Pokemon is working through its 26th year, and has given collectors plenty to salivate over during that time. Today we are laying down what we feel like are the best five sets to ever be released since 1996. There will be snubs of course, and I’m 100 percent sure that people will take issue with my choices, but that’s why we make rankings, so everyone can get super pissed and argue about it. Debate is fun, and here is our starting salvo:
5. The VS SERIES: Release- July 19, 2001
"I don't collect Japanese.”
Well good, more for us. This set was never released to the public in English, which is a shame but makes hunting down this set quite a lot of fun. There are a few English test prints of these cards available, but not for any ballers on a budget as they will run you a ton of money, if you can even find them.
First and foremost, the artwork for this set is unmatched. We get to revisit the Gym Heroes/Gym Challenge trainer pokemon cards with Neo era trainers and e-reader pokemon cards. The combination is gorgeous, particularly as each trainer’s pokemon are drawn by the same artist so the style remains consistent, and completed sets are visually stunning. The set has a Charizard, a Dragonite, Holo versions of the legendary dogs, Espeon and Umbreon: in short, if you collect vintage, there are going to be chase cards for you to go after. The downside to the VS Series? The packs are half decks, 30 cards per pack, and will run you at least $700 per pack if you can somehow get your hands on one. The good news is you are guaranteed two holos (One pokemon and one energy), but the price of entry is undoubtedly quite high.
4. Ex Delta Species: Release- October 31, 2005
This set is fire for so many reasons. We will start with the Dittos that portray the small eyed weirdo as Bulbasaur, Squirtle, Charmander, Mr Mime, Geodude, and Pikachu in a claymation style. The reverse holo version of all of these cards look incredible with the stamp and rainbow foiling. Next we have every single eeveelution from Gens 1 and 2 in both holo and reverse holo form, as well as the Vaporeon, Jolteon, and Flareon EX cards. The artworks are vibrant yet clean in styling, and really pop off the card when flashed in the light. The electric type Rayquaza, Metagross, and Dragonite are wildly cool cards and the fire type Mewtwo is a personal favorite. The type swapping that occurred in this era gave a super fun twist to classic Pokemon and the cards have a vibrancy and freshness even in the common and uncommons. High price tag on this one, but then again this is the list of the best sets in the entire TCG so pony up.
3. Team Rocket Returns: Release- November 8, 2004
This set takes third place without having a Charizard in the set. TRR is the first set to introduce gold stars (Mudkip, Treeko, and Torchic), and its list of EX cards is unbeatable. Suicune, Snorlax, Mewtwo, Moltres, Scyther, Zapdos, Articuno…you get the idea. Dark Dragonite gets a rebranding from the original WOTC Team Rocket set, and if I’m being honest this artwork hits even harder than Arita’s classic portrayal. Dark Houndoom, and Dark Tyranitar are also absolutely incredible. The Team Rocket Returns reverse holo pattern and stamp are S tier and make the reverse holos of some of the biggest cards in the set more desirable than even the regular holo versions. Sealed product from this set is not plentiful which means it really is a treat to be able to watch one of your much richer and successful friends open it live on stream. Like every set in the top 5, TRR has great common and uncommons that make opening these packs very exciting with many chances to pull some great cards every time it gets ripped.
The bonus to having great reverse holos is every pack has a chance at a big hitter, and even non-holo rares and uncommons, such as the Dark Dragonair and Dark Gyarados, are still worthy to be graded for a collection.
2. Neo Destiny: Release Date- February 28, 2002
WOTC was going to be on the list sooner or later, and what better set to kick it off than Neo Destiny? Shining Cards in the WOTC era are all cool with no exceptions. The Shining Magikarp and Gyarados from Neo Revelation have a special place in many collectors’ hearts, but given the choice, Neo Destiny is the clear front runner from the Neo era.
It has the Shining Charizard. Oh, and the Tyranitar, Mewtwo, Celebi, Steelix, Noctowl, Kabutops and Raichu aren’t too shabby either. The shiny Pokemon certainly steal the spotlight, but the Light and Dark versions of Pokemon found in this set are also nutty. Light Arcanine may be one of the most beautiful cards ever created, I would do illegal things to get a Light Dragonite graded in a ten.
Dark Gengar is super wonky, Dark Ampharos boasts my favorite artwork for that Pokemon, and Dark Houndoom makes me question my undying loyalty to the Houndoom found in Neo Revelation. I haven’t even been able to mention Dark Typhlosion, a favorite for most collectors, the Dark Espeon, another fan favorite, and a Dark Tyranitar, as though having a shiny version in the set wasn't enough. The commons and uncommons are also nothing to scoff at because the artwork doesnt miss, and the Light versions of the original eeveelutions go for stupid money when graded in a 10. This is the WOTC era in its prime, and such a fun set to rip as long as you are lucky or rich.
1. Skyridge: Release- May 12, 2003
This is it guys. The creme de la creme.
Every card is beautiful and every pack will make you miss a mortgage payment. All is as it should be. The pack art is a complete joke that looks like it was made on Microsoft paint and you only get 9 cards per pack but boy it hurts so good. I buy PSA 10 common and uncommons anytime I see one under $100 because I have an addiction, but also because these cards are STUNNING. Personally I love the reverse holos of this era and how hard they are to grade in a ten. The chase makes the capture feel more worthwhile. Moving past the “cheap” stuff, the holos we are working with here are wild. The Gengar is a grail for any serious ghosty chasers, the Gyarados artwork is the better version of the artwork released later in Ex Deoxys, and the Umbreon from this set makes me believe the artist must have met some sort of god in a dream to visualize such a beautiful scene.
All three original Eeveelutions also have their own holo and reverse holo cards, the Vaporeon being the real stand out from the three in this set. The Arcanine holo from Skyridge is a grail for collectors right behind the first edition Light Arcanine from Neo Destiny. Oh yea, and there's a crystal Charizard and a crystal Charizard box topper. And if you're like me and you don't collect our fire breathing friend because you hate making smart investments, then the Crystal Ho-oh, Kabutops, and Celebi are all gorgeous cards you also can't afford but should buy anyway. In all seriousness, opening these packs is an absolute joy and every card you hit feels like a W as long as you just appreciate the art and don't check comps the whole time. You paid the money, just enjoy it man.