It’s been near impossible to get Pokémon cards over the past few years. Right around the Pokémon franchise’s 25th anniversary, Pokémon cards saw a major resurgence in popularity; whether fueled by pandemic boredom or dreams of getting rich off your Charizard cards, Pokémon cards both new and old were selling out as soon as they hit store shelves. People hoarded McDonald’s Happy Meals for special cards. Retail stores like Target took cards off their shelves, opting to sell goods online only, reportedly because frenzied shoppers created safety concerns in stores. People flooded card-grading services with so many cards from collectors hoping to strike it rich that they had to pause new submissions to work through the backlog.
Last year, The Pokémon Company acknowledged the Pokémon card shortage and announced it was ramping up production to address the high demand.
“We’re aware that some fans are experiencing difficulties purchasing certain Pokémon [trading card game] products due to very high demand,” the company said in a tweet. “In response, we are reprinting impacted products at maximum capacity to ensure more fans can enjoy the Pokémon TCG.”
The Pokémon Company wasn’t kidding. According to data released by The Pokémon Company, it produced more than 9 billion cards in the past year alone. That’s more than double the rate of the year prior, when The Pokémon Company made 3.7 billion cards. (It normally makes between 1 and 2 billion cards a year, Pokémon expert and Serebii webmaster Joe Merrick told Polygon.) To date, more than 43.2 billion cards have been produced since the Pokémon Trading Card Game launched.
More than a quarter of all Pokémon cards printed were produced from 2020 to 2022. There was never really a lapse in the production of Pokémon cards — The Pokémon Company simply couldn’t keep up with such huge demand.
“It’s definitely a big deal and shows a reaction to the situation that happened back towards the end of 2020, in terms of the general consumer getting cards,” Merrick said. “Pokémon [trading cards] hit the mainstream again and people were buying up all the stock, not necessarily for the right reasons, and it was near impossible for people to get any of the new products. It was a nightmare for the general consumer.”
Charlie Hurlocker, a Pokémon expert and senior consultant for grading company CGC, told Polygon that The Pokémon Company is likely overproducing Pokémon cards now, flooding the market with its collectibles to bring prices down and keep every shelf stocked. The strategy appears to be working: Most stores have products on the shelves, and prices on the first and secondary markets are down. Hurlocker said booster boxes, during the peak Pokémon craze over the past few years, were selling at online retailers for more than 20% of the MSRP — which seemed like a major hike, because booster sets, he said, used to sell for much cheaper. Now, with an influx of cards and sets on the market, prices are back down to normal, Hurlocker said, with retailers really just breaking even on card sales.
The second indicator of The Pokémon Company’s overproduction is the bulk card market, Hurlocker said.
“There’s an entire secondary market that’s based around what any Pokémon card is worth,” he explained. “Pokémon cards peaked in 2021 at six cents a card — any card was worth six cents, just because there was so much demand. Now that price has catered. It’s like one cent, and the two biggest [bulk] buyers aren’t even purchasing.”
Hurlocker added, “The overprinting is working.”
Six cents per card might not sound like a huge number, and it’s not — especially when you’re comparing it to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that made Pokémon cards big news. But those cards that are worth a ton, though the prices have dropped, are still rare and worth a ton. But most Pokémon cards aren’t those rare cards. They’re common or energy cards, and there are a lot of them. Hurlocker said that for demand to be up so high that bulk cards were going for six cents apiece is a big deal.
The Pokémon card bubble hasn’t burst, but the franchise is reverting to normal levels of hype now. New packs, like the upcoming Pokémon Go expansion with the peel-off, trolly Ditto card, will likely enter the cycle in high demand, but it’s not long before packs are back. Maybe there aren’t always Pokémon cards on Target’s shelves, but it’s no longer impossible to get them.