…I considered posting this on both my Anime and Game Blogs but I decided to post it on this one instead as a cautionary tale. Given this year marks the 20th Anniversary of the release of the Pokemon Trading Card Game, it feels fitting.
To start, Trading Cards have been around for some time though until about 30 years ago, they were strictly Sports Cards. Then Magic the Gathering came along. It wrote the book on how to make a successful trading card game. They are to the Trading Card Game industry what Everquest is to MMORPGs. Like World of Warcraft, only the Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Games were able to emulate the success of the original. They were both introduced at the right time: When Anime and Video Games were becoming mainstream in North America.
Pokemon Red and Blue came to the U.S. in 1995. The Pokemon Trading Card Game (henceforth “Pokemon TCG” for short) was released the following year. What was originally intended to be just a means of marketing the Pokemon brand in the U.S. quickly become the biggest schoolyard sensation in America for almost a decade.
THIS is the original rare card kids spent hundreds on card packs to find:
Those lucky enough get one were revered as heroes to their friends and had a virtually unstoppable deck. It wasn’t until I played the Game Boy Color Pokemon TCG game in 2001 I fully understood WHY the elusive Stage 2 Card was so sought after: Its Pokemon Power (see above). As long as you didn’t run out of Energy Cards, Charizard was unstoppable. No one other Pokemon Card except the equally rare Chansey (120 HP) could take one attack from it and live. This has long since become widely accepted but to keep the game balanced, Wizards of the Coast (The manufacturer for the card game from 1995 to about 2002) intentionally did not make a large amount of Charizard Cards to encourage people to keep buying card packs hoping to get one.
…I consider myself lucky I was late to get in on the TCG bandwagon. I was in high school at the time and was more a collector than someone who was competatively playing against others. The rare cards I was looking for were promo cards that came with video games and movies. At my peak, I had close to 800 Pokemon Cards. This goes without saying but the reason the first Pokemon movie still stands and the highest-grossing Pokemon movie ever is because of the promo Mew card given to moviegoers with every ticket purchase. It made the news a month after the movie’s release: Folks would buy a ticket just for the card but skip the movie. Said extra cards would then be resold. I saw alot on eBay.
There was little kids wouldn’t do to get their hands on rare cards. Myself included. This is the first time I’m sharing this publicly but I stole 30 cards from a friend at a summer camp when I was 16 and yes, I got away with it. Not saying I’m proud of myself as I realized after I’d done it that I was taking the TCG way too seriously.
As for how I did it without ever getting found out, I did it like a professional: While everyone was swimming, I went in the locker room and took the cards out the kids’ binders (we were around the same age but I was the oldest). To deflect suspicion since I knew everyone would’ve (rightly) assumed it was me, I took my rarest cards out of my own binder and hid them. Naturally, the kids I ripped off assumed mine were stolen, too. Of course, I never brought any of my cards back to camp after that!
I’ll give Nintendo credit where it’s due: The Pokemon TCG was a damned good hustle. I spent somewhere between $200 to $300 on Pokemon cards from when I started in 1998 to about 2003. I retired for good in 2004 and gave away all of my Pokemon Cards to a student at a school where I worked in 2007. Best decison ever. Looking back now, I knew I was in too deep when I decided to steal cards from others. Never again.
…This brings me to the TCG giant of the last decade, Yu-Gi-Oh!
Holy crap. I’ll be real with you: I was hooked from day one. I’ll give Konami and Upper Deck credit where its due: They took the forumula the Pokemon TCG had been using and all but perfected it. The Anime starring Yugi Motou and his alter ego Pharaoh Atem (whose true name wasn’t actually revealed until the original series’ finale) was used to sell the cards unlike Pokemon.
The cards featured in every episode of the Anime? You could actually get them yourself. Not only that, they worked exactly as shown in the Anime–minus the special effects, of course–and they were nowhere near as rare.
Seto Kaiba’s Blue-Eyes White Dragon anf Yugi Motou’s Dark Magician. They are the most iconic cards even today yet Konami took the high road with both cards: They were rare in on TV show but in reality, they were obscenely common. One huge difference structure decks for the Pokemon and Yugioh TCGs have is while you only got one holofoil card in Pokemon, with Yugioh you got 3.
The iconic Yugi and Kaiba decks were upgraded a few years later to include powerful cards Yugi and Kaiba gained in the Anime. Even though the Anime series and the card game are not as big as they once were, no cards are more synonymous with Yugioh than these 5:
…Exodia the Forbidden One. Like the Holo Chatizard card, Konami and Upper Deck intentionally made The Exodia set in limited quantities for the sake of game balance. Given you automatically win simply by having all 5 cards in your hand, it only makes sense. LOL.
Moving on, unlike the Pokemon TCG I got into the Yugioh TCG specifically for dueling. Unlike with Pokemon, I got early and spent alot early. I’ll be straight with you: I spent $1200 on Yugioh Cards from 2002 2009. It stands as the most money I’ve ever spent on one hobby. World of Warcraft came close at $950 including expansions, paid services and other premium content such as mounts and pets. The difference is with Yugioh it was in a small amount of time but with WoW, it’s been nearly a decade in comparison.
At one time, I owned close to 500 Yugioh cards. The difference is almost all of them were used to make 4o to 60-card decks for dueling. I had a different deck for different themes. The funny thing is after I graduated from high school, it actually became harder for me to simply find people to duel against. My younger brother played off and on at the time. Sometimes when I picked him up from school, we’d walk to the library and play against folks there. And I was good. I did alot of trash talking and had the skills to back it up. Never did tournaments since they never came to Boston but after about 3 years, duels against me were quick when they ended in my favor.
I think it was around mid-2007 when I decided to quit the Yugioh TCG cold turkey. By then, I’d spent close to $500 on Yugioh cards off eBay alone so…yeah. By the way yes, I did own all 3 of the Egyptian God Cards too. Any card I wanted, I bought off eBay. Most I ever spent? $105 to buy the Exodia cards.
Looking back at how much of my monthly budget I was spending on both TCGs that I probably should have spent on other things was why I decided to quit cold turkey. Well, that and the value we collectors had placed on the Trading Cards. Like fools, the majority of us truly believed the longer we held on to the cards, the more they’d be worth later. In reality, it was the exact opposite. We should have sold the cards when they were still considered valuable. The longer we held on to them, the less valuable they became. A fitting irony!
During my last semester at a community college, one of my classmates appraised the 100 or so remaining Yugioh Cards I showed him at the time to be worth a bit under $1000. I sold them at Anime Boston in 2010 and only got $10 for all of them. I honestly didn’t care as it was fitting and what I deserved given I’d been motivated by greed. It was a hard lesson but an important one I learned: Trading Card Games are a massive time and money pit and if you’re not careful, you might not be able to get out on your own.
The only TCG worth dealing with is Magic The Gathering but as I said already, I’m done with Trading Card Games period. Before folks ask no, I don’t have any more Yugioh or Pokemon Cards. I gave them all away years ago. The interesting thing is it also effected my viewpoint on physical video games, too. I used to buy and sell video games alot during the last decade. After I quit TCGs, I now only buy video games for keeps. I figure if I’m going to spend money on a hobby, it should be on something I know I’ll enjoy for years to come.