There certainly have been a lot of Pokémon cards in 2023. A year that began with Sword & Shield’s (SWSH) climactic celebration, Crown Zenith, has since featured four mainline sets from Scarlet & Violet, another celebration set with the enormous Pokémon 151, various reprint specials like McDonald’s, new cards for Halloween, and yet another reprint of the original cards with next month’s Pokémon Classic. The last of those mainline sets—Paradox Rift—comes out November 3, but pre-release events are happening tomorrow, October 21, and we’ve torn open 50 packs.
Paradox Rift contains, to my eyes at least, some of the most beautiful cards the franchise has ever seen. It also contains the highest number of beautiful cards of any set this year. There is an incredible total of 84 full-art cards in the set, not including 20 ex cards. For comparison, a huge set like last year’s Silver Tempest had 76, including the Trainer Gallery, while the current 151 set features just 42.
Added to that is the introduction of Ancient and Future cards, bringing the Scarlet and Violet video games’ temporal storyline into the TCG. There are 14 cards in the set bearing the logos, which also feature two-color designs that pleasingly fade from one to the other, and look especially brilliant in reverse holo. It’s been so long since regular cards have done anything visually interesting like this—perhaps as far back as 2016’s XY Steam Siege, with its dual-type Pokémon.
All of this makes for what feels like an incredibly collectable set, not least when you look through the Elite Trainer Box’s (ETB) player’s guide, with seven solid pages of special art cards. My experience of opening the packs has, admittedly on a pretty small sample size of 49, been somewhat different.
It has been a frequent lament of mine throughout the year that it’s been such a struggle to adjust back to standard pull-rates after the joy of Crown Zenith. This has been worsened by the way the sets have implemented ex cards—this generation’s version of Sword & Shield’s V cards.
EX cards don’t evolve, so there’s no equivalent to VMAX or VSTAR. Instead, the sets have just increased the number of ex cards, normally 20, and because the visual presentation of the exes is so bland, it’s a struggle to see them as good pulls. Lacking the visual flair and variety of style of V cards, and completely lacking the extra fanfare of VMAX/STAR, they’re great for playing the game, but so damn dreary for collectors.
This has meant that the SV era has managed to ostensibly match the 1-in-3 pull-rates of SWSH, where one in every three packs should contain a special card, but only by bulking it out with the bland ex designs. Of the 49 packs I opened, I got a total of 14 double rares or better, but eight of them were ex cards. Which meant, from a booster box, a Build & Battle box, and an ETB—very kindly provided to Kotaku by the Pokémon Company International—I pulled a grand total of only six ultra rares or higher.
Which kinda sucks. Based on those very loose maths, I’d have to open another 14 or so booster boxes to get anywhere close to pulling all the special art. And…I don’t think this is to TPCi’s advantage or anyone else’s. When there’s this much gorgeous art to find, you’d still be spending serious money to collect ‘em all, even if there were one guaranteed in every pack! (The recommended retail price of a 36-pack booster box is $US160, so in that situation you’d be looking at almost $US500, before taking duplicates into account.) This level of artificial sparsity seems self-defeating, playing to the whales alone, and putting off the casual collectors.
However, like the addled addict I am, I’m still so delighted with the cards we did get. Among those six was a very lovely and incredibly detailed Porygon-Z IR by Gossan, and one of the 5ban Graphics ultra rare exes, this time Toxtricity. We also scored the Yveltal IR, which is utterly beautiful, and hit the motherlode with the Parasol Lady Special Illustration Rare, which is likely to be one of the most expensive cards in the set. (The Japanese version is currently going for $US150.)
But my favorite was one I’d not seen before in any of the promotional material, nor indeed can I find it in any Japanese sets: a Loudred Illustration Rare. It is, I think, the best Pokémon card I’ve ever seen. I adore it. It’s made me very happy.
However, for all that detailed complaining about the difficulty of pulling the fancy cards, I do need to stress what a difference the Ancient and Future cards have made to the set. The regular versions look fantastic—my son has already started a new binder just to collect them—and the ex versions make those dull cards look far better. Plus, I suspect their arrival means we’re going to see the live game perk up for the first time all year. It’s the first new twist since Lost Origin’s reintroduction of the Lost Zone, and all manner of Tools and Trainers are designed to get your time-shifted Pokémon thwarting opponents.
A good example of this is the Iron Jugulis, a Basic card with a 150-damage attack called Baryon Beam. However, it costs an astonishing five Energy to use…unless you have a Future Booster Energy Capsule attached, in which case it drops to three Energy. Meanwhile, mad old Brute Bonnet has an any-time Ability to poison both active Pokémon, but only when it has the opposite Ancient Booster Energy Capsule attached.
I’m also equally surprised and delighted to report that I think we’ll see Maushold entering the meta. The Maushold ex card rather oddly features Greedent’s “Nom-Nom-Nom Incisors” 120-damage attack, albeit reduced to only drawing two cards rather than three, but it features an Ability that’s going to be so much fun:
If this Pokémon is in the Active Spot and is damaged by an attack from your opponent’s Pokémon (even if this Pokémon is Knocked Out), put 3 damage counters on the Attacking Pokémon for each of your Tandemaus, Maushold, and Maushold ex in play.
You could put your opponent in the position where every attack is suicidal for their Pokémon. I’m so building a Maushold deck.
Meanwhile, that Porygon-Z comes with an amazing combo of an Ability that lets you flip a coin, heads meaning you can attach four Energy cards from your discard pile, tails meaning you discard an Energy from it, and Energized Attack that does 40x damage for each Energy attached. Which is to say, you’ve a chance of dishing out 160 damage turn one, then 320 turn two, etc. Brutal.
With 84 special cards to collect, and so many of them likely to become big hitters (I predict high prices for the Tapu Koko ex SIR, Iron Valiant ex SIR, Roaring Moon ex SIR, Mela SIR, Rika SIR and Tulip SIR, alongside the Parasol Lady), but such ridiculously low pull-rates to get any of them, Paradox Rift is going to be a really strange set for collectors. Anyone attempting to master-set this one is going to be in for an eye-wateringly expensive few months.
However, and perhaps more importantly, I think that for players this is going to be the biggest set of the year. It’s going to finally shift the meta away from SWSH and all its Lugia, with some of the most interesting Abilities and Attacks I’ve seen in ages.
I might not have pulled my chase card yet, the Mantyke IR (the first time Mantyke or Mantine—the best Pokémon ever—has received a full-art card!), but this Loudred is keeping me going in the meantime.
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