A Comprehensive Review of Rarity in the Pokemon TCG - Part Two
Today’s article is the continuation of my analysis of rarity in the Pokemon TCG. You can read Part 1 here. By way of refresher, below is a list of the terms that this article uses to discuss rarity in the Pokemon TCG.
“Official Rarity” refers to the official rarity that Wizards of Coast or PCI assigned to a particular card. A card’s Official Rarity can be found official TCG checklists and other promotional and supplemental materials published by Wizards and/or PCI. The current official checklists can be found here: http://www.pokemon.com/us/pokemon-tcg/trading-card-expansions/
“Actual Rarity” is used in this article to refer to the actual chances of pulling a particular class of cards from a booster pack. Here’s an example of how these terms work. Both XY Evolutions and Sun and Moon have secret rare cards. Here Comes Team Rocket! and the rainbow foil Lapras GX both have the same Official Rarity of “Secret Rare”. However, you have a much better chance of pulling a Secret Rare from an Evolutions booster pack than you do pulling a Secret Rare from a Sun and Moon booster pack. This means, in terms of Actual Rarity, the Secret Rares from Evolutions are less rare than the Secret Rares from Sun and Moon, even though they both have the same Official Rarity.
In Part 1, I reviewed the evolution of rarity through the end of the original ex era, at which time, there were 7 Official Rarity designations:
Rare Holo (“H”)
Rare Holo ex (“ex”)
Rare Holo gold star (“GS”)
Secret Rare (“SR”)
Today’s article finishes the historic overview of rarity in the TCG and proposes solutions that PCI could incorporate to simplify rarity going forward.
Diamond & Pearl - Legends Awakened
The Diamond and Pearl expansion reset the TCG by removing ex and gold star cards and replacing them with Level X cards. Level X cards received their own Official Rarity of “Rare Holo LV. X” and had a pull rate of approximately 1:36 packs for the first sets in the Diamond and Pearl era, and a more favorable 1:18 pull rate for later sets in the LV. X era.
Torterra Lv.X from Diamond and Pearl
The Diamond and Pearl era was largely without Secret Rares, the notable exception being Time-Space Distortion, a Secret Rare card from the Mysterious Treasures expansion with reported pull rates around 1:72 booster packs (1:2 booster boxes).
Secret Rare Time-Space Distortion from Mysterious Treasures
Stormfront - Arceus
With the release of the Stormfront expansion, PCI introduced a number of trends that would continue through the end of the Level X era. First, the set brought back Secret Rare cards which, like ex Dragon before it, featured reprints of the original Base Set Charmander evolution line. Secret Rare retro cards were available through the Supreme Victors expansion, but were discontinued in the Arceus set.
Shiny Lotad and Secret Rare Hitmonchan from Platinum
In addition to the return of Secret Rares, Stormfront introduced a new category of shiny Pokemon cards. These cards, released from Stormfront through Arceus, had their own unique numbering system that carried across TCG releases, ranging from SH1 (Drifloon from Stormfront) - SH12 (Shinx from Arceus). These cards had an Official Rarity of Rare Holo Lv. X, a surprising classification given that the shining Pokemon are not actually LV. X cards. The Official Rarity of these cards was revised in the Platinum expansion to “Rare”, but the Actual Rarity of these cards has been reported to be about 1:36 booster packs, considerably more rare than the roughly 1:9-18 booster pack pull rate of LV. X cards during this era. The Rising Rivals expansion took a break from these trends by introducing a subset of 6 Rotom cards. These cards had an Official Rarity of “Rare” but had a reported pull rate of 1:18 packs.
Fan Rotom, Frost Rotom and Heat Rotom from Rising Rivals
HeartGold SoulSilver - HS Triumphant
The HeartGold SoulSilver (“HGSS”) expansion saw another reset of the TCG with the removal of LV. X Pokemon in favor of two new types of rare cards: Rare Primes (“RP”) and Legends (“L”). Officially, Primes were rarer than Holos but less rare than Legends. Secret Rares were rarer than both.
Feraligator Prime from HGSS
Both halves of Rayquaza & Deoxys Legend from HS Undaunted
With respect to actual rarity, Primes could be obtained in roughly 1:6-7 booster packs, while Legends could be obtained in 1:12-18 depending on the set. The Secret Rare cards during this period, the Alph Lithographs, had reported pull rates of 1:3 booster boxes (1:108 packs).
Secret Rare Alph Lithograph from HGSS
HGSS also contained a special shiny Gyarados card that had a reported pull rate of approximately 1:36 packs (available in both standard and reverse holo prints). Gyarados had an Official Rarity of “Rare”, which made little sense given that the card was holographic and was similar in Actual Rarity to the Shiny Pokemon cards from the previous era.
Shiny Gyarados from HGSS
Call of Legends
The band-aid set between the end of the HGSS era and the Black and White era featured a special set of shiny Pokemon numbered SL01 - SL11. These cards had an Official Rarity of “Rare Holo” but had reported pull rates of 1:18 packs. These cards were similar in design to the ex and LV. X Pokemon from previous sets, featuring a silver foil card border.
Shiny Dialga from Call of Legends
Through Call of Legends, there were 10 Official Rarity distinctions:
Black and White - Noble Victories
By the end of the HGSS era, the disconnect between Actual Rarity and Official Rarity was painfully obvious to anyone actually opening booster packs. The multiple classifications of Official Rarity for cards of presumably similar Actual Rarity (e.g., separate distinctions for ex Holos and LV.X Holos) only led to additional confusion for collectors. With Black and White, PCI introduced a new Official Rarity that, at the time, seemed like a good way to clean up the mess caused by previous expansions: “Rare Ultras” or, as they are more commonly known, “Ultra Rares” or “URs”. The first official UR cards were the full art versions of Reshiram and Zekrom.
UR Reshiram and Zekrom from Black and White
Black and White was the first set to feature full art cards in the style we are accustomed to seeing in modern sets, and for many years the terms “full art” and “Ultra Rare” were synonymous as the only Ultra Rare cards used the full art design. The Actual Rarity of the URs was approximately 1:36 packs in Black and White, with a pull rate reduction down to approximately 1:18 packs in Noble Victories. Noble Victories was also the first set to feature a full art UR trainer card: “N”. Secret Rares were included in both Black and White and Noble Victories, with a Pikachu available in the former and a Meowth available in the later. Pull rates for these cards were approximately 1:72 booster packs.
UR N and Secret Rare Meowth from Noble Victories
Next Destinies - Plasma Blast
Next Destinies is really the point in which the current rarity structure took hold of the TCG. The expansion reintroduced ex Pokemon, now called Pokemon EX (all caps), but continued to print full art cards as URs. A new Official Rarity of “rare holo EX” (“EX”) was created for Pokemon EX, with pull rates initially averaging around 1:18 booster packs. UR cards had a pull rate of approximately 1:36 packs during this time period, and Secret Rares continued to have a pull rate of approximately 1:2 booster boxes.
Rare Holo EX (left) and UR Kyurem EX (right) from Next Destinies
Boundaries Crossed introduced yet another new Official Rarity to the TCG in the form of “rare Ace” (“RA”) cards. They had pull rates on par with UR cards.
RA Crystal Wall from Boundaries Crossed
Through the end of the Black and White era, a total of 13 Official Rarity distinctions had been used in the Pokemon TCG.
Legendary Treasures was largely a reprint set designed to keep players and collectors interested in the game during the interlude between the end of the Black and White era and the beginning of the XY era. The set saw EX cards appearing at a generous 1:9 booster pack pull rate. The Secret Rare Reshiram and Zekrom, however, continued to have an Actual Rarity in line with Secret Rares from the other Black and White era expansions.
XY - Ancient Origins
The XY era introduced Mega Pokemon to the TCG and (mercifully) these cards continued to have the same Official Rarity distinction of “EX” as non-Mega EX Pokemon. The Actual Rarity of these cards was approximately even with other EX cards as well, simplifying things for collectors. Pull rates started out matching those found in Plasma Blast, but as sets became loaded with additional EX and UR cards, the pull rates began to become more favorable to collectors. By Ancient Origins, pull rates had dropped to approximately 1:6 packs for EXs and 1:12 packs for URs. Secret Rares continued to retain their 1:72 pack pull rate.
BREAKthrough - Evolutions
Pull rates continued relatively unaltered through the end of the XY era. A new Official Rarity was introduced for Pokemon BREAK, a spiritual successor to the LV.X mechanic. Pull rates for Break Pokemon were reported at around 1:12 booster packs, on par with URs, with some variance between sets.
Yanmega BREAK from Steam Siege
Evolutions was notable for its unusual treatment of Secret Rares, with Secret Rares being pulled at a rate similar to Uncommon cards.
Sun and Moon - Burning Shadows
The TCG reset at the Sun and Moon expansion saw the removal of EXs, Megas and Break Pokemon. In their place stood Pokemon GX, with their own Official Rarity of “Rare Holo GX” (“GX”). The sets saw a proliferation of UR and Secret Rare cards, as well as a reduction of pull rates from the previous era. GX rares have had a reported pull rate of approximately 1:9 packs, with URs (which includes not only full art Pokemon GX, but also certain full art trainers) having a greatly reduced pull rate of 1:18-36 packs. Secret Rares continue to have a pull rate of approximately 1:2 booster boxes.
Rare Holo GX, UR and Secret Rare Lapras GX from Sun and Moon
At present, there have been a total of 15 separate Official Rarity distinctions throughout the history of the game. These include:
Is it any wonder that collectors find rarity confusing? To further complicate matters, no official word has ever been given by PCI on the interaction between these distinct Official Rarities. With Actual Rarity varying sometimes wildly between sets and eras, there is little guidance available on interpreting card rarity between expansions. In light of the foregoing, there are a few practical considerations collectors should keep in mind when discussing rarity.
- Be Specific. Given that UR is an Official Rarity in the Pokemon TCG (and has been since the Black and White expansion), resist the urge to refer to all cards rarer than a Holo as “ultra rares.”
- Keep Official Rarity and Actual Rarity separate. Rarity is a broad term that can encompass both of these concepts. When identifying cards or asking questions, be sure you clarify whether you want information about pull rates or rarity classifications to avoid confusion.
- Maintain a historical perspective. Keep in mind that Actual Rarity has varied widely over the years and between sets. Keep this in mind when discussing and evaluating cards. Don’t fall into the trap of evaluating EX cards the same. The EX cards from Legendary Treasures, for example, were easier to pull than the EX cards from Next Destinies.
Rarity is a tricky topic, but I believe it is one that can be streamlined. To make things less complicated, I would like to see PCI integrate the concepts of Official Rarity and Actual Rarity by replacing the current Official Rarity distinctions with the following:
“RR” - “RR” is a designation currently in use in Japan’s version of the Pokemon TCG. It covers standard EX and GX cards. I would like to see PCI adopt this as the new Official Rarity for cards with a pull rate at or below 1:12 booster packs. This term would include Pokemon Prime from the HGSS era, standard (meaning not UR or SR) Pokemon GX from the Sun and Moon era, standard Pokemon EX from the XY era and Pokemon BREAK.
“UR” - this new term would be used for cards officially recognized by PCI on official checklists with a pull rate higher than 1:12 booster packs. This category would generally include URs from Black and White forward, RAs, ex and LV.X cards from the original ex and Diamond and Pearl eras, EX cards from the Black and White era, Legends cards from the HGSS era, Gold Stars from the original ex era, and certain additional cards such as the Rotom cards from Rising Rivals, the Shiny Pokemon from the Platinum era, Gyarados from HGSS, and the Shining Pokemon from Call of Legends.
Secret Rares - this Official Rarity classification would encompass any cards that are available in booster packs, but are not recognized by PCI on official checklists.
Thecardpletionist has been collecting Pokemon TCG cards since the game’s English release in 1999. You can read more from the author at http://thecardpletionist.blogspot.com/ and follow him on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/thecardpletionist/