How Exactly Are Pokémon Cards Graded For Value?

How Exactly Are Pokémon Cards Graded For Value?
At Kotaku, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.

Whether you want to attribute the surge in popularity of Pokémon trading cards to online influencers or just pure nostalgia, it’s no secret that hobbyists around the world are racing to stock up in the hopes that they can find a card worth grading for thousands of dollars.

While you can play the trading card game it was designed for, most people prefer to collect ’em all instead. In recent times, Pokémon cards have started to dominate the collectible field as well as sell for a lotta money. We’re talking millions of dollars.

Take YouTuber Logan Paul, he currently owns the world’s most expensive Pokémon card (featuring the ultra-rare PSA Grade 10 Pikachu Illustrator), which was sold to him for an eye-watering $9.45 million (USD$6 million) back in 2021. The influencer even received a Guinness World Record title for the feat. Because who doesn’t want a world record for spending a lot of money, right?

How are Pokémon trading cards graded?

Pokémon trading cards grading
Image: Kotaku Australia

Grading refers to the practice of submitting a trading card to a professional authentication company who will inspect the card’s authenticity, condition and rarity before assigning it a rank.

One of the most well-known and respected organisations around the world is Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA), who can grade anything from trading cards to autographs and sports memorabilia.

Grading Pokémon cards from the official Trading Card Game (TCG) can take some time, but once verified, your cards will be encapsulated and marked with its official grading before it’s sent back to you.

You can still buy and sell ungraded or “raw” cards, however, you’re better protected from fakes or scammers by choosing to collect graded cards. The value of a card also tends to go up once it’s certified by an official grader.

So, how do graders value your Pokémon cards? Well, you can read a little about the process below.

Condition of the card

PSA 10 Charizard
Image: PSA

The first thing organisations, like PSA, do is examine the condition of the card. They’ll check to see if the corners are peeling, if the card has suffered any discolouration or if there’s been any scratches that could mar its value.

To do this, most grading companies will use a grading system (many use a similar system to PSA), that will score your cards on a scale from 1 to 10. Some also use half-grades or subgrades to value your cards. The lowest is called PR 1 for poor while the highest is known as “GEM-MT10” or Gem Mint. A 10 is deemed a perfect card, virtually untouched with its full original gloss intact and with no stains.

Take for instance these two Pikachu cards that were listed on eBay. One is a PSA 8 and sold for $299.95, the other was a PSA 9 and fetched $100 more at $399.95. While that’s not a ton of money, that still indicates how a card’s grading can affect its price.

There’s also a secondary grading scale known as a “qualifier”. These are typically misprints that can range from the image being slightly off-centre to a miscut or carrying some kind of marking, like an autograph. Alongside the condition of your Pokémon cards, these can increase or decrease its value, resulting in more (or less) cha-ching depending on the situation.

So the next time you get a pack of trading cards, try to carefully peel off the packaging instead of tearing it off with your teeth like a rabid Growlithe. The goal here is to ensure you cause no tears, creases or damage to your cards, especially with its corners or edges since those are the aspects that graders judge harshly.

You’ll also want to avoid handling your Pokémon trading cards too much by putting them straight into their display case once opened, since the professionals will mark down any scratches or discolouration during the grading process.

The type of card

Pokemon Trophy trading cards
Image: Goldin

Next up, is the type of Pokémon card you’re sitting on. Early types of cards were divided into three types: normal; reverse holo, where the whole card except the character image is holographic and rare holo, where only the image of the character is holographic. Nowadays, modern cards can feature alternative artworks, secret rare cards, and anything marked with “ultra rare”.

There are also a few other rare types of cards such as black star promo cards that you can’t pull from a set, or shadowless cards, which can be an indicator of an early vintage set and which print run its from.

From there, trading cards are judged on its rarity, which is indicated by a black icon at the bottom of the card. A black circle means common, a diamond means uncommon and a star means it’s rare.

Next to the rarity indicator is the collector card number which will tell you how many cards are in that set and which card you have. If you pick up any nearby card, it’ll likely read “7/150”, but there are some cards that will be numbered something like “151/150”, which makes them a “secret rare”, and thus, desirable to collectors.

The evaluator will consider whether the Pokémon trading card comes from a booster pack or a special event. If you’ve ever competed in or attended a Pokémon Tournament, you might have noticed that the winners are occasionally gifted with “Trophy Cards” that can be auctioned off for a small fortune.

Back in May this year, a trio of Trophy Pikachu cards that were awarded to the 1997-1998 winners of the Japanese Lizardon Mega Battle Tournament, sold for a combined total of USD$325,000.

And lastly, it’s the demand that ultimately affects a card’s value. If you’ve ever checked out a list of the most expensive Pokémon cards ever sold, you’ll probably notice that Charizards dominate the list. That’s all thanks to you Gen Wunners and Charizard stans.

How to check if your Pokémon cards are worth anything

eBay Pokemon trading card
Image: eBay Australia

On your own, it’s pretty hard to figure out the value of that sick Metagross holo sitting in an album at the back of your closet. Since submitting each individual card can cost a decent chunk of money, it’s a good idea to assess your cards yourself to see if you’re sitting on some potential bank.

Check the date it was released

Pull out any of your cards and check the date it was produced in. The further back your card goes, the more likely it’s worth something, especially if it’s a First Edition.

Figure out which set it belongs to

You’ll then want to figure out which set the card belongs to through a mini logo printed underneath the picture of the character it features or in the bottom corner. Trading cards that belong to the Fossil or Team Rocket sets tend to fetch a good price. If you can’t see a logo, double check the year and research which decks were released during that time. You should be able to identify a match that way.

Does it have any printing errors or unique markings?

Interestingly, cards that have printing errors or were used as “demo” cards can also be worth a lot of money. A famous example is the Backless Blastoise card, the third-most expensive Pokémon card ever sold. The reason it fetched such a high price at auction was because it looks like your regular holo on the front, but its back is completely blank.

According to Heritage Auctions, the Backless Blastoise card was created by Wizards of the Coast, who used to be the original creators of the TCG. The Blastoise card was intended as a “presentation piece” when the publishers attempted to persuade Nintendo execs to produce trading cards back in 1999. This card was never meant to be sold, but would you look at it now.

As it stands, the Backless Blastoise was one of two presentation cards that were ever produced. While the other has changed hands around the world many times, its other half’s location is complete and utter mystery.

Be wary of fakes

You’ll also want to make sure you’re not wasting your time with a dud. Some fake trading cards are super obvious and may include cards of Pokémon that are definitely not in the official Dex. Granted that there’s about 1,000 Pokémon now, you can always do a quick Google search to see if you’re looking at some random ‘mon from three generations past that you completely forgot about.

Others require a keen eye for detail since they might feature a different shade of blue on the back of the card that’s otherwise undetectable unless you have a real one to compare it with. In other instances, you might have purchased an ultra rare “unopened” trading card tin, thinking you’d find some gem from back in 1999 when it turns out there’s not a single rare card in the deck.

Some scammers like to weigh decks before listing them on online marketplaces, and since holographic cards are ever-so-slightly heavier than normal cards, swindlers can open up the box, take out the rare cards and reseal it before advertising it as “unopened”. Pretty scummy, right? It doesn’t happen too often, but it’s something to be wary of.

Compare your card through online marketplaces

Once you’ve figured out all of that information, you can jump onto eBay Australia and search the name and card number along to suss how much your card might be worth.

You can also filter sold items when searching for a specific trading card to see how much previous trading cards fetched before you list yours online.

If you want to start or grow your collection, then why not head on over to eBay Australia’s Pokémon trading card hub here?

For a limited time only, you can save up to $100 on Pokémon trading cards using the promo code CRTCG at checkout (T&Cs apply).

Keep an eye out on anything from the iconic Evolving Skies collection as well as the newest Pokémon set The Silver Tempest, coming November 18.

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At Kotaku, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


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