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The best Pokémon cards ever will be out in 2023, and they’re generous

A collection of Crown Zenith Galarian Gallery cards.

Image: The Pokémon Company / Kotaku

It’s the end of an era. For the past three years, the Pokémon trading card game has been mainly focused on the Pokémon and characters from 2019 Sword and Shield (SWSH) game, but on March 20th that will all come to an end. That’s when the world outside Japan will see its first official sets of Scarlet & Violet (SV), marking the three-year shift of the trading card game from one game to the next. But Sword & Shield doesn’t go away quietly. The last hurray is a set called Crown Zenith, in stores tomorrow, and we call it: This is the best set Pokemon TCG has ever seen.

The secret is the sheer number of full art cards and the frequency with which they are likely to appear in packs. While so-called “full art” cards were first introduced in the PTCG back in 2011, through the former Black and white card sets, they’ve never been as prolific as we’ve seen in the last three years. On top of that first full arts, the intervention Sun Moon sets introduced Rainbow Rares, redesigned Gold Cards and towards the end brought in the “alternate art” cards where artists could reimagine a card with usually much more elaborate or detailed graphics.

All of these became standard throughout SWSH‘s run, and last year saw the possibly permanent addition (following a precursor to the idea since an earlier version in 2019’s Cosmic Eclipse) of the Trainer Gallery – 30-esque decks of cards within sets, featuring trainers and their Pokémon in beautifully drawn nun combat situations. As a result, players and collectors are more focused on drawing these much more eye-catching cards, relegating the previously sought-after holos to the lower ranks with the rest of the bulk.

The problem with all of this was the pull rate. The rarity of these cards, admittedly known as “ultra rares” and “secret rares”, has meant that the expensive 10-card packs have felt like duds far too often. If you don’t get at least half a V card, a $4 to $5 pack can feel like a waste of money, just a bunch of bulk. Now, of course, there are a lot of qualifying arguments here, especially if you want to build a deck and really need that fourth unusual Horsea for your water deck, or whatever. But for collectors, let’s not mess around: it’s all about the ultra rares.

The Pokémon Company International (TPCi) isn’t stupid. This is of course a motivating factor to keep such cards harder to draw and thus gives people reason to spend a lot more money. It’s been that way ever since your great-grandmother collected baseball cards. But things may have gotten a little crazy since last February’s Brilliant Stars, where the 172-card set actually contained 216 different cards – 14 of which were secret rares – and 30 in the Trainer Gallery. Of the 216 almost half were ultra rare or higher. This hobby got stupidly expensive even before you even mention a PSA 10 alt-art Charizard V from that set. (Never mind Evolving Sky’s infamous Moonbreon.)

A fan of Crown Zenith Galarian Gallery cards.

Image: The Pokémon Company / Kotaku

Did you pull?

Get in, Crown Zenith. Essentially the rest-of-world version of the Japanese VSTAR universe set, this climax collection from SWSH cards has by far the most beautiful cards of the PTCG has ever seen, including the 70-card Galarian Gallery of stunning full-art foils. And perhaps more importantly, characterizes them easy.

The Pokémon Company has shipped my city a few examples of the set, including an Elite Trainer Box, a tin and a collection box, with a total of 19 packages that we can open before the expiration date. Enough to get a good idea of ​​the pull rates, even if they are a bit less scientific. Combined with watching those Chosen One YouTubers who aren’t embargoed, we were able to get a good feel for the set, and wow, it’s So much better.

Of the 19 packages my son and I ripped open, we scored a total of 18 ultra rares or higher, which is unheard of outside Japan. (And those aren’t the cards that came with the tin and collector’s box, just the ones from the packs.) While we missed my pursuit card, the alt-art Leafeon, we did manage to hit some of the cards that we wanted most. As a collector of cards from This is me and Yuka Morii, I was thrilled to get the full art contributions from both artists, the Altaria and Drapion V respectively. My son was thrilled to get the brand new Zacian VSTAR, a Radiant Eternatus and the Brilliant Stars Charizard V reprint. And we both screamed for joy at the pull of the adorable Galarian Gallery Ditto disguised as a grinning Numel. Oh, and the gorgeous GG Swablu! And the brand new Eevee V! Or what about that GG Toxicity? And the ridiculously beautiful Gardenias Vigor… In total we have seven of the Galarian Gallery cards, which means we beat more than one in three packs!

To put this in perspective, for his Christmas present, the boy received a 36-pack booster box of Silver Tempest cards, an astonishingly bad box of a set with – anecdotally – a particularly poor draw speed, from which he drew much, much less. . This was a very different experience.

An ETB, collection box and tin, all for Crown Zenith.

Photo: my city

Crown Zenith decoded

I hate celebrating this too much because honestly, this is how I feel the cards should always work. If half your deck is made up of such cards, then you should have a much higher chance of seeing them in a pack than the maybe one in five you’ve seen in recent years.

For reasons likely related to pack weight (the texture and extra ink of an ultra rare can make packs weigh a few micrograms more, making it easy for nefarious types to filter out the better packs), for For a few years, Pokémon card packs have come with “code cards” (cards with a QR code for the online version of the game) with borders or colors that indicate the quality of the cards. Get a white trim and you know your pack is probably a dud (albeit with the slim chance of getting a Trainer Gallery of Alt Art in the inverted holo position). It’s incredibly stupid, giving a “white code card” the death knell of joy when opening an expensive collection of cardboard.

I don’t know why, but Crown Zenith has done away with this system and all code cards have a black border regardless of the package contents. (Once they’re properly released, we’ll soon know if they can be weighted.) They also don’t contain holos, and you don’t mind that either, as they’re being replaced by so many more full-art cards. Of the 19 packs, four contained double-hitters, each with two outstanding cards. Again, that’s much higher than we’ve seen before.

Crown Zenith vs. the Universe

This apparent generosity is all tempered a bit when you compare it to the Japanese version, VSTAR Universe. Because, if you were hoping for pull rates as high as that set, then tragically I have to tell you it doesn’t look like it. VSTAR Universe is absolute crazy, with packs of 10 cards containing as many as four ultra rares or higher, and at least a stack of holos. And I’m very sorry to report that the TPCi versions didn’t copy over the absolutely stunning inverted holo pattern that Japan enjoyed, where cards got a full holo effect of shimmering bubbles. In Crown Zenith, we’re once again stuck with the gloomy herringbone pattern being tarnished SWSH during.

More bad news: While Crown has Zenith Energy holos, they aren’t the exceptional patterns we saw in VSTAR Universe. The Japanese set’s special Energy cards have a holo effect that switches from Poké Balls to the Energy-type symbols when you flip the cards, something the cards have never seen before. Why on Soil that wouldn’t be replicated for the international charts is baffling, and ours is just a simple foil gloss. Boo.

A collection of Crown Zenith Galarian Gallery cards.

Image: The Pokémon Company / Kotaku

Rebalance expectations

Aside from the disappointment of not being treated to the surplus we’ve seen in Japan, Crown Zenith remains the best set ever PTCG has seen. It’s part best-of, featuring reprints of favorite maps from years past, and part bumper collection of some of the best art the game has ever seen. While they’ve avoided reprints of the biggest money cards (there’s no Brilliant Stars alt-art Giratina or Evolving Skies Umbreon, for example), the set instead focuses much more on handing out the most playable favorites, alongside others that are sure to be become ridiculously collectible.

This is a suitable finish for the Sword & Shield era, and thanks to vastly improved pull rates, it really achieves its intended purpose of celebrating the Galar region. Had it been as stingy as we’ve seen in recent sets, it would have felt disastrous, not least when this set isn’t available in booster boxes, making it extra expensive to buy in bulk. The art is always great, and it was quite an experience to open a stack of packs and not come away feeling cheated.

This, of course, rather balances the expectations for the first series of March Scarlet & Violet. We’ve already been told that prices will increase from $3.99 to $4.49 for booster packs, but this may be balanced by each pack being guaranteed to contain at least three foils, and all rare products will now be foil. However, it seems unlikely that the rates of full art pulls will be the same, which will be a bitter pill to swallow after finishing SWSH at such a height. Hopefully, the promise of the returning Pokémon ex-mechanic, along with the mysterious abilities of terastalized Pokémon cards, will be interesting enough to focus on how it affects live play may be distracting. However, given how much beautiful art rares can be found in the Japanese versions of the setsthere is reason to hope.

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