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What Is The Deal With These Insanely Expensive Pokémon Cards People Keep Buying

YouTube / Screenshot

Pokémon is the largest media franchise in the history of the world. That doesn’t sound right, does it? It’s true, though; Pokémon is bigger than Marvel or DC or Harry Potter.

What’s most amusing to me is that if you look back to American television from when the franchise debuted, you’ll see that shows like Everybody Loves Raymond and South Park did episodes about how it’s just a dumb fad that will pass in a few weeks, something that clearly hasn’t come to pass yet.

Everybody Love’s Raymond’s Pokémon spoof episode, Hackidu, was especially interesting because everyone in the adult cast was aghast that one of the cards from the Hackidu card game was worth $100. Logan Paul recently bought a box of Pokémon cards from that era and pulled a card out of a pack that’s worth upwards of $85,000.

And just a few weeks ago, Logan Paul’s Pokémon investment advisor bought a box of cards for nearly half a million dollars that turned out to be fake. Another first edition Pokémon TCG box is going up on Heritage Auctions next week and pre-bidding is already at $300,000. So why is everyone suddenly so interested in Pokémon, and specifically Pokémon cards?

The main reason is just nostalgia. Pokémon debuted in 1996, people in their 30s grew up playing Pokémon games and watching the Pokémon anime on Saturday mornings. Remember that Japanese cartoon in the late 90s that gave those kids seizures that they made the joke about on the episode of The Simpsons where they went to Japan? That was Pokémon. That show has been around forever.

Most people as they get older and become adults want to relive some of the things they did as children. For people in their 20s and 30s now that’s Pokémon.

But why are these cards so expensive? There were tons of Pokémon cards printed, and these boxes are going to for more than first edition boxes of Magic: The Gathering, another popular trading card game.

Well, the answer to that is the word “shadowless”. Pokémon cards all have artwork on them, and at art is framed by a shadow that creates a somewhat 3D effect. When Wizards of the Coast printed the very first Pokémon cards, they left this shadow out, giving the cards a flatter, more minimalist design. The Pokémon Company, owners of the property and publishers of the Japanese card game Wizards of the Coast was adapting, weren’t happy with this change, so the shadow was added starting with the second print run of these cards.

What that means, in layman’s terms, is that there are a very small number of these shadowless cards and they are distinct from every other Pokémon card. On top of that, they’re the very first Pokémon cards ever printed, making them very appealing to collectors.

While it seems like these rare and valuable Pokémon cards are constantly popping up in the news, there just aren’t all that many of them in the world, especially the sealed first edition boxes. The Pokémon brand isn’t going anywhere, the card game is still a strong seller even today and there’s a renewed interest in the anime now that it’s on Netflix. But the YouTube videos with the boxes of cards worth hundreds of thousands of dollars are probably just a passing fad for people in quarantine. And it’s not like anyone’s ever been burned by calling Pokémon a fad before, right?

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