CGC Trading Cards Certifies Four Extremely Rare Pokémon Test Print Blastoise Cards
Posted on 12/7/2020
CGC Trading Cards has authenticated and graded four extremely rare Pokémon test print Blastoise cards. These cards, created in mid-1998, were among the first attempts by Wizards of the Coast (WotC) to create English Pokémon cards. All of the cards feature Blastoise art that was used on a Japanese promo as well as Pokémon Blue on the front. Three of the four have Magic: The Gathering backs, while one has a blank back. The cards have long been the subject of intense debate, but two things are certain: They are authentic test prints made by WotC, and they are among the hobby’s most intriguing rarities.
CGC Trading Cards is the first third-party certification service to consistently authenticate and grade production test cards within the trading cards market. Oddities like these are evaluated by CGC Trading Cards’ experienced and highly knowledgeable grading team with the aid of advanced forensic technology as well as expert consultants.
The first time any of these cards publicly surfaced was in September 2016, when James Burton posted two examples in the MTGRarities: Major Misprints, Test Prints, Oddities Facebook group. We will call these examples Card A and Card B.
Burton is well-known in the Magic: The Gathering (MTG) community, and sometimes sells oddities from the collection of a former WotC employee. Burton met this employee, Chel Bieze, while working at Proctor Sports Cards (later renamed Exalted Games), a well-connected gaming store in the Seattle area near WotC headquarters. Bieze has sold numerous Magic preproduction items into the marketplace through Burton.
A third example — Card C — was discovered in July 2019 by Zechariah Maples. Maples grew up playing Magic and Pokémon in the Seattle area and eventually opened his own game store. Shortly after he did, Maples was contacted by the former owner of Exalted Games to purchase a storage unit containing what remained of the store, which had closed several years earlier. One of the boxes in the unit contained hundreds of WotC-era Black Star Promos, dozens of Foreign Holo Rares and the third known test print Blastoise.
Later that same month, one of the cards (Card A) was brought to MTG Misprint Con to be looked at by a panel of experts, including Tavis King, Ryan Rooks, Jason Gitlin, Daniel Armitage and Isaac King. Most were or are administrators of the MTGRarities Facebook group where the card was originally posted, and all have significant knowledge of the subject matter, including the authentication of Magic cards.
Some of the panel are also experts in Pokémon, and this familiarity is very useful for a test Pokémon card printed by WotC on Magic card stock. (WotC printed all English and non-Japanese Pokémon cards from 1999 to May 2003.)
During the analysis, the panel had numerous cards on hand for comparison, including regular Pokémon and Magic cards from all eras, test prints and other cards printed internally by WotC as well as local printers. The testing and comparisons were done with both the naked eye and a USB microscope, taking into consideration the various printing processes and the misprints that can occur.
The consensus was that the Magic back on Card A was 100% authentic. The card was not re-backed, and both sides were printed using an offset printing press. Considering this evidence, it was determined that the card was clearly a genuine product of WotC.
More recently, another example of this card surfaced and was presented to Dallas-based Heritage Auctions. Heritage then submitted the card to CGC Trading Cards for authentication and grading. This card, Card D above, differs from the others: it is not on normal card stock, it features the same holofoil pattern from the Base Set and it has a blank back.
This card has been owned by a past member of the WotC public relations team since it was made in 1998. According to the former employee, the card was created for media use to demonstrate what an English Pokémon card would look like. Apparently, it was featured in only one interview that has unfortunately been lost to time. Due to the reason behind its creation, CGC Trading Cards has noted “Commissioned Presentation” on the card’s label. One other similar example was created for international use, but its whereabouts are unknown.
More evidence emerges
In September 2019, a couple of months after he discovered Card C, Maples met in person with a former WotC employee named Chris Nitz. Nitz was the Senior Prepress Systems Analyst for WotC from March 1998 through December 2004. He was also the Lead Typesetter for WotC and helped create numerous Pokémon and Magic products.
Nitz examined Card C and determined that it was a genuine product produced by WotC. He even provided a photo of yet another example (Card E), but this time on an uncut sheet surrounded by Magic cards and with a black border. The black border version was apparently an earlier one. In fact, Nitz has stated that this black border Blastoise still on the sheet was the first English Pokémon card printed on foil!
|Relatively low-quality photos of the sheet that were posted to the internet by Maples. Courtesy of Nitz. Card E can be seen in the lower-right corner.
Click images to enlarge.
The fact that a high-level WotC employee not only recognized these cards, but also happened to have one on an uncut sheet in his possession adds to the preponderance of evidence that the cards are indeed genuine products of WotC. Fortunately, CGC Trading Cards was able to contact Nitz, who was kind enough to ship this sheet to CGC Trading Cards for a thorough examination! Details of that examination (as well as higher-quality photos taken by our imaging team) are included below.
|Card E on the full sheet (left), the back of the full sheet, a quarter of the sheet and the Blastoise.
Click images to enlarge.
One can see from the photos above that while the original images shared online imply the sheet is only a quarter sheet, it is actually a full-sized one that has been folded into quarters. The entire right two quadrants are full of notes, mostly regarding the test-print Magic cards and their mana symbols. Nitz explained that printing such tests was expensive, so it is not surprising that WotC put tests for multiple games on the same sheet.
However, the top right quadrant states, “Pokey Test 8 Colors wkcmywwk.” These letters stand for the colors used in offset printing, in this case, White, Black, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, White, White and Black, and Pokey is obviously a reference to Pokémon, indicating that this was indeed a test print for the expansion into the new US market.
CGC Trading Cards analysis
CGC Trading Cards has significantly more advanced technology than the simple USB microscope used by the MTGRarities experts when they analyzed the cards. All of this technology was utilized in the authentication of these four cards (and Card E on the sheet, which was not certified).
One of the first and simplest tests that was conducted was an examination of the edges of the cards to see if they have a core. Four of the five (including the uncut sheet) do indeed have the typical core as they are printed on the same stock as normal Magic cards of that era.
|From left to right, the edges of: Card A, B, C, D, a normal Magic card from that era, and Card E.
Click images to enlarge.
Looking at the photos above, it is quite clear that Cards A, B, C and Card E on the sheet were printed on normal Magic card stock, while Card D was not. We will look more closely at Card D later.
Next, CGC Trading Cards examined the backs of Cards A, B, C and the sheet. The back of Card D is blank, so it is not examined below.
From the back, the cards are indistinguishable from a normal Magic card of the era, including the rosette patterns at high magnification. Rosettes are the name given to the small clusters of multicolored dots that make up all the different colors on a Pokémon or Magic card. This type of printing method, using four different primary colors (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black twice), is known as CMYKK Offset Printing.
|Close-ups of the backs of Card C, a normal Magic card of the same era and Card E.
Click images to enlarge.
When two cards show the exact same rosette pattern, they were printed using the same printing plates and the same process. The close-up photos above show that these two cards as well as the card on the sheet all have the same pattern of rosettes.
We have now determined that Cards A, B, C, and E are all printed on genuine Magic card stock, and all four have the same rosette patterns on the back. So, now let’s take a closer look at the front of all five cards.
The Blastoise art on the fronts of the cards all match as well, which shows that they were all printed using the same printing plates. The image on Card D is slightly less crisp, likely due to the fact that it was printed on different stock. However, the rosette patterns are all the same, so it too was printed from the same plates as the other three cards and the sheet.
The foil on Cards A, B, C, and E is the same one found on the foils from the Urza’s Legacy Magic set as well as the Lightning Dragon promo card, ten test prints of which are seen on Nitz’s sheet. Note that the art on the sheet pictured above only appears brighter due to the lighting differences necessary to shoot the card that is still part of the sheet and not due to any inherent difference in the foil. While the foil on Card D does differ from the other four cards, below we will look a bit closer at the holo pattern and compare it to a genuine card from the Base Set.
|Close-up of the holo pattern on the Blastoise (left) and a Base Set Magneton (right).
Click images to enlarge.
What looks like a perfect star on Card D actually has a much different appearance when examined more closely. In the photo on the left, the lines of the star are not quite straight, nor are they even. However, this star matches exactly with the star on the right, which is from a genuine Base Set Magneton. This shows that both were created with the same holofoil.
Although CGC Trading Cards graders were convinced of the authenticity of these cards after a close visual inspection, they wanted to use all of the tools at their disposal to fully investigate these important rarities.
After a thorough examination under a microscope, the cards were then inspected with a machine that utilizes numerous types of light to reveal different properties of the inks used to print the cards. Because different inks react differently to these lighting types, a forgery would stand out from the rest.
|Specialized imaging shows that all of the cards were printed using the same inks.
Click images to enlarge.
The photos above were taken under Spot-Fluorescent lighting. This type of imaging uses different wavelengths of high intensity light to show how the inks used react to the light source on the infrared spectrum. Different inks will, of course, not react in the same way as they are made up of different elements. However, in this case, all of the cards look essentially the same on the infrared spectrum.
Note how HP100 and the cannon are both lit up on all of the cards, and the background gradient responds similarly as well. The only minor difference is Card D, which shows a slightly darker art box. This makes perfect sense, however, as it is the only example produced using a different foil. All of this is strong evidence that the inks used are the same across every card. Nevertheless, CGC Trading Cards took the examination a step further and looked at the card backs once again, but this time under UV light.
While there is some minor variation in the hues on the back, likely due to different positioning relative to the UV light source, all of the elements still react with similar effect under UV light. This demonstrates once again that the inks used are the same.
CGC Trading Cards also has access to a top-of-the-line X-ray fluorescence (XRF) scanner. XRF uses X-rays to non-destructively excite the atoms of a sample and then measure the secondary X-rays omitted by the sample. This allows for the elemental composition of the sample to be quantified. The XRF scanner showed that the same elements were utilized in the inks of all five cards.
Based on the graph above, the blue ink appears to be made up primarily of Titanium (Ti), Iron (Fe), Copper (Cu) and Zinc (Zn). There are some slight differences amongst the cards, but all are within tolerance and there is clearly a pattern. If any of the inks were different, the line would follow a completely different path.
After a thorough examination of the five cards utilizing all methods of resources available to CGC Trading Cards, including expert graders, respected consultants, microscopic inspection, imaging with specialized machines and lighting and XRF scanning of the chemical makeup of the inks, the answer was obvious. All five of the cards — the two discovered by James Burton via Bieze, the one found by Zechariah Maples, the Commissioned Presentation piece and Chris Nitz’s example still on the sheet — were all printed using the same printing process with the same plates and the same inks.
Four of those five were also printed on genuine Magic stock complete with a core in the paper. Besides the fact that multiple high-level former WotC employees have all stated that these are genuine test prints, our analysis proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are legitimate.
Add in those primary sources, and it is even clearer that these cards are among the very first English Pokémon cards ever printed. CGC Trading Cards is honored to have authenticated and graded them.
CGC Trading Cards wishes to thank Tavis King and Chris Nitz for their time and expertise in assisting with the certification of these cards.