Base Set Charizard, the most iconic Pokemon card in history. Charizard is at the forefront of the Pokemon TCG revolution thanks to its nostalgic artwork and elusiveness throughout our childhood. The Pokemon Company know that there lizard sells and Pokemon TCG: Celebrations, the 25th Anniversary expansion, continues the trend by reprinting the franchise’s most recognisable artwork. We’re going to take a look at the history of Base Set Charizard and its many reprints and reimaginings. Which one is your personal favourite?
First released on 20th October 1996 as part of the Japan Expansion Pack, Lizardon quickly became one of the most popular characters of the franchise and the cover art for 1998’s Pokemon Red on GameBoy. The first Charizard TCG cards with Mitsuhiro Arita’s iconic artwork are known as “No Rarity” due to the lack of a star rarity symbol in the bottom right corner of the card. This print is considered as the Japanese equivalent of First Edition Base Set in English and currently has only six Gem Mint 10 copies in the PSA registry. The more common version, which includes the star rarity symbol, is likely to have been released after 1997 as the Japanese version of Jungle is the first reported use of a rarity symbol. The last registered auction sale for a PSA 10 No Rarity Charizard was as little as $20,000 in 2018 via PWCC. I think it’s safe to say that in 2021 the same copy would be well within the six figures.
On January 9th 1999, Pokemon TCG was released in North America. The Base Set would include Arita’s Charizard artwork translated into English. Base Set was printed four times: The initial print with the famous First Edition stamp that has garnered worldwide appeal and has been the source of headlines related to Steve Aoki, Logan Paul, crazy high-end sales etc, a second print is known as Shadowless due to the lack of shadow around the right side of the card frame, Unlimited which was the most printed of the four and includes a shadow, and finally, 4th Print which arrived in 2000 and can be recognised from the 2000 copyright notice as well as a slightly brighter colour.
In February 2000, the English Pokemon TCG released an expansion composed of reprints from Base Set and Jungle known as Base Set 2. This set would never release in Japan and provided a reprint of Charizard 4/102 with a “Base Set 2” stamp in the lower right-hand corner of the artwork. Two years later in 2002, Legendary Collection was released as a celebration of Base Set, Jungle, Fossil, and Team rocket expansions. Legendary Collection would include three new variants of Base Set Charizard: a holo, non-holo, and a reverse holofoil card. This would be the first introduction of reverse holo cards with a pattern that explodes from the card. For many, the reverse holo Charizard from Legendary Collection is one of, if not the best Arita Charizard. Due to the nature of the reverse foil and the potential for print lines, there are only 76 PSA 10s in existence. That being said, the holo Charizard from Legendary Collection has even fewer Gem Mint copies, only 13!
After printing reprint after reprint of its most famous artwork, The Pokemon Company decided to take a break from Base Set Charizard. Over half a decade later in 2008, Arita reimagined the Charmander evolution line from Base Set with modernised artwork as secret rare cards in Diamond & Pearl: Stormfront. These were part of a period where Pokemon TCG recreated artworks of retro cards and brought them up to date for a modernised setting. Other reimaginings include Scyther from Platinum, Pikachu from Rising Rivals, and Kanto’s legendary birds from Supreme Victors.
For many who returned to Pokemon TCG in 2020, this next iteration comes as no surprise. As part of Pokemon’s 20th Anniversary in 2016, a booster set named XY: Evolutions hit the scene. With the huge popularity of Pokemon Go and a newly updated reprint Charizard with updated HP, abilities, attacks, resistance, and Retreat cost to use the cards in competitive play. The set was incredibly popular but printed to oblivion leading to a collective sigh every time an Evolutions pack popped up in a collector’s box or tin. By the time 2020’s hype train was in full flow, Evolutions was one of the most sought-after readily available sets with prices of booster boxes rising from $200 to over $1000 at its peak. This rise in demand was due to the fact that as people returned to the hobby they could no longer afford the huge price of Base Set Charizard, which was deemed THE card due to nostalgia for the best holo from our childhood alongside external factors such as Logan Paul’s First Edition Base Set box break in October 2020. In XY: Evolutions there’s a holo version and a reverse holo which both became the next best thing once Base Set Charizard prices flew out of reach.
That brings us to today, months on from the release of Pokemon TCG: Celebrations. The 25th Anniversary of Pokemon has provided fantastic events, a music album, and now a TCG nostalgia trip. At first, the reprint cards appeared underwhelming – Exact replicas of the original cards from throughout history with new textures and holofoils, the removal of any Wizards of the Coast rhetoric, and a massive Pikachu head with the numbers 25 as cheeks plastered on the artworks. After completing the set and loving every minute of opening packs with huge pull rates, these Celebrations cards are genuinely some of my favourite reprints that Pokemon has ever done. The Celebrations Charizard 4/102 eclipses the XY: Evolutions card as the most accessible Arita’s Charizard in my opinion. This is mostly down to the fantastic texturised card details and the nostalgic 1:1 look with Pokemon TCG’s original thick yellow borders. The best thing about Pokemon TCG: Celebrations is that it gives anyone that returned to the hobby a little bit late the opportunity to own the Base Set Trio that they craved as kids.
Pokemon TCG: Celebrations Ultra Premium Collection gave us one more version of Base Set Charizard, a texturised metal card painted with gold foiling. This style of promo card was new for the Pokemon Company and definitely lead to some debate. However, for those that are fans of Arita’s Charizard this may be the best display piece of them all.
Fans of Pokemon TCG sometimes moan about the lack of imagination it takes to reprint the same card over and over again with the knowledge that people will flock to their nearest store to try and pack a Charizard one more time. Personally, I do understand that opinion and I would’ve loved to have seen a Full Art Base Set Charizard similar to Arita’s modernised full art Base Set Pikachu as the chase card for Celebrations. That being said, no other card creates that feeling of being four again than when you see the yellow fade to red as you uncover your rare slot in a booster pack. I may have lived that moment many times, but for old Pokemon fans returning to Pokemon TCG or new fans packing a Charizard for the first time Mitsuhiro Arita’s Base Set Charizard artwork captures a particular feeling like no other.
John-Anthony Disotto – Editor-in-Chief
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