Some Pokémon cards stand out just a little bit more than the rest - either due to your own childhood nostalgia from playing the video games and memories of picking up the basics of how to play the Pokémon TCG, because they’re especially popular or powerful, or simply because they’re really beautiful cards thanks to the extraordinary art of the Pokémon TCG illustrators, showcase with alternate artwork and full-art cards. Rare and powerful cards are what everyone's looking for, a range of unique legendaries to fill out your deck.
It's not easy though. With thousands upon thousands of cards and would-be Pokémon trainers each having their own preferences for types, Pokémon and abilities, it's hard to pin down what makes the ‘best’ Pokémon cards - do you measure the success of a card by how well-known it is or how far it carries a competitive pro player in the Pokémon TCG World Championships?
Everyone has their own list of favourites, but one thing is certain: the most important thing about a card is the ability for players to have fun with it. That could be by collecting it, playing casual matches with friends or even securing a place in the next round of a major tournament. Every card you choose to include in your deck makes it unique, and if it’s important to you - for any reason - that’s as good a reason as any to include it.
Best Pokémon TCG cards
With all that in mind, here are ten of the best Pokémon cards from throughout the trading card game’s long history and many expansions. They include the powerful and the beautiful, the common and the rare, the familiar and the more obscure. The one thing they have in common, though, is you’ve gotcha catch ‘em all.
1. Shaymin EX (Full Art)
During the Roaring Skies era of the Pokémon TCG, Shaymin was a must-have staple for almost every deck. It was used by competitive players and amateurs alike due to its ability Set Up, which allows the player to fill their hand with up to six cards from their deck when the Pokémon is first put into play. With this ability able to tilt the most tightly-contested of games, Shaymin EX became a highly sought-after card, selling for high prices on auction sites such as eBay and becoming some players’ prized Pokémon TCG possession.
2. Surfing Pikachu
On a completely different end of the spectrum, the Surfing Pikachu card from the X/Y: Evolutions set became popular not because of its skillset or competitive prowess but because, well, it’s a round Pikachu on a surfboard. There's something so pleasing about the nostalgic art on this card that people just seemed to enjoy adding it to their collection - and looking at Pikachu’s happy little face, who wouldn’t?
3. Charizard GX (Rainbow Rare/Full Art)
With the introduction of Sun & Moon came a different type of rarity of cards. Not only did you now have to hunt for the Pokémon you wanted, but also the Full Art and Rainbow Rare prints of it. The Rainbow Rare cards glimmer in beautiful rainbow colours that are just completely irresistible for collectors and players alike.
4. Lysandre’s Trump Card
If you ever played Pokémon X and Y video games on 3DS, you might recognise this familiar and not-so-friendly face. Although it wouldn’t be fair to say this is one of the most popular cards, it definitely is one of the most well-known - infamous almost. Lysandre’s Trump Card was banned from competitive Pokémon TCG play for being overpowered; with the ability to make the whole game a clean slate for everyone involved by shuffling all cards from their discard pile back into their deck, is it any wonder?
5. Pikachu (Full Art/Radiant Collection)
Something that always looked beautiful in a Pokémon TCG collector’s folder are the Radiant Collection’s Full Art cards. These Pokémon cards were deliberately designed to have a different look from other cards, portraying Pokémon in a more cute and beautiful manner, instead of aiming to appear cool or strong. This made the collection popular among people who enjoyed the beauty contests within the Pokémon series of video games.
6. Tapu Lele GX (Full Art)
Tapu Lele caused quite a stir in the Pokémon TCG competitive scene when it arrived as part of the Sun & Moon: Guardians Rising expansion, making an appearance in a large number of competitive decks mostly thanks to its ability Wonder Tag. Allowing players to pull supporter cards from their deck and use them immediately, it tilted whole games in its favour - and because of this Tapu Lele became a highly popular, fairly pricey card.
7. Mewtwo and Mew (Tag Team GX/Full Art)
The Tag Team GX cards from the Sun & Moon: Team Up set feature famous duos of all varieties, from fairy magic duo Sylveon and Gardevoir to the unlikely water pairing of Wailord and Magikarp. But no duo will ever be as well-known, popular or well-matched as the Mewtwo and Mew Tag Team GX card. Featuring two of the most famous legendary Pokémon in the entire Pokémon series, this card offers powerful psychic moves right off the bat and naturally attracts a lot of well-deserved attention.
Similar to Lysandre's Trump Card, N is a well-known supporter card. An anti-hero featured within the Pokémon Black and White video games released on the Nintendo DS, his card became popular for competitive reasons. As with many supporter cards, he allows players to shuffle an unwanted hand back into their deck and draw as many cards as prize cards remaining on the table. This means that N favours the underdog, as the further from winning you are, the more cards end up in your hand. Because of this, N helped win many games for players even when the odds were stacked against them.
9. Ancient Mew (Promo Card)
Here we have a true rarity for Pokémon card collectors everywhere, but probably something you’ve seen before if you’ve been a Pokémon fan for long enough. Ancient Mew is a promotional Pokémon card that was handed out in the year 2000 for the cinematic release of the Pokémon 2000 movie and has since been unavailable for purchase. The card has been banned from competitive play, so it’s purely a collector’s piece, as the text featured on it is in an unreadable ancient language. The pure mystery, nostalgia and the infamy from being banned makes the Ancient Mew card one of the most iconic Pokémon cards ever released.
10. Lucario and Melmetal GX
It's always fun to see one of Pokémon's best visual designs with one of its worst, and Lucario teamed up with Melmetal is a perfect example of that amusing disconnect. Still, it's an excellent recent card with a very good defense ability in Full Metal Wall GX, to the point where it's one of those cards you could pratically build a deck around. Or just imagine the bizarre buddy comedy between Nutblob and the Kung-Fu Fox, it's up to you.
11. Charizard (Holographic)
The Holy Grail of every childhood collector’s folder, the original shiny Charizard granted many children bragging rights back in the ‘90s. The original card was a rarity to find but meant as much to people as a Rainbow Rare or a GX does today. Thanks to nostalgia playing a huge factor, the holographic Charizard card is still in demand, making this one of the most popular and rare Pokémon cards of all time.