How to Identify Value in the 2022 Market

For those who have just entered the world of collecting and investing Pokémon cards or for those who may have joined the fray during the massive boom of 2020, finding their footing in today’s market may prove a difficult task.

Where to start ? How are you adjusting? What trends should you look out for? What cards or items should you keep an eye on?

As you can imagine, the answer is not clear cut. There are a plethora of avenues to explore when it comes to Pokémon cards in 2022, and you won’t always get the same results.

But there are methods you can use to enhance your experience as both a collector and an investor.

Last time, we looked at why the Pokémon card market is in its current state (if you haven’t read this article already, follow this link and check it out before diving into this one). The hobby is no longer an isolated space that the average person would know nothing about. Things have exploded to the point where celebrities are now collecting these cards, and less experienced collectors and investors may feel in limbo.

Although no one has the magic answer, there is one attribute that will generally bestow you favors: the ability to identify value.

Keep in mind that “value” isn’t necessarily what will make you the most money. Sometimes it does, but the general idea here is to get what you pay for. When you do this consistently, you’ll fare better in the long run.

Here are some ways to gauge the value in the current market for Pokémon cards:

Try to avoid incredibly common cards

You’d think that would be something most people would know, but when you consider that so many people were paying around $1000 for PSA 10 1st Edition Jungle Pikachus and Eevees in late 2020 and early 2021, obviously not everyone is not on the same page.

I always like to use this Pikachu card as the main example, because it’s the poster child for a card that was exorbitantly priced and absolutely needed a major dip.

This has happened over the last year or so. Once a four-digit card in a PSA 10, this 1st Edition Jungle Pikachu is now flirting with the $200 mark. Even worse is the PSA 10 1st Edition Jungle Eevee, which can be had for around $100 in today’s market.

So what happened?

Well, like the first article I wrote about it, there was a perfect storm of events in 2020 and 2021 that caused the price of grade cards to skyrocket. Because PSA shut down in March 2021 due to an overwhelming backlog of submissions, people had no access to scoring. As a result, they turned to buying cards that were already rated, which artificially inflated the prices of cards like the aforementioned Pikachu and Eevee.

We’ve also seen this for Base Set Unlimited common cards like Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur. Before their meteoric rise in late 2020, you could usually buy these cards for around $40 (probably even around $20 in 2018). Then, during the boom, they were reaching prices close to $500. Such growth in such a short time is clearly not entirely organic, especially when those particular cards were so abundant (which doesn’t have binding pages full of these cards in 1999?).

These examples have all dropped dramatically in price since then. PSA has cleared most of its backlog, meaning most cards that were submitted in 2020 and 2021 have since been sent back to customers and put up for sale on eBay. I’ve already mentioned the big drop in Jungle Pikachu and Eevee, and those common Base Set Unlimited are now all under $100.

Provide. Request.

This may sound elementary, but from what we’ve seen over the past two years, obviously not everyone understands this point. Avoid the very common cards with tons of graded copies if you really want the best value.

There are cards other than Wizards of the Coast

If you grew up with Pokémon cards, you probably have a great point of reference for the Wizards of the Coast era (colloquially known as WOTC). These are the cards that lasted from the initial US release of Pokemon cards in 1999 to 2003 before the rights were sold to Nintendo.

During this time we have seen 15 sets released in English: Base Set, Jungle, Fossil, Base Set 2, Team Rocket, Gym Heroes, Gym Challenge, Neo Genesis, Neo Discovery, Neo Revelation, Neo Destiny, Legendary Collection, Expedition, Aquapolis and Skyridge.

Because these were the original sets with the original card model (although this model did change from Expedition to Skyridge), most people growing up in the 90s and early 2000s have an understandable attachment to them. But sometimes they get attached to their own detriment.

Of course: everyone knows the basic Charizard set. It’s the most iconic card in the hobby, and I think we can all safely say that it will never be dethroned as Pokemon’s most recognizable card. But there’s life beyond that, and Wizards of the Coast-era cards have reached a stage where bargains are hard to come by (though there are certainly more deals to be had now only at the end of 2020 and 2021).

So how about some alternatives?

The EX era has finally gained momentum over the past two years, but there’s still value to be found in it. The Diamond & Pearl era is still fleshing out, and Black & White and X & Y are essentially in their infancy (although they’ve admittedly seen recent growth).

Now, I’m going to warn that the more modern sets (namely Sun and Moon and Sword and Shield) have a lot of stock available, which means the market is pretty saturated with these products. At least on the English side of the hobby (more on that in a bit). So don’t think you’re going to get rich overnight buying Elite Trainer Boxes.

Either way, it won’t hurt to expand your collection outside of Wizards of the Coast cards. A little variety never hurt anyone.

Don’t be afraid of Japanese cards

In my humble opinion, the greatest value is currently in the Japanese market.

We’ll go into much more depth on the Japanese market compared to the English market in a future article, but to try and keep it short for now, Japanese cards generally have more to offer than their English counterparts.

Why? Well, first of all, there’s a lot of exclusive art from the Japanese side that never quite makes its way to America. I’m mostly talking about promos, but there are even some differences in set cards. For example, on the English side, Neo Discovery lacks the Beedrill and Butterfree holos that Japan has. These cards are rare non-holo cards in English. Then in Neo Revelation, the Japanese variant has Aerodactyl, Kingdra, and Starmie in holo form. They are all non-holo in English.

Second, Japanese prices are, for the most part, better. It’s not still the case, but more often than not, the prices of Japanese card games are cheaper than in English. The same goes for boosters. So you get the same art for a cheaper price (especially right now with the Japanese yen being so much weaker than the US dollar). Yes, the language in the text is different, but if all you really care about is art, so what? I would even say that the borders of the Japanese cards are more tasteful than those of the English cards.

Finally, Japanese print quality is generally superior to English. This isn’t true 100% of the time, but the exception is not the rule. So if you collect raw mint Japanese cards, they will generally have a better chance of achieving a higher rating at PSA (or whatever grading company you choose) than the English versions. This has been a constant factor since the 90s when the cards were first released.

You’d be surprised how quickly you can get addicted to Japanese cards when you start buying them. And let’s be honest: Pokemon is a Japanese franchise, so anything coming to America has already been digested in Japan. And again, there are Japanese cards that never make it to a North American (or UK or Australian or whatever) print shop because they’re never redrawn with English text. Red’s Pikachu’s incessantly popular promo is a perfect example. The same goes for Yokohama Pikachu promos, of which we’ve seen several (an example can be found here).

What you grew up with is cool and all, but you’re really missing out if you refuse to at least test the Japanese market at some point, both as a collector and an investor.

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