Catch 'Em All: How to Tell if a Pokemon Card is Rare

The Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG) has been around since 1999 and has produced well over 13 thousand unique trading cards. With so many cards in circulation, how do you know if a Pokémon Card is rare?

Some of the rarest Pokémon cards can be worth quite a bit of cash. You might be sitting on a card collector’s gold mine and not even realize it!

If you are on the hunt for the rarest Pokémon cards, follow this guide to help you catch ‘em all!

How to Tell if a Pokémon Card is Rare

Like all collecting hobbies, trading card value is driven by the rarity of a card. After all, if everyone had a card, it wouldn’t be worth very much. Thankfully, The Pokémon TCG has some helpful signs to denote each Pokémon card rarity.

Look for the following features that show how to tell if you have a rare Pokémon card.

Card Rarity Symbols

Rarity” is a rating the TCG assigns to cards, to give an idea of how many copies of that card exist. In general, Pokémon cards come in six rarities. From least to most rare, they are: Common, Uncommon, Rare, Holo Rare, Ultra Rare, and Secret Rare.

In the Pokémon TCG the bottom corner of the card has a symbol that is different for each rarity.

  • Common Cards - If a card's rarity symbol is a black or white circle, it's a Common. These are the most plentiful cards in the game and are not usually worth much.
  • Uncommon Cards - If a card's rarity symbol is a black or white diamond, it's an Uncommon. Like common cards, these are pretty easy to find.
  • Rare Cards - If a Pokémon card's rarity symbol is a black or white star, it's at least a Rare. These are less common, usually only one or two in a booster pack.
  • Holo Rare Cards - Like rare cards, but with shiny holographic (holo) foil art instead of paper. They may also be reverse holos, where everything other than the art is foil.
  • Ultra Rare Cards - Full art cards, full card foils, and cards with unique frames are typically Ultra Rare or better. Unlike cards of the lower rarities, the rarity symbol on Ultra Rare Pokémon cards is never black. Ultra Rare cards are usually foil from top to bottom.
  • Secret Rare Cards - Secret Rare is the highest category of Pokémon card rarity. They have a collector card number that's higher than the advertised set number (e.g. 101/100). Hence the "secret" in their name.

Promo Cards

There are a few cards that don’t fall into the rarity categories. Any card that doesn't come in a booster pack is called a promotional (promo) card. The Pokémon Company prints promo cards to promote events, reward customers, celebrate milestones, etc. The number and rarity of these cards varies depending on the promo.

Image of Charizard

Print Date

The older a card is, the more likely it is a rare find. Look closely at the print date on the bottom of a card to see just how old it is. Any card marked “Wizards of the Coast” is likely part of the very first generation of cards printed. Cards that old may be worth looking into a little more closely.

Card Set Number

As mentioned in the description of Secret Rare Cards, Pokémon marks each card with a card set number. The numbers don’t really matter unless the card number is higher than the range, like in a Secret Rare Card.

A “Shining Pokémon” card has artwork that is different from the standard version. You can also spot these if the card number begins with the letters “SH”

If the card doesn’t have a collector number, it may be another indication that the card is an earlier print.

Card Condition

Card Collectors grade the quality of cards on a scale of 1-10 by their condition. Be careful handling rare cards right out of the booster pack, as you may impact its condition. Here are some examples of terms commonly used to describe card conditions.

  • Near Mint (NM) - has sharp corners and edges; no visible signs of wear or surface scratches; clean and glossy, with no smudges or fingerprints.
  • Lightly Played (LP) - has some minor wear and tear, such as slightly rounded corners or edges; the surface is still relatively clean and glossy.
  • Moderately Played (MP) - has noticeable wear and tear; has slight but visible creased corners, surface scratches, or minor discoloration.
  • Heavily Played (HP) - highly visible creases, bends, scratches, and discoloration; may be difficult to recognize the image or to play with it.

Shop for Rare Pokémon Cards

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