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Collecting

Pokémon TCG Rarities Explained

Esbie

Esbie

Table of contents

Holos and Trainers and Art Rares — oh my! We all have our personal preferences when it comes to Pokémon TCG collecting. Whether you seek out only your favorite Pokémon, gravitate towards eye-catching art or aim to master entire sets, it’s useful to understand how Pokémon cards are categorized so you can find your favorites and identify rarities with ease. Brush up on how Pokémon TCG rarities are organized by reviewing our breakdown below.

Collector Card Numbers

You must look at a few details to identify a card's rarity. First, it’s helpful to look at its collector card number, which is found in the bottom right corner of the card. This number is typically represented in the ###/### format, with the first number on the left identifying the specific card number within the set and the second number on the right identifying the total number of cards in the set. However, it’s important to note that a set’s advertised number of cards is often lower than the actual amount — more on that later! In general, this is a handy way to determine which specific card you’re looking at and identify cards when buying or selling them.

Basic Rarities

Generally, Pokémon cards are grouped into three different rarities: Common, Uncommon and Rare. There are subcategories within these rarities that make things a bit more complicated, but at the most basic level you can determine rarity at a glance by looking at the symbol to the right of the collector card number.

Common ●

Identified with a black circle symbol, Common cards are likely what you’ll come across the most often as they have the lowest possible rarity within a set. Common cards are typically unevolved or single-stage Pokémon or Energy cards. Most cards (typically five to six) within a single booster pack are Common cards, so you’ll run into them fairly often.

While Common cards are generally not holographic, there is a relatively new type of card called a Reverse Holo. These cards feature a metallic, holofoil finish on the non-art portion. Any card at a Holofoil Rare rarity level or lower can be a Reverse Holo, including Commons. The value of these cards can vary, but they typically don’t boast hefty price tags due to how easy they are to get, with two included in each modern booster pack.

Uncommon ◆

The next step up in rarity is Uncommon cards, which are designated by a black diamond symbol. Despite their name, Uncommon cards are still relatively easy to come across as each booster pack typically contains three. Cards of this rarity can feature both unevolved or evolved Pokémon, although in general you’ll find a lot of middle-stage or double-stage Pokémon. Additionally, most Trainer cards you’ll encounter will have this rarity as well. Lastly, note that Reverse Holos can also be found for Uncommon cards. However, similar to their Common counterparts, the Reverse Holo values are often similar to their non-holofoil versions and usually aren’t worth a lot.

Rare ★

Our last general grouping of cards is Rare cards, which are denoted by a single black filled-in star. Rare cards typically feature a fully evolved, Mythical or Legendary Pokémon. Most English booster packs will include one Rare card. Additionally, Rare cards are also able to come in the Reverse Holo format, which would be in addition to the guaranteed Rare that is already included in the booster pack.

Within this rarity, a card can be either a Regular Rare or a Holofoil Rare.

Regular Rare

This type of rarity is exactly what it sounds like: a Rare card with no special holofoil treatment. These cards look visually similar to Common and Uncommon cards but feature a much rarer or stronger Pokémon.

Holofoil Rare

A Holofoil Rare looks essentially the same as its Regular Rare version, except it features a holofoil finish on the Pokémon art portion of the card. That said, beginning with the Scarlet & Violet expansion, all Rares will now have a holographic finish, effectively phasing out the necessity for the “Holofoil Rare” category for Scarlet & Violet cards and onwards.

1st Edition

Last but not least, let’s talk about 1st Edition Pokémon cards. This now discontinued card type identified cards printed in the first print run of its respective set. 1st Edition cards could be Common, Uncommon or Rare and were designated by an “EDITION 1” symbol in addition to their rarity symbol.

1st Edition English cards first appeared with the very first Pokémon TCG set, Base Set, and ended with Neo Destiny, while 1st Edition Japanese cards first appeared with the Pokémon VS expansion (no English equivalent) and ended with the Expansion Pack 20th Anniversary set (the English equivalent being Evolutions).

1st Edition cards are typically in high demand with collectors and have high price tags to boot, as these cards were only printed for a limited amount of time and are harder to come by. You’ll find some of the greatest demand for 1st Edition cards with the early English sets, such as Base Set, Jungle and Fossil.

Advanced Rarities

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into where things get more complicated. For this guide, we’ll consider any card past a Holofoil Rare rarity an “Advanced Rarity,” which includes five general subcategories: Double Rare, Ultra Rare, Illustration Rare, Special Illustration Rare and Hyper Rare. These rarities are typically where the card appearance begin to look noticeably different from the Basic Rarities. Here, you’ll find artwork and holofoil finishes that cover the entire card, unique variants to original card artwork and specialized gameplay mechanics that bring new elements to the Pokémon TCG.

Double Rare ★★

This rarity is designated by two black filled-in stars and is the equivalent to the Japanese “RR” rarity symbol (also referred to as Double Rare). Introduced with the Scarlet & Violet TCG expansion, this card rarity currently features Pokémon ex cards, although it’s possible this changes in the future.

Ultra Rare ☆☆

This next rarity classification is recognized by two white stars and is the equivalent to the Japanese “SR” rarity symbol, referred to as a Super Rare. While initially introduced in the Black & White TCG expansion, this card type became truly fleshed out in the Scarlet & Violet era. You may hear them colloquially referred to as “Full Art” cards. As their name implies, these cards feature striking artwork that takes up the entire card, making them desirable to collectors. They also typically feature a unique gameplay mechanic that makes them popular with TCG players.

While Ultra Rares in the Scarlet & Violet era feature either Full Art Pokémon ex or Full Art Supporter Trainer cards, previous iterations of Ultra Rare card types include:

  • Pokémon ex: EX Ruby & Sapphire
  • Pokémon Star: EX Team Rocket Returns, POP Series 5
  • Pokémon LV.X: Diamond & Pearl
  • Pokémon LEGEND: HeartGold & SoulSilver
  • Pokémon Prime: HeartGold & SoulSilver
  • Pokémon-EX: Next Destinies
  • Pokémon-GX: Sun & Moon
  • Tag Team-GX: Team Up
  • Pokémon V and Pokémon VMAX: Sword & Shield

Here, we are also introduced to the concept of a Secret Rare card. While Secret Rares can span a variety of rarity levels, what they have in common is that they’re all not advertised as part of the set quantity. Remember earlier when we covered collector card numbers in the ###/### format? Let’s use 151 as an example set quantity — that second number represents the advertised number of cards in a set. Secret Rares are extra cards that exceed that number and result in your seeing a collector card number such as “163/151”, with the card number exceeding the set quantity number.

Beginning with the Scarlet & Violet expansion, all cards past the Double Rare rarity are considered Secret Rares, adding to the excitement and intrigue in discovering and collecting them.

Illustration Rare ☆

A single gold star symbol designates this next rarity type and is the equivalent to the Japanese “AR” symbol, referred to as an Art Rare. You may hear these cards referred to in shorthand as “Alt Arts.” These cards serve as a second version of a regular Pokémon card in the main set and feature alternate, full-card artwork of their featured Pokémon while the moveset remains the same. As mentioned earlier, cards of this variety are considered Secret Rares.

While Illustration Rares technically originated with the Scarlet & Violet expansion, one could argue that the Galarian Gallery cards from Sword & Shield - Crown Zenith are effectively Illustration Rares, arguably making them the unofficial origin of this rarity.

These cards are typically popular with collectors, particularly when cards feature fan-favorite Pokémon or awe-inspiring artwork. The price tag on these can run the gamut, beginning at just a buck or two or getting into the double digits and beyond.

Special Illustration Rare ☆☆

Two gold stars designate this rarity, which is equivalent to the Japanese “SAR” symbol and is referred to as a Special Art Rare. Introduced with the Scarlet & Violet expansion, cards of this rarity feature alternate artwork of a Pokémon ex or a Full Art Supporter Trainer card.

Similar to Illustration Rares, Special Illustration Rares also originated with the Scarlet & Violet expansion, but the Galarian Gallery Pokémon V and Supporter Trainer cards are arguably the true, although unofficial, genesis of this rarity.

These cards are difficult to pull and are often among some of the top chases of their sets due to their intricate, desirable artwork and challenging pull rates. Special Illustration Rares are also considered Secret Rares.

Hyper Rare ☆☆☆

Our last rarity is noted by three gold stars and is the equivalent to the Japanese “UR” symbol, referred to as an Ultra Rare (not to be confused with the English Ultra Rare rarity). These cards are often referred to as simply “Gold Cards” due to their recognizable gold backgrounds and borders. Hyper Rares can be alternate versions of any card in their set besides Supporter Trainer cards. They are also considered Secret Rares.

Honorary Mention: Rainbow Rare

Introduced with Sun & Moon and ending with Sword & Shield, Rainbow Rare is a discontinued rarity that featured identical artwork to another full-art card in their respective sets but recolored with a rainbow gradient on the character artwork and background. Rainbow Rares were designated by a single white star. While these cards were popular with some collectors, this rarity has been phased out and is no longer featured in Scarlet & Violet — time will tell if it ever returns in the future.

Fixed Rarities

Beyond the rarities mentioned above, there are two more rarity symbols you might encounter. However, unlike the previous rarities, these cards will not appear in standard booster packs. Instead, they can only be acquired by participating in a specific promotional event or purchasing a particular Pokémon product.

Promos

Promos are cards that are either included in a Pokémon product (such as an Elite Trainer Box) or given away during a promotional or special event (such as a Pokémon TCG tournament). These cards are identified by a black star symbol with the word “PROMO” written across it, hence why they’re also called “Black Star Promos.”

The demand for these cards varies, mostly depending on how difficult the Promo was to obtain or how popular the featured Pokémon is. As these cards typically come in a clear wrapper, some collectors opt to keep them sealed to better preserve their condition and value.

Pokémon Symbol

You may encounter some cards that feature a colored symbol of a specific Pokémon rather than a traditional rarity symbol. These cards come from Pokémon products containing preassembled decks or partial decks and are typically themed around a specific Pokémon — hence the associated symbol. Like Promos, these cards with Pokémon symbols can’t be pulled from standard booster packs and only come from their respective product, such as Trainer Kits or Battle Academy sets.

Conclusion

While the rarities and card types in the Pokémon TCG are constantly changing, we hope this guide helps you better understand the categories of cards you’ll encounter on your collecting journey. Stay tuned for future updates as the Pokémon TCG continues to expand and introduce us to exciting new card types to come.

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