs a more fun experience.

How many Pokemon are there?

As of writing this post, there are 892 unique Pokemon.

That means that counting from the day the first Pokemon cards were ever released on October 20 of 1996, a new Pokemon is invented about every 10 days.

Is every pokemon in every set?

No.

Brand new Pokemon are released in new sets, others

I wish I had a more in-depth answer to this question, but I have not found one yet.

What are "generations" of pokemon?

What types of Pokemon cards are there (holo / reverse holo?)

Generally, there are only 3 types of Pokemon cards:

  • standard
  • reverse-holo
  • holo

But there are many subcategories that we won't dive into in this post, including but not limited to:

  • full art
  • rainbow rare
  • shining
  • etc.

Is there a holo /reverse holo version of every card?

No.

Common-rarity cards only exist in standard and reverse-holo versions*.

Some rare-rarity cards only exist in reverse-holo and holo versions, others only exist in standard and reverse-holo.

Full art, EX, GX, V, VMAX, etc. cards are all holo cards*.

Beyond that, there is no rhyme or reason to which cards exist in which versions*.4

Are EX, GX, V, etc. cards considered holo or reverse holo or what?

They are considered holo cards.

What is a graded card and what is grading?

A graded card is a card that has been sent to a grading company, assigned a grade and sealed in a tamper-resistant plastic case. The grade reflects how good of a condition the card is in. Below is a picture of a perfect Charizard card graded a 10 by PSA.

PSA 10-graded Charizard (image from PSA Blog)

Most grading companies usually grade cards from 1 to 10. A 1 meaning it is in very poor condition (creases, stains, water damage, etc.) and a 10 being absolutely perfect.

Getting a card graded a 10 is notoriously hard to do. Just because you pull a card directly from a pristine booster pack, handle it gently, sleeve and protect it right away, pack it very well and with extreme care... doesn't mean it will be a grade 10.

Cards often come straight from the factory with minor imperfections that cause their grades to be less than 10.

Some more things to note about grading:

  • The most popular and widely trusted grading companies today are Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) and Beckett (BGS). Keep in mind this may change in the future.
  • Cards graded 9 or 10 are almost always worth more than ungraded cards in any condition.
  • There is a huge difference in market value of a grade 9 vs a grade 10. Grade 10 cards often sell for 2–10 times more than grade 9s.

What are the most important things to look out for?

The condition of cards. Condition is everything.

Do not buy cards that are in poor condition, and do everything in your power to preserve the condition of the cards you buy.

There is a reason that a card graded a 10 is worth 2–10 times more than the same card graded a 9: people care about condition... and that is something that probably won't change now or ever.

How to preserve the condition of your cards

I plan on releasing a more in-depth guide in the future, but these are the biggest things to do, in order of priority:

  1. Handle cards with care. Always have clean hands before touching a card and treat it as though it were a live grenade that will blow up with the slightest agitation.
  2. Put cards in sleeves (a card should NEVER, not even for 1 second, be "naked"!)
  3. Double-sleeve your cards (first put them in tight-fitting sleeves, then put them in a slightly bigger sleeves).
  4. Store cards in a box (ideally a box that is made specifically for storing cards and has a soft lining).
  5. Store cards in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

What are the biggest scams to look out for?

I won't go too deep into these topics right now, but these are the biggest things to look out for if you want to get into buying Pokemon cards.

Loose booster packs

This is not really a scam, but as mentioned in the section about weighing booster packs: buy individual booster packs at your own risk. You should assume they were weighed or measured in some way and that means there is a good chance there are no special cards in them.

Booster boxes that are not sealed

Something that really could be a scam is an unsealed booster box. Original booster boxes come sealed in see-through plastic wrap.

If you buy what should be a brand new, unopened booster box but it isn't wrapped in clear plastic wrap, it should be a huge red flag. Somebody could have weighed all the packs, taken out the good ones and replaced them with other dud packs.

Fake cards

As inevitably happens with things that are as popular and valuable as Pokemon cards... there are a lot of fakes on the market.

The safest way to get real cards, booster packs, booster boxes etc. from the latest sets is to buy directly from the official Pokemon store. If you don't live in the US, you will have to find a trusted reseller.

For individual cards and older booster packs and boxes, you will just have to gain a lot of experience and learn the nuances of real Pokemon products and then make educated purchases, ideally with a means of recourse if it turns out you were scammed (some kind of buyer protection program, etc).

Some information about my current collection of Pokemon Cards

So far I've spent about $400 on Pokemon cards, card sleeves, and card storage containers. I've purchased about 300 Pokemon cards, most of them are from the newest sets (in the Sword and Shield and Sun and Moon series). Most of them I pulled from booster packs.

The most expensive card I have in my possession is a 192/189 Eternatus VMAX secret rare, currently selling on ebay for around $30. It came out of a booster pack from a Darkness Ablaze Elite Trainer Box.

I'm looking forward to doing more research and buying some more specific, older cards that are graded 9 or 10 or getting them raw and grading them myself. I think that held for long enough, just about any Pokemon card will go up in value... but there is much more money in picking specific cards and reselling them on a high in the cycle of market price.

I hope you found this guide helpful!

Check out my Pokemon Trading Cards for beginners playlist on YouTube, I got a lot of the information in this post from those videos.

Thanks so much for reading this post and being here. Have an amazing day, friend!

* I am pretty sure about this, but I have not fact-checked it 100%.

About Jacob

I'm Jacob! I'm the guy this website is named after. No wait... I'm just the guy who made this website. Anyway, I like sharing my wisdom and I'm documenting my life for historical accuracy (because I think I'm going to be rich and successful one day).

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