July 31, 2023

The Top 10 Greatest Non-Game Pokémon Cards Ever

Eric Burgess
Eric Burgess
The Top 10 Greatest Non-Game Pokémon Cards Ever

For the serious Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG) collector or investor, you might be thinking “Why would I want a card that can be played in the game?” The fact of the matter is that there are a fair number of Pokémon cards out there with absolutely no function in the game. From promotional offers to early Japanese licensing agreements to get the name of the franchise out there, Nintendo allowed for a variety of non-game cards to come out with their fabulous Pocket Monsters on them.

Over time, this has become less common because the Pokémon TCG is one of the most popular games in the world, even 25 years plus years on from its first edition. Surely, the makers of the Pokémon brand figure there is no reason to print a card now unless it can be worked into the fairly open rules of the game. However, back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, they were still allowing more licensing of their lovable little monsters to trading card companies and brands alike. Some of them turned out really well, too, with investors and collectors taking notice despite not being able to put these cards into their deck for play.

For a review of these non-game collectibles, we’ve chosen 10 of the greatest and most valuable Pokémon cards that have become popular and valuable because of their beauty and historical significance. While that might make it easier to lock them away in a slab to protect their value, it doesn’t make them any less compelling to add to their collection. Ready to dive into some Pokémon history? Let’s go!

Tracking Non-Game Pokémon Cards

Even though the majority of the Pokémon cards on the system are Pokémon TCG cards, you can also track non-game Pokémon cards on Cardbase, including setting up Watchlists, checking out trending prices, and finding Hot Deals for the cards you want. Just download the Cardbase App and you can start managing you collection or adding some new Pokemon cards with the new Card Scanner. Now let's delve into some of the most interesting non-game Pokémon cards ever published, each holding a unique story, design, and value that sets it apart:

10) 2000 Ancient Mew Movie Promo Card

Let’s start our list with one that’s on the fence. This Ancient Mew card was tied to the US release of the Pokémon: The Power of One movie. The cosmic theme of the card’s front made it look like it was just a promo card and without a back that would play in a set, no one expected this unreadable card to be available for play in the actual game.

Later on, US Pokémon distributor Wizards of the Coast actually made a translation available for players to actually use Ancient Mew in the Pokémon TCG. By that time, tournaments had already banned the card from use and it’s really just a pretty reminder of a strange marketing decision over twenty years later. If you’d like to add one to your collection, they will cost you less than $35 these days.

2000 Ancient Mew Movie Promo Card2000 Ancient Mew Movie Promo Card

9) 1995 Pokémon Japanese Prism Topsun Pikachu No. 025

The Topsun Pokémon collection cards were sold in candy packs and included 150 cards that depicted the original Pokémon from the Red and Green Pokémon video games. This set is unique as it is one of the earliest Pokémon card sets ever produced, although whether they actually predate the first set from the Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG) is under debate. Nintendo has officially said that the Topsun cards have a 1995 copyright date on them is a misnomer; the cards were not released until perhaps as late as 1997. Whatever the case, these early cards remain highly sought-after for fans of the Pokémon franchise.

This card from this Topsun set is especially interesting for collectors due to Pikachu's iconic status in the Pokémon franchise. There were two versions of each card in the Topsun set: one with a blue back and one with a green back. The green back cards are generally considered more rare and valuable, but that isn’t always true, as you’ll see further up our list. There are also no rarity symbols (you can learn what they mean on our Guide to Pokemon TCG Card Rarity) on Topsun cards, which is different from what we’re used to with Pokémon TCG cards where rarity is easy to identify.

This Pikachu card is a ‘prism’ card with a holofoil-like finish that makes it distinctive against the other Pikachu card in the set that bears the same name and number. Instead of a seated Pikachu on the regular card, this version of everyone’s favorite electric-type monster is leaping across the card ready for battle, giving the card a dynamic feel perfectly in line with the colorful background. The back of the card is blue, as with the more common Topsun Pokémon cards, so it’s not worth quite as much as cards with the green back (hang on, we’ll see one later on in our list). Even so, this card in minty-fresh condition can fetch a few hundred dollars on the open market.

1995 Pokémon Japanese Prism Topsun Pikachu No. 025 1995 Pokémon Japanese Prism Topsun Pikachu No. 025

8) 1999 Pokémon: The First Movie - PokeTrivia Blastoise Card

When Pokémon: The First Movie - Mewtwo Strikes Back was released in 1998 in Japan and 1999 in the United States, they were a big deal for the Pokémon franchise. As part of the promotional activities surrounding the movie, various types of merchandise were created and these trivia cards were part of their marketing mix in the US where they were distributed through a partnership with fast-food giant Burger King. Each card features an image of a Pokémon or a character from the movie on one side, and on the other side there is trivia about that character or Pokémon. The trivia might be about the character's abilities, their role in the Pokémon universe, or other interesting facts across 151 cards. The lack the elegance of design that you see with Topsun, Topps, and certainly the Pokémon TCG cards, but they’re still good fun.

The cards were distributed as promotional items through the chain of restaurants along with toys from the film, too. They also were given out in sheets with perforated edges, apparently, which can make for tricky grading, but you can still find copies on the online marketplaces for single-to-double digit prices in US dollars.
1999 Pokémon: The First Movie - PokeTrivia Blastoise Card1999 Pokémon: The First Movie - PokeTrivia Blastoise Card

7) 2000 Pokémon Japanese Bandai Carddass Prism #62

Bandai was one of the publishers also making Pokémon cards in the early days. Their cards were specifically made for distribution through their Carddass vending machines series, which was home to many other cards and trading card games. Pokémon was among the most popular, but just one of the many licenses Bandai acquired to fill their machines.

In the case of this card, #62 is a shiny prism card featuring a host of characters from the Pokémon game, all circled around key trainer Ash. The trainer is flanked by many Pokémon, including fan-favorite Charizard and the most popular monster around, Pikachu.

The early cards in the series used “Pocket Monsters” as the moniker for the series and the illustrations were pretty basic. By 2000, the Pokémon cards had the increased fidelity and color of the Pokémon TCG cards, making this particular prism card really shine. In December 2022, a PSA 10 Gem Mint graded copy sold for almost $750. The Charizard card from the set goes for even more.

While many of the 2000 Pokémon Japanese Bandai Carddass Prism #62 cards are still possible to find, it can be challenging to get one in particularly good shape. Keep an eye out on the Cardbase page for the series if you’d like to add some of these sparkling cards to your Pokémon collection.

2000 Pokémon Japanese Bandai Carddass Prism #622000 Pokémon Japanese Bandai Carddass Prism #62

6) 1998 Pokémon Playing Cards

Back in 1998, manufacturer Game Freak brought out Pocket Monster Battle Playing Cards themed to different colors and packaged with peg-hanging boxes for retail. While the cards within are a standard deck of playing cards with Kings, Queens, Spades, Hearts, and all, the deck came with a set of rules for playing traditional card games.

Just like Pokémon TCG cards, many collectors have taken individual cards from their decks and had them graded, leading the cards to be worth between $10 and a few thousand dollars depending on the deck color and the Pokémon Depicted on them. As with TCG cards, Charizard seems to be commanding one of the highest prices, with a BGS 10 Pristine copy of his card from the Red Deck selling for over $3,000 in November 2022.

1998 Pokémon Playing Cards1998 Pokémon Playing Cards

5) 2000 Pokémon Topps Chrome Series 2 Charizard Pokémon TV Sparkle #6

It’s hard to believe we got this far on the list without a Charizard. Don’t worry, we’ll make up for it. This is the 2000 Topps Chrome Series 2 Charizard and, specifically, the Sparkle variant that lights up the card’s background with a shower of color. Charizard still has its signature flame on the card, too. As one of the biggest fan favorite Pokémon ever, naturally this is one of the most popular and valuable cards from the Topps Chrome series.

While the card can’t be played in any game, collectors and investors alike happily snapped up these trading cards when they came out in the early part of this century. PSA, BGS and other professional grading houses have their own criteria for these cards, too, helping verify the condition of them and keeping the best-quality copies suitably expensive. A PSA 9 Mint copy sold in July 2023 for $7,500. Unlike so many other sets, Charizard isn’t the most expensive card in the set.

2000 Pokémon Topps Chrome Series 2 Charizard Pokémon TV Sparkle #62000 Pokémon Topps Chrome Series 2 Charizard Pokémon TV Sparkle #6

4) 1995 Pokémon Japanese Topsun Pikachu Green Back

Here’s another Topsun card that also features the beloved Pikachu. This classic, squatter version of the spokes-monster for the Pokémon franchise is shown in front of a split red/green background, evoking the feel of the time before Pokémon cards got more flashy and daring with their designs.

For those who are not familiar with the Topsun series, it was released by a Japanese candy company in the late 1990s and they were among the first sets of Pokémon cards produced. The Topsun series was not as popular as the Pokémon TCG cards when they came out, but the series still holds a special place in the hearts of Pokémon fans and collectors alike for their historical significance and the rendering of early versions of classic Pokémon characters.

The series had cards with Blue and Green Backs, and this card is an example of the second, rarer kind with a green card back that looks like a pattern if you don’t read Japanese. Google Translate shows us what it says, roughly speaking. Mostly, it’s just mentioning the name of the series and the Pokémon brand.

This desirable card is one of the most popular for collectors interested in adding a Topsun original to their collection. In graded condition, it is quite valuable, selling in the hundreds of dollars to thousands, with a PSA 10 Gem Mint copy selling for $15,000 in October 2020.

1995 Pokémon Japanese Topsun Pikachu Green Back1995 Pokémon Japanese Topsun Pikachu Green Back

3) 2000 Pokémon Topps Chrome Series 2 Sparkle Gengar #94

As with other Topps cards on this list, their lack of utility in the game do not stop Pokémon collectors from wanting these more traditional trading cards. In this case, this is a Sparkle variant (kind of like a prism or holo style) card of the third and final evolutionary stage for Gastly, Gengar. While the Gengar card would be appealing on its own, this Sparkle version creates a huge splash of shiny stuff onto the background. This variant is hard to find and has become one of the most valuable cards from the Topps series as a result.

In June 2023, a copy of Gengar Sparkle in PSA 10 Gem Mint condition sold for almost $8,000. The regular Gengar is a little more reasonably priced. Depending on condition, you can find a copy of this 23-year-old card for between $15 and $85 dollars.

2000 Pokémon Topps Chrome Series 2 Sparkle Gengar #942000 Pokémon Topps Chrome Series 2 Sparkle Gengar #94

2) 1995 Pokémon Japanese Topsun Charizard

Charizard is back, but this time on the Japanese Topsun cards that came in packs of candy back in the late 1990s. The packaging below shows that these cards came out under the “Pocket Monsters” brand. As noted earlier, the Topsun 1995 copyright caused confusion because the cards didn’t come out until perhaps 1997, but they were still super early to market. The cards are still very popular with collectors today based on their historical value.

Proof positive that the cards are still worth a lot of money to investors and collectors alike is the only PSA 10 Gem Mint copy of Charizard in the PSA database sold in January 2021 for a staggering $493,230. Even though this Charizard can’t be taken into battle with you, it still fetched close to a half a million dollars. People just can’t get enough of this fiery little monster.

1995 Pokémon Japanese Topsun Charizard1995 Pokémon Japanese Topsun Charizard

1) 1998 Illustrator Pikachu

The Pikachu Illustrator card tops a lot of lists for Pokémon cards. The 1998 card was an award for a drawing contest and although it looks superficially like a card from the Pokémon TCG, it’s not a playable card. Only about 40 copies of the card exist and they can be traced back to a 1997 art competition held by a Japanese comic magazine. Each of the winners got a copy of the card showing off Pikachu trying its hand at drawing.

The card has been among the rarest Pokémon cards around and is unquestionably the most expensive card to bear the name of the brand. A PSA Gem Mint 10 version of the card was sold for approximately $6,000,000 a few years back, but the exact value is in question due to the transaction happening between private parties and involved trading a lower-graded copy as part of the transaction. YouTube Logan Paul is the owner of that card, which he famously wore to his debut UFC match. Many other celebrities and serious collectors have been paying top dollar for this ‘trophy’ card that has no actual game function due to its scarcity and the mysterious circumstances of the transactions surrounding it.
The Pikachu Illustrator card is simply among the most scarce and valuable Pokémon cards because of its rarity, popularity, and demand among collectors. It’s highly unlikely to ever be reprinted in any form, so we can expect the value will continue to climb over time, making it the most expensive Pokémon card even though it has no purpose other than looking fantastic in a collection and maybe making other collectors jealous.

1998 Illustrator Pikachu 1998 Illustrator Pikachu

Pokémon is More Than Just a Game

For Pokémon TCG fans, it’s hard to imagine that collectors might want the cards with no relation to battling out with your friends. Yet, the video games, movies, and endless other Pokémon media out there have brought more fans to the franchise than just card game players. That’s why the world of non-game Pokémon cards is so captivating. With an eclectic mix of nostalgia, gorgeous designs, and some unique slices of Pokémon history, these cards have just as much reason to brighten up your card collection as your best trainer and monster cards. Happy Collecting!

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