Flashfire, Fists, and Phantoms: Pokemon’s XY Experiment

Flashfire, Fists, and Phantoms: Pokemon’s XY Experiment

The Black and White Era ended with arguably its four best sets: The three Plasmas and Legendary Treasures to close out in 2013. These sets had beautiful full art chases, but also highly sought after secret rares, notably the Blastoise and Charizard from Plasma Storm and the gold Zekrom and Reshiram from Legendary Treasures. For reasons known only to the Pokemon company, the trend of secret rares did not continue into the XY base set, which featured the mega evolution cards and some beautiful full arts, but that was it. However this would be remedied almost immediately in the three sets we will be talking about today: XY Flashfire, Furious Fists, and my personal favorite, Phantom Forces.

I group these sets together not simply because of their release dates (all in 2014), but because the card lists from each set are so unique from each other in what they offer collectors, as though Pokemon was using these sets to try some things out. First out of the gates was Flashfire. Released in May of 2014, it quieted anyone disappointed with the fact that XY base set had Blastoise and Venusaur but no Charizard by offering them seven Charizards in one set. And why would Charizard only have one Mega Evolution? Why would it not get two, one for each game? The answer is, of course Charizard received two mega evolution forms, the most popular being the Mega Charizard X (for X version). It modernized the black version we saw in the gold star Charizard from Dragon Frontiers back in 2006, adding blue flames, some shoulder spikes, and a new wing pattern. The Y version stayed true to Charizard’s original color scheme, adding some spikes on its head and giving it some arm blades. The most important distinction wasn't aesthetic however, as the X form of Mega Charizard was Fire/Dragon type, while the Y version was Fire/Flying. Both Mega forms have two cards in Flashfire, one in the normal setlist, one as a secret rare. The art on both are identical, but instead of the card’s usual border, the secret rares have a gold bordering. This would remain true for the secret rares in both Furious Fists and Phantom Forces as well, where the secret rares would not be textured, but just have the card number and gold border to identify them as the secret rare versions. Charizard did have a textured full art card in Flashfire as well, but for whatever reason no Mega evolution cards received textured full art printings until sets released in 2015. Flashfire also contained a Mega Kangaskhan secret rare as well, though with Charizard dominating the set list, Kangaskhan tends to fall into the background when talking about Flashfire.

Furious Fists is next up. This is a strange set, because while Charizard had two mega forms to play with, and seven cards to populate Flashfire’s line up, Furious fists focused on Lucario and Heracross, which don’t have the same kind of pull that, say, seven Charizards do. Lucario was certainly one of the most popular additions to Pokemon during the Diamond and Pearl era, and has played a large role in the tv show, so the focus on it makes sense and the Mega Form was the first available to players in the X and Y video games. Heracross? While I love this Pokemon and Heracross can certainly be a beast in battle, it is by no means a crowd pleaser with collectors. Pokemon seemed to realize this and shoehorned in another chase card, a full art Dragonite Ex, to go along with the otherwise bug and fighting focus of the set. It is an odd combination, and certainly not a place you would expect to find everyone’s favorite dragon hanging out, but it certainly adds some spice to the card list, as there is a non full art version of the Dragonite ex in the set as well.
And now we get to the real oddball of the group, and my personal favorite set of 2014: Phantom Forces. This set, as you may infer from the name, has a ghost focus and who better to be the poster child than Gengar, one of the most popular Pokemon amongst people who have too much taste to simply like Charizard. Phantom Forces mostly continued the track Flashfire and Furious fists laid down: One full art Ex of the main two Pokemon (Gengar and Manectric for Phantom Forces), a regular ex and mega ex of each, and one secret rare version of each mega evolution. And then, for some reason, Phantom Forces also has a “ghost rare” or silver foil full art Dialga Ex secret rare. Remember the gold foil Zekrom and Reshiram I mentioned from Legendary Treasures? Well, this is the silver version, and it may be the most beautiful card to come out of the XY era. Why Pokemon did this I have no idea, as they would never do it again. To this day the silver Dialga from Phantom Forces remains the only one of its kind in the Pokemon TCG. I think this is amazing, and other collectors seem to agree. While many cards have seen large dips in price over the past year, the silver Dialga, even graded in a 9, has remained constant, even slightly rising in price. Its extremely difficult pull rate combined with how difficult of a card it is to grade has made not just the 10’s, but also 9’s of this card extremely valuable.
This aberration in Pokemon card design marked the end of the 2014 XY era, and the secret rares released in the next set in 2015, Primal Clash, would take a different turn, focusing on trainer cards with textured gold borders. Flashfire, Furious fists, and Phantom Forces are the only sets to have the Mega Full art secret rares and I believe mark an interesting time in the TCG’s history, almost as though these three sets were test cases for Pokemon to try things out. The Mega Evolution secret rare set will forever only contain 7 cards: 3 from Flashfire, and 2 each from Furious Fists and Phantom Forces. I think these sets should be viewed as their own subset within XY, and certain secret rares such as Manectric and Heracross are woefully undervalued, but provide an opportunity to pick up very rare cards at uncommonly good prices. Also, any sealed product from these three sets will age like fine wine, as what makes these sets unique is what will make them desirable, so if you can get your hands on some now, I would! Happy hunting out there!
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