This week we are talking about an exclusive event in Hawaii which marked the first time the Pokemon TCG was played internationally, the Pokemon Tropical Mega Battle, or TMB for short. Today it would be considered a world championship, though as only kids from the United States and Japan were invited to attend, I would refrain from using that term in this case. In August of 1999, an elite group of players from Japan and United States descended upon the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu to duke it out against their fellow countrymen in a three day tournament that would crown a Japanese and American champion, before those two would have one final battle to determine the very first Pokemon World Champion. I’ll also touch upon the very expensive cards that came out of this event and how to recognize the TMB version of the Bilingual Exeggutor from the Trainer Magazine Promo version, a difference that could be worth over ten thousand dollars.
To be invited to compete in this tournament was no small feat. Only the 9 Japanese players who had won their regional Champion Road Summer events in Japan were allowed to participate, and only the top 12 players from the United States were flown in. Outside of the official tournament, players could also battle each other to earn badges which could be traded in for phone cards featuring the legendary birds. A PSA 10 version of any of these phone cards would set you back around 25 thousand dollars today, so maybe pay off your car first.
Also attending the festivities was none other than Imakuni himself, who had his own deck and could be challenged by any of the contestants while they were there. Andrew Finch, then the DCI tournament manager for Wizards of the Coast, showed off a grail of the Pokemon card universe, the eleven Base set Raichus that had mistakenly been printed with a “Prerelease” stamp. Kagemaru Himeno, one of the great artists of Pokemon since the beginning, and Kouichi Ooyama, of the well known “Ooyama’s Pikachu” from Vending Series 3, were also both in attendance, though they seem to have left the battling to Imakuni.
Now onto the business side of things: the cards that came from the Tropical Mega Battle. A “Bilingual Exeggutor” featured moves written in both Japanese and English and was released as a promo card in Trainer Magazine Vol 3 in October of 1999, but the players at the TMB got an early printing of the card as a congratulations for being invited to the tournament. Modern collectors will recognize the card as a secret rare from Evolutions in 2016, but this was merely a reprint of the original Magazine promo. With very few copies ever printed, the TMB version of the Exeggutor is very valuable, with highly graded versions are almost never seen on the online market. How to tell the difference between the magazine promo and the TMB version? First, the Trainer Magazine Exeggutor has a glossy surface (similar to the vending series) while the TMB version has a matte finish. While this differentiation is obvious when holding the cards side by side, it can be difficult to be sure when the card is by itself, particularly if it is encased in a plastic slab. The second telltale sign that you have the TMB version is the length of Ooyama’s neck tie. In the magazine version, there is a clear uninterrupted line that cuts off the bottom of the image, where as in the TMB version, Ooyama’s neck tie encroaches over the edge of the image ever so slightly.
Is it totally wild that someone noticed this? Yes. But thank goodness they did because telling the versions apart can be quite the task, assuming you are lucky enough to come across a TMB version in the first place.
Another card that needs to be mentioned is Tropical Wind, a card that was given to Japanese players who won certain Challenge Road events leading up to the TMB tournament. This card was not available to American players and was used in Japanese decks in the tournament. To find a mint copy of this card, graded or not, would be extremely difficult. I have seen a BGS 8 version asking 50k USD, and while it won't likely sell at that price, it gives you an idea of how rare these cards truly are. This artwork would later be altered and reused for future tournaments and promo cards, but the original will always be the most highly valued among collectors.
The Tropical Mega Battle was a historic event in Pokemon’s history, and taking a deep dive into what all went on has uncovered some funny anecdotes, the Americans not having air conditioning in their tournament room for one. It was an experience very few people got to have, and memorabilia from the event, whether it be the medals, the binders, the hats, lanyards, or cards, will always be very highly prized for that reason. Hopefully some of you get to see some of these items up close!