How Illustration Rares make Pokemon TCG collecting more fun than ever

How Illustration Rares make Pokemon TCG collecting more fun than ever
The Pokemon Company

Written by 

Dani Cross

Published 

14th Aug 2023 11:24

Fans of the Pokemon TCG have been treated to all kinds of beautiful artwork over the years since its inception. Art is a large reason many people collect in the first place, whether it's gorgeous depictions of Pokemon in their natural habitats, powerful action shots or artworks that help to build a world around the titular creatures.

These artwork variants have arrived in many forms, from the classic Wizards of the Coasts cards to modern alternate arts. But perhaps the most exciting for the average Pokemon fan are the new illustration rares, a new kind of card introduced in the Pokemon TCG’s Scarlet and Violet era, and here’s why.

Accessibility is Key

Expensive alternate art cards from Pokemon Sword and Shield.
Click to enlarge

Accessibility has often been tough when it comes to the best Pokemon cards, and with the introduction of alternate artworks in the 8th generation it has become even more difficult to obtain all the illustrations you want. Sets like Evolving Skies have over doubled in price due to the strength of its alternate artworks, with the top card Umbreon VMAX reaching ridiculous heights on the market. Even its eleventh most expensive card is sitting above $50 according to TCGPlayer.

So, for the average collector, what happens if you want to add these cards to your collection right now? You can gamble on Evolving Skies packs, which are way more expensive than any other Sword and Shield pack, or you can buy them individually from card shops or other sellers. If you don’t have a high budget for cards, and most people don’t, you don’t really have any appealing options.

Illustration rares fill this gap by introducing a middle ground between the best and worst “hits” in a set, ensuring you'll be able to find cool full art-style images without needing to hunt down those insanely rare alt arts.

Similar to the Trainer Gallery cards introduced in the last block of Sword and Shield, these cards have awesome art and show up more often than the tougher pulls. It hasn’t been confirmed by the Pokemon Company, but booster boxes are pretty much guaranteed to have at least 2 or 3 illustration rares. Compared to some sets, where your best pull might be a single full art followed by a bunch of regular V or EX cards, Scarlet and Violet sets are much more generous.

But what makes them so special for modern collecting? Any Pokemon can get one, not just fully evolved ones or popular picks. In the most recent set Obsidian Flames there’s a wide range of Pokemon types among just 12 art rares, including baby Pokemon like Cleffa, new creatures like Palafin and Lechonk and fan-favourites Ninetales and Scizor. There are new and old Pokemon, middle evolutions and more. 

Inspiring Illustrations

A selection of illustration rares from the Pokemon TCG including Slowpoke, Eiscue, Fletchinder, Larvitar, Tyranitar, Lechonk, Orthworm, Scovillain, Scizor and Kingambit.
Click to enlarge

Out of the illustration rares we’ve seen so far, most have been Pokemon who have never had a rare or interesting card before. Fans of particular Pokemon can anticipate their favourites getting a cool card now, regardless of whether that Pokemon is one that would have received such a card in previous generations. And unlike the Trainer Gallery they’re not beholden to a trainer, so you get to see Pokemon in their natural environments. These cards are immersive and delightful.

You might get Slowpoke poking his head around an alleyway, or maybe Lechonk chilling on the floor after clearly over-eating. Eiscue has his head stuck in a refrigerator, Orthworm is recreating the Dune movie, Fletchinder is relaxing by the fire and Scovillain is arguing with itself. Larvitar is munching on a mound of dirt, while his final form Tyranitar is standing tall on a battlefield with a flock of Staraptors soaring above.

Not only that, but there are cards for every collector in these illustration rare sets. If you like cute artworks you’ve got a huge range of them, and if you prefer the more edgy or battle-ready Pokemon, cards like Scizor or Kingambit should be right up your street. And the new 151 set is shaping up to be the best bunch yet, especially for fans of Gen 1.

These cards tell a story too. Some evolution lines get illustrations for every Pokemon, such as Ralts, Kirlia and Gardevoir from Scarlet and Violet base set. These artworks depict a family growing alongside their Pokemon. Then you’ve got the Fuecoco line in the supermarket, the Quaxly line checking themselves in the mirror and the Sprigatito line frolicking amongst flowers and foliage.

A world of Pokemon awaits

Illustration rares featuring the Gardevoir line growing up alongside their trainer.
Click to enlarge

It’s not all perfect. These cards help collectors get their hands on stunning artworks without having to chase the most sought-after cards, but even illustration rares can become a chase. Magikarp from Paldea Evolved is one of the most pricey cards in the set, eclipsing most rarer card types. And special illustration rares, especially female trainers like Iono and Miriam, tend to reach heights comparable to alternate art prices. The market works in mysterious ways.

Even these cards aren’t quite on the same level as Gen 8 alternate arts, or top cards from Sun and Moon. And regardless of these outliers, being able to pick up most illustration rare cards at a reasonable price or find them in packs at a decent rate makes them a much-needed addition to the Pokemon TCG. Picking up packs is still a gamble, but every set is guaranteed to have some amazing artworks to look at, especially if you’re a fan of all kinds of Pokemon.

There was a chance Pokemon could have hit the reset button after the powerhouse year it had in 2022. The late Sword and Shield sets are some of the best sets we’ve ever had, but a new generation often means a return to the basics with lower pull rates and less excitement all around. Instead, we’re getting more great artworks than ever before, in every single new set that comes out. 

Scarlet and Violet have areas to critique, but the illustration rares are an absolute home run for every collector and prop up every set they’re a part of. If all Gen 9 sets are destined to have a suite of them in store for us, we have a lot to look forward to.

For more Pokemon, keep reading GGRecon.

Dani is a Guides Writer for GGRecon. She graduated from university with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, then worked as a freelance writer before joining the GGRecon team as a full-time writer in 2023. In her opinion, the best game of all time is Elden Ring – but her favourite is Halo: Reach, a game that created lifelong friendships and somehow started her down the path to a career in media. She’s also way too invested in Pokemon cards, and a big fan of guinea pigs, cats and other cute creatures.

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