Understanding Pokémon Rarity Symbols and Card Features

Posted on 1/10/2024

Determine how rare and valuable your Pokémon TCG cards are by identifying rarity symbols, card types and set numbers.

The Pokémon TCG is one of the most popular trading card games in the world. With more than 15,000 cards printed and counting, it can be difficult to determine which Pokémon cards are worth their salt. Unfortunately, it takes a bit of prior knowledge about TCGs to understand exactly how rare a Pokémon card is, because there are numerous facts to consider. CGC Cards™ has certified over 3 million Pokémon cards, and we are happy to share our expertise on exactly how to determine your Pokémon TCG collection’s worth.

To figure out how rare a Pokémon card is, collectors need to consider the following: the card's type, the card's set number and the card's rarity symbol.

What is a rarity symbol?

First, let's look at Pokémon rarity symbols. Every Pokémon card is marked with a small symbol in either the bottom right or bottom left-hand corner, adjacent to the set number. This symbol is called a rarity symbol, and it's the easiest way to determine how rare a Pokémon card is within a particular set.

There are four universal rarity symbols used within the Pokémon TCG. Here are the symbols and their meanings:

  • black circle – common card
  • black diamond – uncommon card
  • black star – rare card
  • black star with “PROMO” – promo card

Note: Promo cards aren’t pulled from traditional packs. Instead, promo cards are often printed and given away to commemorate special events — such as movie releases — or used as box toppers in Pokémon TCG products.

Additional Scarlet & Violet rarity symbols

Starting in the Scarlet & Violet Pokémon TCG expansion, The Pokémon Company added five additional Pokémon rarity symbols to the TCG to eliminate some confusion between official rarities and "fan-dubbed" rarities that had cropped up in past expansions. These new rarity symbols are:

  • two black stars – double rare
  • two silver stars – ultra rare
  • one gold star – illustration rare
  • two gold stars – special illustration rare
  • three gold stars – hyper rare

Ultra rare? Hyper rare? Yes, rare Pokémon cards come in several variations. It is impossible to determine a rare card's value just by checking the rarity symbol. To truly determine how valuable a Pokémon card is, a collector needs to understand how to differentiate between Pokémon card types and variants.

Card Types

In addition to rarity symbols, Pokémon cards can have other characteristics that set them apart from their counterparts and make them more valuable.

Holofoil vs. Reverse Holofoil

Look at these three cards:

A group of three Alolan Ninetales, Pokémon (2017) Burning Shadows - 28/147 cards, with a regular version (left), a holo version (middle) and a reverse holo version (right).
Please note: The middle card is designated as a "cracked ice holo." While this holographic pattern has a special designation, as long as the Pokémon's art box is covered in holographic foil, it is considered a holo Pokémon card.
Click images to enlarge.

Although all three of the above Pokémon cards have the same name, rarity symbol and set number, they don't all have the same value. That's because two of these cards — the middle and right examples — are holographic cards. There are two types of holographic Pokémon cards: regular holo and reverse holo.

The middle card is a holo, which can be identified when just the Pokémon's art box has the holographic shine. Only certain cards within a Pokémon TCG set can have holo variants, and these holo variants are significantly harder to pull than their common, uncommon and reverse holo counterparts.

The rightmost card is a reverse holo. Reverse holo cards have the holographic foil across the entire card, except within the Pokémon's art box. Most cards within a Pokémon TCG set have a reverse holo variant, so they're not as rare or sought after as their holo counterparts.

Full Art Cards

Full art cards were introduced in the Black & White Pokémon TCG expansion. They are special cards that show the Pokémon's artwork across the entire card instead of restricting it to the art box. Full art Pokémon cards are also completely holographic. Beginning with the Black & White expansion, most full art Pokémon cards are also ultra rare cards.

Ultra Rare Cards

Ultra rare Pokémon cards are rare cards that often have unique game mechanics. Many ultra rare cards are also full art cards. The following are considered ultra rare Pokémon cards:

Pokémon-ex / LV.X: These cards were introduced in the EX Ruby & Sapphire Pokémon TCG expansion. Each Pokémon-ex card has the lowercase “ex” after the Pokémon’s name. The ex stands for “extra,” alluding to the additional effects that certain gameplay mechanics have on Pokémon-ex cards. While Pokémon-ex cards are not full art cards, they are all reverse holofoils.

Pokémon LV.X cards were introduced in the Diamond & Pearl Pokémon TCG expansion. These cards were similar to Pokémon-ex cards in appearance but differed in gameplay mechanics.

Pokémon EX / GX: Introduced in the Black & White: Next Destinies Pokémon TCG expansion, Pokémon EX cards have capital “EX” after their name. Pokémon EX cards continued into the XY expansion, where they tied into Mega Evolution mechanics. Pokémon GX cards are very similar to Pokémon EX cards in both gameplay and appearance. However, their gameplay mechanic — GX attacks — deal an incredible amount of damage and can only be used once per game. Pokémon GX cards were introduced in the Sun & Moon Pokémon TCG expansion.

Pokémon V / VMAX: Introduced in the Sword & Shield expansion, Pokémon V cards are all Basic Pokémon with a stylized V graphic as a suffix on the card’s name. Pokémon V are very similar to Pokémon EX and GX in appearance and gameplay. However, Pokémon V can evolve into Pokémon VMAX, which have boosted HP and more powerful attacks.

Pokémon VSTAR: Similar to Pokémon VMAX, Pokémon VSTAR cards evolve from their Pokémon V counterparts. Each Pokémon VSTAR has a special mechanic called “VSTAR Power,” which can be either an attack or ability. This VSTAR Power can only be used once per game. They were introduced in the Brilliant Stars expansion.

Pokémon ex: The Scarlet & Violet Pokémon TCG expansion reintroduced Pokémon ex cards. In Scarlet & Violet, Pokémon ex can be Terastallized into Tera Pokémon ex — special Pokémon that do not take damage while on the bench.

Note: There are other Pokémon card types out there! They are more unique because most have shorter print runs and were only present for one or two sets, but they're still worth looking out for. Here's a list of these other card types:

  • "Dark" and "Light" Pokémon cards
  • Shining Pokémon cards
  • Crystal Pokémon cards
  • Gold Star Pokémon cards
  • Delta Species Pokémon cards
  • Prime Pokémon cards
  • SP Pokémon cards
  • LEGEND Pokémon cards
  • BREAK Pokémon cards
  • Prism Star Pokémon cards
  • Tag Team Pokémon cards
  • Amazing Pokémon cards

Secret Rare cards

Secret rare Pokémon cards are a step above ultra rare cards in both overall rarity and appearance. To really understand the significance of secret rare cards, we need to look at the third factor that goes into determining a Pokémon card's overall rarity: The set number.

Set numbers

Set numbers can be used to identify Pokémon cards within a specific set by number or set order. Many collectors search for a specific Pokémon card by entering the card's set number into online search engines. To find a Pokémon card's set number, check the bottom right- or left-hand corner, near where the rarity symbol should be. The number should be written as XXX/XXX.

Secret rare cards are the rarest Pokémon cards in a set. They have an individual collection number that is higher than the actual set number — for example, the Snorlax above has a set number of 224/198 — which is why they are called "secret" rare cards. For every secret rare Pokémon card in a set, there is usually a card of a lower rarity that is identical in name and gameplay mechanics. However, those cards may not be identical in appearance. Secret rare cards are the hardest cards to pull in any set.

There are several types of cards that fall under the secret rare Pokémon card rarity. These include:

  • rainbow rare cards
  • gold rare cards
  • illustration rare cards (also known as alt art cards)
  • special illustration rare cards

Is my card worth anything?

On a general scale, the rarer a Pokémon card is, the more valuable it will be. So, secret rare cards are usually more valuable than ultra rare cards, full art cards can be more valuable than holos and so on. However, this isn’t always the case — a card’s printed rarity doesn’t always match its scarcity, and other factors, such as playability and whether the set is a special set or not, also must be considered.

In addition to rarity symbols and card types, here are some other things to watch for when considering the value of a Pokémon card:

Age: Older Pokémon cards may carry a premium depending on their rarity. For example, a Base Set Venusaur Holo graded CGC 7 sold for $86 in a recent PWCC auction. Meanwhile, an Obsidian Flames Charizard ex graded CGC 9 sold for $62 in the same auction!

Condition: A card’s condition is extremely important to collectors! If you’re looking to buy and resell rare and valuable cards, you’ll need to ensure they’re in the best condition possible. Scratches on the holofoil and blemishes across the card’s surface will lower the value of any card. Send your card to CGC Cards for certification to get an official grade that shows the condition of your card, which is analyzed by trading card experts. After certification, CGC Cards encapsulates cards in a clear, protective holder.

First Edition: Pokémon cards from the Wizards of the Coast era were released in waves. The first release of a new set was called First Edition, and each card was marked with a special 1st Edition symbol. These First Edition cards are worth more than their regular counterparts and are often worth more than even modern cards. Check out CGC Cards' full guide on First Edition Pokémon cards here.

Shadowless: In the first print run of Base Set in 1999, Pokémon cards didn’t have the typical drop shadow around the Pokémon’s art box. These cards are called “shadowless” cards because of this absent feature. Shadowless cards were only around for the first two releases of Base Set; the drop shadow was added to the Unlimited Edition release. Because of this, shadowless cards carry a premium.

A Base Set Shadowless Charizard (left) and a Base Set Unlimited Charizard (right).
Click images to enlarge.

Promo cards: Promo cards are not sold in regular booster packs. Instead, they’re given away as promotional items for events or sold as part of box sets. Because of this, some promo cards are very rare and hard to obtain, which makes them worth more.

Tournament promos: Tournament promo cards are given away exclusively at Pokémon TCG events, usually in the form of participation or winning prizes. These cards have a special stamp somewhere on the card that indicates the tournament and year the card was given out. These tournament promos can be worth hundreds of dollars, or more!

Error cards: Keep an eye out for unusual markings or cut-off artwork on your cards! This may indicate that your card is an error card — or a card that was erroneously cut, mislabeled or misprinted during production. CGC Cards has a detailed Pokémon TCG Error Guide for reference when searching through your cards. Click here to check it out.

I have a rare card! What should I do?

Congratulations! Now that you’ve found a rare card, you should consider getting it graded by CGC Cards. CGC Cards’ grading experts ensure the authenticity of your card before encapsulating it in our industry-leading holder, preserving its condition and value. Get started by creating a free membership account here!

Once your card has been authenticated, graded and encapsulated, you can consider selling it either privately or through a trusted online platform. Pokémon cards encapsulated by CGC Cards are often seen for sale on auction platforms such as Heritage Auctions, PWCC and Goldin. Other sellers prefer to sell their cards in person, such as at conventions or to trading card shops. For more information on where to buy and sell Pokémon cards, check out CGC Cards’ guide on where to buy Pokémon cards by clicking here.

About CGC Cards

CGC Cards, a division of Certified Guaranty Company® (CGC®), is devoted to the expert authentication, grading and encapsulation of TCGs, non-sports and sports cards. All cards graded by CGC Cards are backed by the industry-leading CGC Guarantee.

Each submission goes through a proven eight-step certification process, which includes authentication and evaluation of condition by CGC Cards’ expert graders, encapsulation in the industry’s best holder, high-resolution imaging and a comprehensive quality control check. To learn more about CGC Cards’ state-of-the-art holder, click here.

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