Shiny Pokémon hype has jumped out of the games and into real life with one trading card game fan who’s trying to collect one of every monster colour variant that currently exists. Good news: he only needs one more card. Bad news: some people are selling it for as much as $US30,000 ($40,638).
Shinies were digitally introduced in Pokémon Gold and Silver to give players even rarer creatures to catch. Unlike standard versions of Pokémon, Shinies have unique colour variants and only a roughly 1/8000 chance of ever showing up. That rarity has encouraged some players over the years to focus primarily on trying to collect every Shiny options, ultimately creating an end-game all of their own. It’s a hobby that is filled with frequent heartbreak whenever a catch fails and exceedingly unusual moments of exaltation when a long hunt for any specific monster is finally rewarded.
But shinies don’t just exist in the video games — they’re also present in the card game. While many collectors chase the rarest and most expensive cards, some like Toby have created their own unique collecting goals, and in his case the project is inspired directly by the Pokémon games themselves.
“By my count, there are roughly 378 cards in the Pokemon TCG that feature shiny Pokemon,” Bird Keeper Toby, a Pokémon YouTuber, wrote on Instagram yesterday. He now owns exactly 377 of those 378 options, meaning that he’s this close to completing a shiny compendium in the card game. The one he’s missing? A gold star Umbreon. It’s an ultra rare card from a 2007 promo set tied to real-world events, meaning that the opportunities to obtain it were comparatively limited. And so, it’s currently listed by one seller on Ebay for $US30,000 ($40,638) for a version with an immaculate quality rating from official grading services, otherwise known as a PSA-10.
“If there is anyone out there with this card at a reasonable price or even damaged I would be so so grateful to complete my collection,” he wrote. While a good-condition card is expensive, Toby is willing to settle for scratched or even bent cards — so he could likely find a shiny Umbreon for much, much less.
For a long time, Shiny Pokémon were even rarer in the card game as most are printed in the standard colour options. But the 2019 Hidden Fates expansion, which is based around Pokémon Sun and Moon, introduced a bunch more. That’s when Toby decided to really commit to trying to get them all. “It was like Thanos collecting the infinity stones bit by bit,” he told Kotaku in a phone call. “I was going around collecting these Shiny things through trades and occasional purchases.”
The journey’s taken a lot of research to figure out which Shinies even exist. While new shinies like Espeon and Mewtoo from sets like Hidden Fates are well documented, there are ones from early on in the trading game’s history, or from Japan, that can be harder to track down. Toby has one Shiny Altaria from Japan that includes an avatar for one of the composers on the Pokémon anime in the art. According to Toby, there are only five with PSA-10 quality ratings that people know about, one of which belongs to him.
Some of those cards include Smeargle, a favourite of Toby’s from Gen 2. He’s also collected every version of that Pokémon printed in the card game. They might be worth anything to anyone else but they mean something to him.
The endeavour has also taken a lot of patience. ”In the games you can spend hours or days being repetitive until the Shiny appears but ultimately you know which Pokémon you are going for,” he said. “With the cards it’s a little different. To seek them out via trades or good deals online you have to be more opportunistic and be able to recognise a good deal when you see it. Some of these cards are rare enough that they aren’t just available to buy — and certainly not affordably year around — and when auctions come up you have competition from other collections. So it’s a different kind of patience needed.”
To make the hunt fun and exciting, Toby has imposed a few rules. For one, he tries to mainly trade for the cards rather than buy them outright. When he does buy, he’ll settle for cards that might be damaged in some way that keeps their cost reasonable and the entire project from getting too out of hand. “I didn’t and don’t have the money for that,” he said.
How much money has he spent on cards these last several years? He won’t say. He won’t ballpark how much his current Shiny collection is worth, either. But it’s probably nothing to sneeze at, given the increasing demand (if not frenzy) surrounding the hobby of late. While some, like his Red Gyarados card, have been through the wash, others are in protective slabs and rated PSA-10. Lower ratings can hurt a card’s value by hundreds or even thousands of dollars in some cases (or more with extremely sought after cards).
Toby’s even fonder of some of the damaged cards. “It means that they’ve been played, that they’ve been loved,” he said. “You can kind of see your own childhood in that. It’s part of the nostalgia, a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, a high quality card in a slab is exciting — It’s gorgeous — but there’s something to be said, it adds a level of personality and charm to them that I think is at the heart of the hobby.”
He’s not above selling the entire collection if it can go toward a big life investment like a house in the future, though. “On the one hand this is a cool collection and I think it’s awesome,” he said. “On the other hand it’s cardboard. It’s cardboard that I love, but there are plenty of other cards that I love too.”