What the English Pokémon TCG could learn from Japan

20 Years in the making

It’s January 1999. Pokémon Red and Blue have just debuted on the Game Boy Colour in September, and the original anime has been the “latest craze” for months. This was no mere Yo-yo however, as Pokémon were about the release another wave of must-have merchandise in the form of something we still know and love today, 20 years later. The Pokémon TCG.

These shiny pieces of cardboard became something more akin to a currency or a status amongst kids around the world. Their favourite characters from the franchise depicted beautifully on the first ever Base Set of cards, with everyone out to find that playground-owning Charizard!

Fast-forward those 20 years, and here we are today in 2019 as the Sun and Moon era of the TCG has entered its final stages. Pokémon Cards, whilst perhaps not as popular as they were in 1999, are still going strong – but how could they be better, or even return to former glories? With the game thriving in Japan, we take a look at a thing or two the English TCG could learn from Japan.

 

Value for money

Having first-hand experience of the Pokémon TCG in English and Japanese, this is an easy one to start with. The value for money of a pack of cards these days in England will rarely leave you thinking “that was worth it”, as the original price in 1999 was around £2.50, and you would be lucky today to walk into a shop and pay less than £4.00 per pack. A price that fails to represent its contents.

And it’s not just packs. A booster box of 36 packs will set you back £90 – and there are no guarantees. This £90 box might reward your investment with just two weak “Super Rare” cards that you could

easily get elsewhere for next to nothing. Not exactly something that sounds too appealing, and something that doesn’t happen to such an extent in Japan.

The difference is dramatic. The average price for a pack of cards in Japan is around 150 yen, and that’s about £1 per pack. Granted, the packs have 5 cards rather than 10, but with only a maximum of one rare per pack, it almost feels like the English packs are just packed out with extra Common and Uncommon cards. Whilst in Japan, I couldn’t help but pick up a few packs whenever I saw them! After all, four packs for the price of one in England is a huge difference, and of course, each pack represents a new chance to pull something great!

The sentiment is echoed in booster boxes, in more than one way. A Japanese booster box of 30 packs sits at around £30, and guarantees you one, if not two, “Super Rare” cards. That means, if you were to spend the same £90 on Japanese booster boxes, you would for certain have at least 3 “Super Rare” cards and room for even more. These guarantees can mean a lot when spending so much. So, let’s do the maths…

A pack of Sun and Moon cards for sale at the Pokemon Center, Japan.

As we’ve mentioned already, packs in Japan are around £1, and with boxes being £30 for 30 packs, that means you buy 30 loose packs and it would work out exactly the same as a 30-pack box. There’s zero inflation on single packs. You buy what’s affordable to you knowing that there’s no reward for spending a certain amount, as such.

However, it’s less of reward of buying more in England, and more of hit for buying individually. If you were to buy 36 loose packs in England, based on the Japanese model you would expect to spend around £90, no? Not even close. An average of £4 per pack means you would be overspending by £54 at a whopping £144. Not exactly an incentive to buy. If you were to divide a £90 box of 36 up fairly, it would be a far more reasonable £2.50, and I’d have no problem with taking a chance for a fair price like that.

 

Quality

This is more of a personal preference, but a point that I’m going to argue, nonetheless. To me, the English cards in general feel like what they are – reprints of Japanese originals, and the way the cards are made in English and Japanese differ in very noticeable ways, particularly with the Full Art and Hyper Rare versions of cards. These cards in Japanese have a subtle and stylish texturing, where the colours flourish and the background patterns are prominent without being too in your face.

In English, the manufacturing is different. The cards feel over-texturised, like there’s too much going on, and some people have often referred to the English versions as “cheese-graters”, such is the extent of the texture. You could light a match off them for sure, and it spoils the artwork somewhat with its very prominent ridges.

The difference between a Lunala GX Full Art is astounding.

Another point to make here is simply the border colour. In English, it’s bright yellow regardless of if it’s a regular card or even a rare holo card. The colour doesn’t often do the card any favours in terms of looks and appeal and doesn’t usually compliment the card “type” very well at all. In Japan, the borders are a far more neutral white, and when it comes to holo cards, the border then becomes a shiny silver just like the holo pattern itself!

It’s far more appealing, and something that hopefully we will see in the future in the English game. After all, we know it’s possible as the recently introduced Prism Star cards all feature a black holo border regardless of the continent. The difference this makes is immense, and something Pokémon is perfectly capable of implementing.

 

Release

In terms of the Sun and Moon era, the way in which the sets are released is one of the biggest factors in terms of appeal, affordability and keeping things fresh.

We all know of the huge 200+ card sets released here in the West every three months. It can be hard to keep up with, a lot to take in, and expensive. With the sheer volume of cards in one set, you would be incredibly lucky to pull the cards you want, and nearly impossible to get a playset.

Japan releases cards a lot more frequently, efficiently, and cheaply. We’ve already mentioned the price of a box of cards, but as the sets in Japan are released on a monthly basis, they are also a lot more defined.

Because the sets are smaller, often limited to four or five new GX cards and a handful of Trainer cards, it’s so much easier to chase down a particular card that you’re after or even complete a playset. After all, those playing the game won’t be interested in getting a variety of cards. They want four of the same for their deck.

This is something much more achievable in Japan. A £30 box will typically give you 80% of the GX cards and undoubtedly a playset of every other card in the set. Spending the £90 you would have in England will near enough give you a playset of all GXs, and three or more Super Rare cards to boot! It just makes sense to release sets in small, manageable amounts – not to mention the fact that these cards are released in Japan up to three months before they’re seen in the next English set.

Again, this would keep fresh, monthly interest for players and collectors whilst also increasing the likelihood of getting that card you really want. Reducing the amount of uncertainty by reducing the amount cards in a set adds appeal to those who are after something specific.

 

Exclusive

One of the most important things for collectors is to be able to obtain limited and rare cards, whether it be a special promo card for winning a tournament or celebrating a certain event. In Japan, these cards almost standalone from TCG, never meant to be useful for battle and only really used to commemorate.

A great example of this recently in Japan is the “Munch: A Retrospective” exhibition in Tokyo. Displayed in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, the iconic painting “The Scream” was to be displayed in Japan for the first time ever – and it was commemorated by the Pokémon TCG.

Released alongside the grand opening, were three unique cards made especially for the event. Pikachu, Eevee, Psyduck, Rowlet and Mimikyu were released as special five-card set, each taking on their own version of the “The Scream” pose recognised around the world.

It doesn’t stop there either. Limited special edition Pokémon Cards are regularly handed out to observe things such as the openings of new Pokémon Centers, new Pokémon TCG boxes, tournament victories, and even the changing of seasons. In the last two years, the Japan Champion’s League Finals has dished out two cards limited to just 100 pieces. The Masked Royal Full Art and Hyper Rare Zekrom GX.

This just doesn’t happen outside of Japan, and I have nothing to compare it to. The level of interest purely from a collector’s perspective is almost empty, and whilst I’m not implying that these cards to honour Japanese events should also be released in English, it would be nice to have our own Pokémon Cards celebrating our own events. Brexit Pikachu anyone? Check out why I think the new Tag Team GX cards have actually saved the artwork of the Sun and Moon era right here.

 

Thriving

The Japanese game is thriving, even now. The end of 2018 and the release of SM8B, Ultra Shiny GX, the popularity of Pokémon Cards saw some of the biggest crowds line the streets since the game began, (trust me, I was part of that crowd) all in hope of just picking up a box!

A card shop shelf stacked full of Pokemon TCG

The card shops around Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka are filled with all sorts of trading card games, and often offer places to meet up and play within the store. Rarely did I enter a card shop and see empty table of people meeting up to play everything from Magic The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokémon. It was incredible to see the TCG doing so well on all fronts in Japan. Check out my article about the best card shops in Osaka here.

Whilst an incentive to buy packs in English includes a code card for a further virtual pack in the recently released Pokémon TCG Online game, its detriments the need to actually meet up and play in person. It says a lot when the online game isn’t available in Japan, and isn’t needed.

Has the Pokémon TCG all but given up on the physical game in the West? It seems it has opted for faceless opponents online somewhat, which whilst might suit the preference of some, will only damage the physical game by reducing the need for it. Hopefully the continuation of pre-release events and Pokémon Leagues will mean the game will continue strongly. Perhaps there could be added intensives to joining leagues, attending pre-releases or signing up for tournaments away from PTCG Online? Think exclusive cards again. Just take a look below at the mayhem that ensued for the release of SM8B last year.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGwIAL55NQ0[/embedyt]

 

 

Lessons

The English game could well be as popular as ever since its initially release, but these point’s represent room for improvement. Making the sets smaller, more frequent, more affordable and even more manageable would certainly make buying packs individually more appealing. In addition, tweaking the quality a touch and adding a few real exclusive, limited release cards throughout the year could add some serious enticement to a game that has been lacking just that.

Do you have any opinions on English and Japanese cards? Let me know how you think these two contrasting sides of the TCG could learn from each other in the comments below!

Why Tag Team GX has saved the artwork of the Pokémon Sun & Moon era

Why Tag Team GX has saved the artwork of the Pokémon Sun & Moon era | Braysh Gaming

What Tag Team GX means for artwork of the Pokemon TCG

It’s April 21st, 2017 in Japan, only a few years before Tag Team GX cards are introduced. Dawn has just broken on the release day of the fourth Sun and Moon expansion, SM2+, “Facing a New Trial”.

By this point, the format of the Sun and Moon era is well established. The latest GX Pokémon of each set took the forms of Regular GX, Full Art GX and the “rainbow” Hyper Rare GX. As is normal for a new era, it was a completely different direction from XY before it and, perhaps surprisingly, the art of these new GX cards were all digitally designed by the company 5Ban Graphics. 

This had perhaps gone unnoticed until this point. It was of course a new era, and with so many new concepts, new mechanics and of course, new Pokémon, the artwork was quite possible the last thing on the minds of players and collectors alike. And then, on the same day as SM2+, came the release of a reminder. “The Best of XY”.

XY Masterclass

Why Tag Team GX has saved the artwork of the Pokémon Sun & Moon era - TOKIYA Shaymin EX | Braysh Gaming
TOKIYA’s Shaymin EX

This wasn’t just a light expression of what we had come to expect from the XY era – this was an all-out showcase of everything XY was capable of. In comparison, the Sun and Moon era really just couldn’t compete. The Best of XY gave us some of the greatest artworks to date, with the likes of TOKIYA’s Shaymin EX locked in battle with Mega Rayquaza and Hasuno’s menacing Yveltal EX with Xerneas elegantly watching on in the background. These were outstanding designs with character by established artists given the creative freedom to express the Pokémon as they wish. It looked like these cards could come alive at any moment and maybe in the end, taken for granted.

This was nothing new for XY. Dynamic designs of the secret rare EX Pokémon were amongst the most sought-after cards of each and every set for that very reason. The era was littered with them, and it was a little unforeseen that Pokémon took a step back from this as the TCG moved into the Sun and Moon era.

Full Arts without inspiration

This is by no mean an indictment on 5Ban Graphics, of course. For the most part, the regular GXs they have produced are consistently excellent. It’s just the rarer versions of these cards, where we come to expect so much, that a bit of magic was missing. Again, the design for the Full Art and Hyper Rare Pokémon were exactly what Pokémon wanted (and probably needed) in order to produce the cards into the style they envisioned. However, this style also only ever brought with it plain, type-dependent backgrounds – something out of the artists control that seriously impairs the beauty of the cards. The Best of XY brought with it a stark realisation that these designs were lacking somewhat.

The computer generated Pokémon become predictable, and to some, boring. The Pokémon never seemed to be very animated and were often left crying out for some personality. The rarest versions of the Pokémon in these sets were the “Rainbow” Hyper Rares  – something that should have be special. It was evident in the very first Sun and Moon Base Set released in English that this was not going to be the case, as we were given no less than eight Pokémon and sixteen uninspiring Super Rare versions. Every Pokémon included received the “highest” rarity status of Hyper Rare – a simple rainbow whitewash of the static Full Art before it. It wasn’t much to write home about, but with this being the first set, the novelty of it all probably obscured a problem that was to become extremely evident in a matter of months.

Supporter preferences

Why Tag Team GX has saved the artwork of the Pokémon Sun & Moon era - 5Ban Full Art GX | Braysh Gaming
A typical Full Art by 5Ban Graphics

And the months did go by using the same format. Apart from the odd Full Art Pokémon where the background colour appeared reasonably striking, there were no artistic Pokémon masterpieces to marvel all. In fact, many began to anticipate the reveal of the Full Art “SR” Supporters more than anything else in the set, as they were designed by the “pen-to-paper” artists given the opportunity to delve into their imagination and articulate their ideas in the form of energetic and industrious characters. Even the backgrounds were exceptional. It’s something that the actual Pokémon longed for.

Enter Tag Team GX

It was at the 2018 Pokémon World Championships in August that we got our first glimpse of the brand-new Tag Team GX mechanic with Pikachu & Zekrom GX. Two Pokémon teaming up on one GX card, extensive HP, immense attacks, three prizes for knocking it out and, most importantly, designed by Mitsuhiro Arita. Check out our opening of the SM9 Tag Bolt Trainer Box here:

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCti_Lvks64[/embedyt]

A new rarity

This was the first time in the Sun and Moon era a GX card had not been designed by 5Ban Graphics or PLANETA (another digital art supplier for the TCG), but it wasn’t until we got closer to the release of December’s SM9 Tag Bolt set in Japan that we realised just what the debut of Tag Team GX could mean for the future of the TCG artwork.

Whilst the regular Tag Team GXs were all designed by the legendary Mitsuhiro Arita, with SM9 came a brand new “SR” rarity for these cards (alongside the usual Full Art and Hyper Rare variations from 5Ban Graphics). A rarity that gave licence to some of the popular Pokémon TCG artists to run wild. And it does not disappoint as Tag Bolt focused exclusively on Tag Team GX Pokémon, each with their very own story to tell. Pikachu & Zekrom, Wailord & Magikarp, Gengar & Mimikyu, Venusaur & Celebi, Eevee & Snorlax and Latios & Latias are the six brand new cards that all hit the Tag Team jackpot.

An unlikely friendship

I don’t speak metaphorically when I say that these cards tell a story. The regular GX cards by Arita depict the pair all Tag Teamed up and ready to battle, but how did these unlikely allies come to be, exactly? Well, this is where the new “SR” cards come into their own and even surpass that of their XY era predecessors. With an astonishing glow and subtly stunning texturing, whilst the regular Tag Team GX is ready to battle, the “SR” is almost like a still taken from their very first meeting.

Why Tag Team GX has saved the artwork of the Pokémon Sun & Moon era - Shin Nagasawa Venusaur & Celebi GX | Braysh Gaming
Shin Nagasawa’s Venusaur & Celebi GX

Take Venusaur & Celebi for example. The stunning design by Shin Nagasawa is set in the forest and shows Celebi descending from the sky and encountering Venusaur for the first time. It is said that these two united to protect the forest, and it really shows!

Telling a story

The story behind Midori Harada’s Gengar & Mimikyu is clearer cut, as Pokémon released an official comic strip to accompany the cards release. In the story we see Mimikyu looking longingly out the window at a Pikachu and Pichu playing outside. Mimikyu just wants to play too, and Gengar decides to help! As depicted in the card, the Ghost-type duo sneak outside together to approach Pikachu and Pichu, but they get startled and run off! Gengar then tells Mimikyu not to worry, as they can now be friends with each other! Who knew Pokémon cards could be so emotional?

Why Tag Team GX has saved the artwork of the Pokémon Sun & Moon era - Shin Nagasawa Snorlax & Eevee GX | Braysh Gaming
Tomokazu Komiya’s Eevee & Snorlax GX

Even fan-favourites Tomokazu Komiya and OOYAMA have excelled at the chance to impress their unique styles on these new full art Pokémon as they take on Eevee & Snorlax and Wailord & Magikarp respectively. This doesn’t mean that the likes of Kawayoo’s Pikachu & Zekrom or Sanosuke Sakuma’s Latios & Latias are any less extraordinary as each card is as magnificent as it is fascinating in its own way. And it’s continued in January’s subset, SM9A.

Night Unison

Why Tag Team GX has saved the artwork of the Pokémon Sun & Moon era - Kodama Greninja & Zoroark GX | Braysh Gaming
Kodama’s Greninja & Zoroark GX

SM9A, the recently released Night Unison set in Japan, continues the trend of spectacular “SR” artwork. Greninja & Zoroark are both relaxing in tree as imagined by Kodama, whilst Atsuko Nishida’s Gardevoir & Sylveon seem to be bonding over an exquisite field of flowers. These four Tag Team Pokémon are the cards to have been subject to breath taking “SR” variants this time, and with the likes of Charizard & Reshiram GX and Lucario & Melmetal GX on the way, who knows how incredible the art will become? It’s a complete breath of fresh air for the artwork of Sun and Moon. 

A bright future

Using a different artist for each card has given a unique art style to every Pokémon portrayed so far, and this is just the beginning of the incredible story-telling artwork Tag Team GX cards have reintroduced into the TCG. Whether you’re a fan of the new mechanic or not, it is undeniable that the general artwork is head and shoulders above that of the Sun and Moon era so far and has injected fresh interest for collectors. We can’t wait to see how each artist interpret future Pokémon or how special they can be. They will certainly prove very popular amongst the best Pokémon card shops in Osaka!

You can also check out our SM9 Tag Bolt Booster Box Opening right here:

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mw1K3DD0MT4[/embedyt]

Be sure to keep an eye on the channel for the imminent opening of SM9A, Night Unison! Thanks for reading.

Braysh Gaming

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A special thanks to @PrimalLugia for the header image