For the first time since the switch to the new era of Pokémon TCG, it’s all about Charizards again. With next week’s release of Obsidian Flames, players and collectors will once again be making a very big fuss about the cuddle orange dragon, with three different ‘Zards to collect in the set. But that’s not all that’s interesting in this poor set that’s due to be immediately overshadowed by Pokémon 151 in September—there are some absolute classics in here that can’t breathe fire at all.
For reasons best known to themselves, The Pokémon Company International (TPCi) has been oddly shy about the contents of the third set from Scarlet & Violet, Obsidian Flames. While the next set, Pokémon 151, already has a detailed gallery on the official site, Obsidian Flames has only just been acknowledged as existing at all, and then with just eight cards revealed. This is all the more peculiar given people have been able to open packs of it for over a week now, if they’ve taken part in pre-release Build & Battle events!
However, despite these odd efforts, players do know what all 191 cards from the set actually are, and some are already creating quite the buzz. This is boosted by so many of the cards in Obsidian Flames appearing internationally at the same time as they first showed up in Japan’s latest collection, Ruler of the Black Flame. That’s unusual, the rest-of-world market usually has to wait two to six months to see cards first released in Japanese.
This means that we get to pull the gold terastalised Dark-type Charizard at the same time, alongside beautiful Special Art Rares like the Geeta and Poppy. So in our most anticipated list, a lot of the pics will be the cards with the Japanese text, given the lack of official images. However, the art will be identical, not least now we’re all so used to sharing the silver borders.
Pidgey, Pidgeotto, Pidgeot ex
In this year’s Crown Zenith set, a new artist was introduced to Pokémon TCG in fine style. Banana Jerky’s Lumineon V was a complete stunner, with his distinctive style then appearing in all of SV’s sets so far. Another stand-out among them is Paldea Evolved’s amazing Tropius Illustration Rare. But sure to become the cards that he’s best known for are the trio of Pidgey evolution Illustration Rares in Obsidian Flames.
Already featuring in street exhibitions in Japan, these bold, bonkers designs give one of Pokémon’s most boring creatures an all-new appeal.
Quite whether this could help the card enter the meta is yet to be seen, with Pidgey offering a dreadful 20 damage, Pidgeotto only managing 40, and then only the Pidgeot ex offering any real help. It’s actually pretty neat, its any-time ability letting you get any card you want from your deck into your hand each turn, while for just two energy you can do 120 damage while discarding any Stadium card in play.
Eiscue ex Special Illustration Rare
As we’ve been noting over the last few sets, minimalist designs are really becoming a thing in the Pokémon TCG. However, this Eiscue ex Special Illustration Rare really takes that to a new level, barely more than a sketch of the terastalized ice-headed penguin, seemingly in a death-pact with itself as it converts to Fire-type.
This is Pokémon illustration legend Toshinao Aoki showing off again, much as he did with the completely wonderful Slowpoke from Scarlet & Violet’s base set. But when you’re the guy who drew Surfing Pikachu, you can do absolutely anything you like.
This is going to be very hard to pull, but there’s a more basic version of the card that should appear far more frequently. And I suspect it’ll see a fair amount of play as a surprise in Water decks. With three Water energy, you can not only deliver 160 Fire damage (albeit discarding on energy in the process), but also prevent your opponent’s Pokémon from attacking the next turn.
Larvitar, Tyranitar ex
There are a good number of crowd-pleasers in Obsidian Flames, and while the most obvious is the Charizard, another appearance from Tyranitar will have people happy. Especially given the usually Dark-type dino is this time terastalized into a Lightning-type.
You’ll have to evolve him into play, but once he’s there, your Tyranitar ex can do 120 damage in exchange for the top two cards on your deck, alongside a 150+ attack that can add on another 100 points if any of your benched monsters are damaged.
Oddly, only the Larvitar is getting a lovely full-art Illustration Rare, with Pupitar stuck in the bulk, and Tyranitar ex getting a full-art Ultra Rare crystal card. Come on, where are the Pupitar celebration cards?!
Yuka Morii Bonanza!
It’s possible I might be the only one quite so excited by this, but Obsidian Flames proves an amazing set for those who collect Yuka Morii’s astonishingly lovely clay-based Pokémon cards. There are four of them!
Yuka Morii has been making and photographing model Pokémon since 2000, with these four in Obsidian Flames bringing her total to 195. (She’s also got a Magnemite and Magneton coming up in 151.) They only get more gorgeous, my favourite of this set is the adorable Sinistea, photographed among a collection of real china teacups.
Since you asked, I recently managed to fill in a bunch of gaps in my Yuka Morii binder at a card show, even picking up a Ditto Pikachu from Delta Species, which makes…one of the ten Dittos found.
Belibolt Illustration Rare
I’d have picked Belibolt’s Illustration Rare for inclusion even if it weren’t a very playable card. It’s just such a pretty one!
Artist Keiichiro Ito previously brought us Crown Zenith’s wonderful Keldeo, and a certain Moonbreon card that caused Evolving Skies to sell out. It’s unlikely Bellibolt will achieve the same, but you’ll definitely want it in your hand if you’re facing off against an opponent’s Lightning deck, given its ability to entirely block all such attacks.
Lechonk Illustration Rare
Whoever came up with Lechonk for Scarlet and Violet had better have received a hefty bonus. Has any non-starter Pokémon received so many cards in so few sets?
Alongside promo cards for The Pokémon Center, the tasty piggy received three regular cards in the series’ base set, and now gets a further four different cards in Obsidian Flames! One of those is a stunner from illustration legend Tomokazu Komiya, but the set also features the bacony beast’s first full-art, in the form of this Illustration Rare by Narumi Sato, who recently brought us that fantastic Sudowudo.
It’s about as useless a card as you could put in a deck, delivering 20 damage and nothing else, but look at it! He’s such a good boy!
Poppy Special Illustration Rare
As is becoming traditional in recent sets, we’re seeing two trainers picked to receive both an Ultra Rare and Special Illustration Rare. In the previous two sets, one of these has gone crazy when it comes to prices, starting with SV base set’s Miriam, then Paldea Evolved’s Iono, each fetching well over $100. Of this set, it’ll be interesting to see if the same happens to either.
For Poppy, you kind of have to hope not, given that the success of such cards tends to be associated with the so-called “waifu tax,” where cards featuring pretty girls reach the highest prices. And Poppy, one of Scarlet & Violet’s Elite Four, is a small child.
The card itself is pretty useful—it allows you to move two Energy cards from one Pokémon to another. The art on these rares is also absolutely lovely, the Ultra Rare a more traditional rendering, while the Special Illustration Rare looking far more like a traditional Japanese painting, the little girl asleep on a Copparajah’s head.
Geeta Special Illustration Rare
It’s the same set-up for Geeta, chairwoman of Paldea’s Pokémon League. A very traditional Ultra Rare, and then an incredibly striking Special Illustration Rare that is sure to be the non-Charizard chase card of the set.
It’ll be fascinating to see if Geeta’s card hits the same highs as Miriam or Iono, with Geeta being Pokémon’s first ever Indian character. Which is to say, she’s not white, and I suspect this could affect the price given how awful everything in the whole world is all of the time. I really hope I’m wrong! Because, damn, that’s a beautiful card, and it deserves to be an enormous hit for illustrator Dom’s work alone. (He was also responsible for Crown Zenith’s magnificent Deoxys VSTAR, and Paldea Evolved’s gorgeous Grusha Illustration Rare.)
Ninetails, Palafin, Cleffa
Before we get drowned in Charizards, I wanted to mention these three cards for their amazing art. Each is an Illustration Rare, and as such shouldn’t be too difficult to pull. However, I suspect just the sheer prettiness of the Ninetails could see it easily fetching $20 or more.
There are a ridiculous four different versions of the Charizard ex in Obsidian Flames. Three of them are above, so I can save the best one until last.
It’s hard to judge which will prove to be the most popular. In previous times, it’d be the Gold version of the crystal card, listed as a three gold star Hyper Rare in the set list. That technically makes it the rarest version, but Gold cards just haven’t been proving popular in the Scarlet & Violet era. It’s hard to say exactly why, but they’ve not been reaching the prices we’re used to. My speculation is that it’s similar to the collapse in popularity of the Rainbow Rares in previous generations: they’re just inferior versions of the increasingly fantastic art available.
So while this gold ex looks great, it doesn’t look nearly as great as the Special Illustration Rare I’ve saved for last. That makes me suspect it’ll fail to reach the same levels of interest. This could all be relative, given it’s a set with a rare Charizard in it so everyone will go nuts, although even this needs to be qualified with the fact that September’s 151 will also feature Zards.
Charizard ex Special Illustration Rare
Oh my gosh, it’s such a beauty. I couldn’t care less about Charizard, but I can’t stop staring at this card’s art. Heck, I’m right now admiring my own artwork giving the card its own wings.
This is another colossally stunning card by Akira Egawa, who must surely be the best artist working on the TCG. Her cards have recently proved to be some of the most popular and highest earning in any number of sets, including Crown Zenith’s astonishing Gold VSTAR cards, Silver Tempest’s Gardevoir, and Fusion Strike’s Mew VMAX.
What’s so special here is how Akira blends her distinctive painterly style with the look of the crystal cards 5ban Graphics have been making for SV’s terastalized Pokémon.
This card is surely going to go huge, boosted by also being enormously playable. Evolve Charmander or Charmeleon into it (you’ll definitely want a Rare Candy to do the former) and you can immediately attach three Energy from your deck to your Pokémon however you please, and with just two of them on the Zard, you can do a minimum of 180 damage, adding on an extra 30 for every Prize card your opponent’s claimed. Oh, and while it’s benched it can’t be harmed.
Still, if you pull this one, I’d sleeve and binder it asap.
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