The final set of Pokémon TCG cards for the Sword & Shield era had made some impressive noise, before we’d even seen a card. Celebrating the end of the V, VSTAR and VMAX generation, the Japanese VSTAR Universe, and English-language Crown Zenith, are sets that said they were going all-out on special art cards, including what are being called Art Rares and Super Art Rares. Now we’ve seen the first few examples shown from VSTAR Universe, they were underselling the set if anything: It’s looking beautiful.
Over the last week, the main set of cards from VSTAR Universe were revealed, added to in the last couple of days with a fair number of the Art Rares, and it’s proving to be the most gorgeous collection of Pokémon TCG art we’ve ever seen. This is a collection focused on favourite V cards from the last three years, reissued with brand new — often astonishing — art. It’s going to be an expensive couple of months for Pokémon card fans.
It’s even more expensive this time, given that outside of Japan, Crown Zenith is being released as a so-called Special Set. This means cards will be found in collection boxes, Elite Trainer Boxes, and so on, but not available to buy in 36-pack booster boxes. It makes it far more expensive to pick up the individual packs, coming as they do either with frippery and extras like coins, oversized cards, or sleeves, that bulk up both the contents and the price, or in individual booster packs at $US5 ($7) a pop. (That’s slightly more frustrating, given the non-rare cards are identical reissues of cards from the previous sets, meaning your bulk’s going to have bulk.)
Still though, wait until you see some of these cards. They’re like nothing before, with such an extraordinary emphasis on background detail. While Evolving Skies had its “Moonbreon,” and Lost Origin that mind-blowing Giratina, what we have in VSTAR Universe/Crown Zenith is a collection of over a dozen cards that match these, and more are to be revealed tomorrow. Right, enough waffle, let’s look at the prettiness.
Oh my. I picked this one first because I think it just exemplifies how much more work has gone into the most basic of Basic cards. Mew might have had a time in the SWSH meta, but at the end of the day, this is a card that deals 30 damage. Yet it has received the most lavish Alt Art, a wonderful scene by Ryota Murayama to pore over for so long, studying every Pokémon, as they crowd around the sleeping Mew. Look at the concern on that one Skwovet’s face! Even the Cramorant only looks half as gormless as usual.
There’s so much story going on here, from the hopeful concern of the surrounding crowd, to the knowledge that whatever might have happened, that Mew took a bite of the berry first. It’s wistful, poignant, a moment of hope and doubt superbly caught. Also, you know, it’s a really pretty drawing on a piece of cardboard.
The contrast in art styles between Akira Komayama’s Deoxys, and the previous Mew, is one of the reasons Pokémon cards can be so celebrated and adored. Much like the Mew, there’s so much going on here, the first-glance appearance of a Mythical Pokémon stood in the light of a UFO belying a more complicated scene.
That’s not a UFO, but a Gigantamaxed Orbeetle, the megamind ladybug beast. But look at those planets, the colours chosen, the pink blasts of laser light. Surely, with this collection, there’s a case for clean prints of these cards with all the text removed?
Yuu Nishida has been responsible for some of the most striking Pokémon cards in recent years, following her win of the first Pokémon Card Game Illustration Grand Prix in 2019. That four-part Morpeko V-UNION was hers, along with Lost Origin’s incredible Rotom V full-art.
Further proving why she’s one of the most exciting artists working on the cards is this new Miltank. What a Pokémon to receive such effort! Although, of course, this became one of the most important cards in the meta when it was first released (in a very plain form) in Astral Radiance, adding the game-changing Ability to resist all damage from the far-too dominant V cards.
So it’s glorious to see it realised with art as stunning as this. Pour a glass of Moomoo Milk and tuck in.
Of course it’s not Numel! But it’d be no fun to title the page with the truth. This delightfully cute card is by Miki Tanaka, who has been creating art for Pokémon since 1999’s Fossil set, but she all-too rarely gets given a full-art.
This is just so adorable, that cheeky Ditoo brazenly grazing amidst the Numel, spiking the camera in its glee at getting away with it.
This stunning card is one of my absolute favourites in the set. While there are others here that convey utter majesty, almost religious reverence for the Pokémon they feature, this goes in the absolute opposite direction. It’s this amazing combination of the complete silliness of a Dunsparce-infested bedroom, but presented with complete seriousness, no gags.
This is the very first Pokémon card to be illustrated by Kurata So, who blows it out the water first time.
A new VSTAR introduced in VSTAR Universe, Simisear’s alt-art version is just such a brilliant piece of design. The lavishly detailed backgrounds that make the other cards here feel so special are replaced with…more Simisear! Splendid work by another first-time illustrator, Nagano.
Also, look at that doofus. He’s got a point he wants to make, and he’s going to make it with his mouth full.
It’s so much fun, leaping from one extreme to the other. Oh my goodness, look at this goddess. This is Leafeon in its most Poison Ivy mode, with its leaf tail dipped in that enormous jar.
I want this as a poster! Or perhaps painted in full on the front of my house. Don’t put it past me. This is the back wall of our house:
Honestly, this is the (currently officially announced) card I’m most excited about. Collecting Asako Ito’s wonderful crotchet card art has, until now, been a very well-priced endeavour. Unless I can pull this one, I think it’s going to end up costing me a fortune.
I’m just ridiculously excited that whoever Asako Ito really is (it’s very likely a pseudonym) has been given a full-art, and even more excited that she used it to explode with creativity. Everything in that picture is hand-made! That little crotchet rug, the bedspread, the furniture and curtains. Somewhere this whole diorama exists in real life!
(I say currently officially announced, because I’ve seen leaks of a card by the other artist I collect, Yuka Morii, and it’s also a full-art!)
Hisuian Samurott VSTAR
Obviously I too wish this were really a Snorunt VSTAR, rather than just the most fantastically realised Samurott who happens to be friends with a Snorunt.
The only tragedy of Shibuzoh’s typically superb art is that the crappy non-alt-art VSTAR design has it chopped into bits by the golden bars.
In picking between featuring Zeraora’s VSTAR or VMAX, my previous complaint helped a lot (VMAXes don’t have that awful bar across the bottom third), but mostly because this one has a Pachirisu sleeping on its head. Daaaaaawwwwwww.
Also tucked away in there is an Emolga living its best life on the Zeraora’s haunches, and a seemingly furious Togedemaru clinging on the other side. That’s a lot of Pikachu rip-offs for there to be no Pikachu, but then, look down the very bottom, on the left…Who’s tail is that?
This is by Aoki, who is very new to the cards, starting with this year’s Astral Radiance, for which they produced the astonishing Frosmoth Trainer Gallery card. Incredibly, they’ve had 14 cards out this year!
There are a whole bunch of traditionally lovely Trainer cards already revealed for VSTAR Universe/Crown Zenith, but as great as they are, they’re very traditional. Gardenia’s Vigour is something else entirely, and arguably an entirely different understanding of traditional.
This is a sumptuous card by established artist, but Pokémon first-timer, Yoriyuki Ikegami. Now play Hunt The Cherubi.
If you were lucky enough to get hold of a Charizard Ultimate Premium Collection, then you’ll have seen Kiyotaka Oshiyama’s exclusive promo card in which Charizard and Mewtwo are fighting.
That card is first appearing in Japan within VSTAR Universe, and it’s being accompanied by this alternative perspective by Gossan. We see the same fight, but this time from Mewtwo’s side, the Shadow Ball ready to fire. But best of all are how many other details match here. The more obvious inclusion is the poor Tangrowth, being swept away by the frantic action. But this card made me finally notice the Diglett! See it bottom right above? And then it’s bottom left in the other. Such a fantastic level of detail, and card I suspect is going to cost a fortune.
Yes, the pastelly palette is a little offputting at first, giving this a slight look of Baby’s First Pokémon Card. But get past that, and just study the wealth of detail here from another 2022-starting illustrator, zig.
Look at that delighted Spheal on the other Lapras’ back! And that Mantyke swimming behind (the best Pokémon of all time) Mantine. It might be a bit sappy, but it’s a beaut.
OK, I could keep posting these all day, but eventually Patricia’s going to notice I haven’t handed anything in. So I’ll stop with this wonderful Moltres from yet another new-for-2022 artist, Shinji Kanda. It’s so fabulously striking, the contrast of an apparent head-first plunge, but the complete nonchalance on the Moltres’ face.
Oh my, and we’ve yet to see official versions of the leaked Gold Rares, which look like nothing else PTCG has ever done. Plus there’s the entire 70-card Galar Gallery to reveal. My poor bank balance.