Pokémon 151 is surely the most anticipated set of the long-running Pokémon Trading Card Game in years. Featuring the original 151 Kanto Pokémon, united into one single set for the first time ever, it’s finally out on September 22. With some of the most beautiful cards we’ve ever seen in the live game, it’s unquestionably going to be popular. But how is it to open? We’ve ripped through some packs, and can report.
A “special” set, 151 is set 3.5 for the Scarlet & Violet era, releasing between Obsidian Flames and November’s Paradox Rift. It’s almost identical to the Japanese 151 release from June this year, but for the removal of a few full-art cards that will instead be promos in various other boxes.
It’s packed with some of the best-looking cards we’ve ever seen, a nostalgic festival of Gen I monsters drawn with such love. But there’s one question everyone wants to know, and let’s get to it right away: How are the pull rates?
Oh god, they’re awful.
This really wasn’t what I was expecting. After January’s Crown Zenith special set, the final release from the Sword & Shield era, my expectations were set so high. A typical Pokémon booster pack has a one in three chance of containing what were once called “ultra rares” (and still would be, had The Pokémon Company International (TCPi) not confused everything by designating that as a term for a particular type of full-art in recent sets), essentially any card rarer than a basic holo. For Crown Zenith, that rate hit a wonderful one in two.
The step back to one in three for Scarlet & Violet sets was painful after that, even with the decision that every single pack would include at least two reverse holos and one regular holo card. The irony being, when a card is guaranteed, it immediately stops feeling special. But hopes were high that Pokémon 151 would offer a glimmer of that former generosity. In my experience, and in that of YouTubers I’ve watched tearing through literally thousands of packs, it’s certainly not the case.
There’s at least one good reason for that. 151 is a smaller set than Crown Zenith, with far fewer special art cards. The latter— a last-hurrah goodbye to the Sword & Shield era—had a total of 230 cards to collect, a whopping 96 of them ultra rare. 151 has 210 cards, but as the title suggests, 151 of them are regular cards (yeah, a bunch are ex cards, but they’re so common in these sets as to barely stand out). Which is all to say, there are fewer rarer cards to pull, the set padded out with a lot more bulk.
Yet as I opened an Elite Trainer Box, a Booster Bundle, and an Alakazam ex box (very kindly provided by TPCi), for a total of 20 packs, I saw so few of them. In fact, our total non-bulk haul consisted of four ex cards and a single Illustration Rare. That’s a one-in-four hit rate, albeit on a very small sample, and an exceptionally poor one in four. It’s fair to say few will be ripping open 151 in the hunt for a Wigglytuff ex.
In a disappointing move, the international release of 151 does not include the Japanese version’s wonderful reverse-holo poké ball pattern, which came with a chance that they could instead feature master balls, and as such become much more valuable. Instead, these conform to the new normal, that same reverse holo pattern we’ve seen all year, and no variants. However, in a very pleasing move, we’re getting a good chance of pulling some holo energy cards in the regular energy slot. These are just lovely, and best of all, feature old-school Wizards of the Coast-style swirls in the holo pattern. They’re very common, seeming to appear in about one in four packs.
The international release also feature what are being dubbed “demi-god packs,” which contain a complete run of alt-art versions of a particular starter. You might, for instance, get the Illustration Rares of Squirtle and Wartortle and the Special Illustration Rare of Blastoise, all in one pack. However, these are proving astonishingly rare, with Danny Phantump only seeing one in 1,300 packs.
151 unquestionably contains beautiful cards. Some of the most beautiful, I think, that the TCG has featured in 25 years. It’s a collection I’d love to complete, most especially those starter trios, but at these pull rates it seems utterly unfeasible. And given the rarity that implies, it could mean it’s an incredibly expensive set to buy individually, too. Hopefully the extended release period, with many different boxes to come over the next few months, means we’ll eventually see those prices settle down after Christmas. But as with any special set, you can’t buy individual booster packs (unless your local card store breaks down collection boxes), which means prices will always have a premium.
In a great move, however, 151 is the first special set to get so-called Booster Bundles—boxes that contain nothing but six booster packs. This should at least prevent people from having to repeatedly buy the same over-priced collection boxes to fish out packs. (I have so many pins from Crown Zenith triple blisters that I might die.)
And, and this is important, it’s worth stressing just how lovely the bulk is in 151. While it’s a bummer of a set to open in terms of rare cards, it’s been such a pleasure to take my time and study individual regular cards. The Snorlax is even better in real life, while Tomakazu’s Gastly, Haunter and Gengar can just be pored over. Oh, and that Mewtwo!
It’s just…it’s going to suck knowing how often a booster pack is going to feature those same cards I’ve already pulled.
I’m so muddled by the 151 Elite Trainer Box! It is, in so many ways, one of the best I’ve seen. The presentation is stunning, coloured silhouettes of so many of the Kanto monsters, which is repeated on the gorgeous-looking dividers and sleeves. It also comes with the wonderful Snorlax Illustration Rare as a promo, and the usual dice and plastic damage markers.
But, in a bewildering move, the player’s guide booklet has shed the familiar glossy sheen, for a rough, matte finish that feels like the warranty information that comes with a toaster. It’s so cheap and awful-feeling, and the images of the cards inside look so dull and gloomy as a result. Sure, it’s not the most important detail, but hopefully it’s not a permanent change.
Some of the bigger names in Pokémon YouTube operate above the rules when it comes to embargoes. You’ll note the press hasn’t written about opening packs until today, but you’ve likely also noticed the likes of PokeRev, Poke Vault and Danny Phantump have already opened—in some cases—literally thousands of packs. That’s because they’ve all got themselves peculiar retail deals, where their cards come in from the suppliers used by stores, and not via TPCi and their PR. Which is how they can give us a good impression of pull rates ahead of release.
However, they also have the most bizarrely skewed view of reality, seemingly as a consequence of opening so many packs. This has meant we’ve seen PokeRev videos with titles like “I NEVER Expected Pokemon 151 Boxes To Be THIS GOOD!” and “Pokemon’s Mini 151 Boxes Just Got Better!” despite our watching him open six-pack boxes without getting anything over a holo. Phantump has declared the set wonderful, despite a video in which he opened nine-pack Booster Boxes that contained literally one rare card. In fact, he opened ten Booster Boxes, and got a single Illustration Rare out of all 90 packs. It took him 1,200 packs to complete the set.
Regular people can’t open 1,200 packs. Children are lucky if they can open a single pack in a week. And I worry that people have lost sight of this. The reality of opening Pokémon cards is maybe spending $US10 on a couple of packs, and when statistically that’s unlikely to net you anything more exciting than a Nidoking, it’s not “THIS GOOD!” It’s actually a bit sad.
Well, it’s all yours to explore from September 22, and then over the coming months. Alongside the ETB and collection boxes, there’s also a superb-looking binder box that comes with a few packs and a really decent side-loading 360 slot binder, as well as a poster box that features a great, enormous poster with the images from every bulk card on one side, and the lovely colorful silhouettes on the other. Then later we’ve got the Ultra Premium Collection, that’ll feature promos of the Mew and Mewtwo Illustration Rares, withdrawn from the main set. And mini tins, and presumably larger tins, and inevitably some blister packs, and who knows what else is unannounced.
A worse pull rate than even Paldea Evolved is grim news, and I’m sorry to deliver it. It’s going to be interesting to see how that affects the set’s reception to ordinary folks, rather than rich ol’ YouTubers who have their packs delivered by forklift truck.
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